Search: in
Vietnamese language
Vietnamese language in Encyclopedia Encyclopedia
  Tutorials     Encyclopedia     Videos     Books     Software     DVDs  

Vietnamese language

Vietnamese (ti ng Vi t) is the national and official language of Vietnam. It is the mother tongue of Vietnamese people (Kinh), and of about three million overseas Vietnamese. It is also spoken as a second language or a first language by many ethnic minorities of Vietnam. It is part of the Austro-Asiatic language family, of which it has the most speakers by a significant margin (several times larger than the other Austro-Asiatic languages put together). Much of Vietnamese vocabulary has been borrowed from Chinese, and it was formerly written using the Chinese writing system, albeit in a modified format and was given vernacular pronunciation. As a byproduct of French colonial rule, the language displays some influence from French, and the Vietnamese alphabet (qu c ng ) in use today is a Latin alphabet with additional diacritics for tones and certain vowels and consonants.


Geographic distribution

As the national language of the majority ethnic group, Vietnamese is spoken throughout Vietnam by the Vietnamese people, as well as by ethnic minorities. It is also spoken in overseas Vietnamese communities, most notably in the United States, where it has more than one million speakers and is the seventh most-spoken language (it is 3rd in Texas, 4th in Arkansas and Louisiana, and 5th in California).[1] In Australia, it is the sixth most-spoken language.[2]

According to the Ethnologue, Vietnamese is also spoken by substantial numbers of people in Cambodia, Canada, China, C te d'Ivoire, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Laos, Martinique, the Netherlands, New Caledonia, Norway, the Philippines, the Russian Federation, Senegal, Taiwan, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and Vanuatu.[3]

Linguistic classification

Vietnamese was identified more than 150 years ago[4] as part of the Mon Khmer branch of the Austro-Asiatic language family (a family that also includes Khmer, spoken in Cambodia, as well as various tribal and regional languages, such as the Munda and Khasi languages spoken in eastern India, and others in southern China). Later, M ng was found to be more closely related to Vietnamese than other Mon Khmer languages, and a Vi t-M ng sub-grouping was established. As data on more Mon Khmer languages were acquired, other minority languages (such as Thav ng, Ch t languages, Hung, etc.) were found to share Vi t-M ng characteristics, and the Vi t-M ng term was renamed to Vietic. The older term Vi t-M ng now refers to a lower sub-grouping (within an eastern Vietic branch) consisting of Vietnamese dialects, M ng dialects, and Ngu n (of Qu ng B nh Province).[5]

Language policy

While spoken by the Vietnamese people for millennia, written Vietnamese did not become the official administrative language of Vietnam until the 20th century. For most of its history, the entity now known as Vietnam used written classical Chinese. In the 13th century, however, the country invented Ch n m, a writing system making use of Chinese characters with phonetic elements in order to better suit the tones associated with the Vietnamese language. Ch n m proved to be much more efficient than classical Chinese characters and consequently was used extensively in the 17th and 18th centuries for poetry and literature. Ch n m was used for administrative purposes during the brief H and T y S n Dynasties. During French colonialism, French superseded Chinese in administration. It was not until independence from France that Vietnamese was used officially. It is the language of instruction in schools and universities and is the language for official business.


The words in orange belong to the Vietnamese native lexical stock while the ones in green belong to the Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary.Like many other Asian countries, as a result of close ties with China for thousands of years, much of the Vietnamese lexicon relating to science and politics is derived from Chinese - see Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary. At least 60% of the lexical stock has Chinese roots, not including naturalized word borrowings from China, although many compound words are composed of native Vietnamese words combined with Chinese borrowings. One can usually distinguish between a native Vietnamese word and a Chinese borrowing if it can be reduplicated or its meaning does not change when the tone is shifted. As a result of French occupation, Vietnamese has since had many words borrowed from the French language, for example c ph (from French caf ). Nowadays, many new words are being added to the language's lexicon due to heavy Western cultural influence; these are usually borrowed from English, for example TV (though usually seen in the written form as tivi). Sometimes these borrowings are calques literally translated into Vietnamese (for example, software is calqued into ph n m m, which literally means "soft part").



Like other southeast Asian languages, Vietnamese has a comparatively large number of vowels. Below is a vowel diagram of Hanoi Vietnamese.

|- !   ! Front ! Central ! Back |- ! High | i | | u |- ! Upper Mid | | | |- ! Lower Mid | e | | o |- ! Low | colspan="3" | / a |}

Front, central, and low vowels (i, , e, , , , , a) are unrounded, whereas the back vowels (u, , o) are rounded. The vowels and are pronounced very short, much shorter than the other vowels. Thus, and are basically pronounced the same except that is of normal length while is short the same applies to the vowels long a and short .[6]

In addition to single vowels (or monophthongs), Vietnamese has diphthongs[7] and triphthongs. The diphthongs consist of a main vowel component followed by a shorter semivowel offglide to a high front position , a high back position , or a central position .[8]

|- ! Vowel nucleus ! Diphthong with front offglide ! Diphthong with back offglide ! Diphthong with centering offglide ! Triphthong with front offglide ! Triphthong with back offglide |- ! i | || iu || ia~i ~y || || i u |- ! | || u || || || |- ! e | || eo || || || |- ! | i || u || a~ || i || u |- ! | y || u || || || |- ! | i || || || || |- ! | ay || au || || || |- ! a | ai || ao || || || |- ! u | ui || || ua~u || u i || |- ! | i || || || || |- ! o | oi || || || || |}

The centering diphthongs are formed with only the three high vowels (i, , u) as the main vowel. They are generally spelled as ia, a, ua when they end a word and are spelled i , , u , respectively, when they are followed by a consonant. There are also restrictions on the high offglides: the high front offglide cannot occur after a front vowel (i, , e) nucleus and the high back offglide cannot occur after a back vowel (u, , o) nucleus.[9]

The correspondence between the orthography and pronunciation is complicated. For example, the offglide is usually written as i; however, it may also be represented with y. In addition, in the diphthongs and the letters y and i also indicate the pronunciation of the main vowel: ay = + , ai = a + . Thus, tay "hand" is while tai "ear" is . Similarly, u and o indicate different pronunciations of the main vowel: au = + , ao = a + . Thus, thau "brass" is while thao "raw silk" is .

The four triphthongs are formed by adding front and back offglides to the centering diphthongs. Similarly to the restrictions involving diphthongs, a triphthong with front nucleus cannot have a front offglide (after the centering glide) and a triphthong with a back nucleus cannot have a back offglide.

With regards to the front and back offglides , many phonological descriptions analyze these as consonant glides . Thus, a word such as u "where", phonetically , would be analyzed phonemically as .


Pitch contours and duration of the six Northern Vietnamese tones as uttered by a male speaker (not from Hanoi). Fundamental frequency is plotted over time. From Nguy n & Edmondson (1998).

Vietnamese vowels are all pronounced with an inherent tone.[10] Tones differ in:

Tone is indicated by diacritics written above or below the vowel (most of the tone diacritics appear above the vowel; however, the n ng tone dot diacritic goes below the vowel).[11] The six tones in the northern varieties (including Hanoi), with their self-referential Vietnamese names, are:

Name Description Diacritic Example Sample vowel
ngang   'level' mid level (no mark) ma  'ghost'
huy n   'hanging' low falling (often breathy) ` (grave accent) m  'but'
s c   'sharp' high rising (acute accent) m  'cheek, mother (southern)'
h i   'asking' mid dipping-rising   (hook) m  'tomb, grave'
ng   'tumbling' high breaking-rising (tilde) m  'horse (Sino-Vietnamese), code'
n ng   'heavy' low falling constricted (short length)   (dot below) m  'rice seedling'

Other dialects of Vietnamese have fewer tones (typically only five). See the language variation section for a brief survey of tonal differences among dialects.

In Vietnamese poetry, tones are classed into two groups:

Tone group Tones within tone group
b ng "level, flat" ngang and huy n
tr c "oblique, sharp" s c, h i, ng , and n ng

Words with tones belonging to particular tone group must occur in certain positions with the poetic verse.


The consonants that occur in Vietnamese are listed below in the Vietnamese orthography with the phonetic pronunciation to the right.

|- style="background: #efefef;" ! colspan="2" | ! Labial ! Alveolar ! Retroflex ! Palatal ! Velar ! Glottal |- ! style="text-align: left; background: #efefef;" rowspan="3" | Stop | style="text-align: left; background: #efefef;" | voiceless | p | t | tr | ch | c/k/q | |- | style="text-align: left; background: #efefef;" | aspirated |   | th | | | | |- | style="text-align: left; background: #efefef;" | voiced | b | | | | |- ! style="text-align: left; background: #efefef;" rowspan="2" | Fricative | style="text-align: left; background: #efefef;" | voiceless | ph | x | s | | kh | h |- | style="text-align: left; background: #efefef;" | voiced | v | gi | r | d | g/gh | |- ! style="text-align: left; background: #efefef;" colspan="2" | Nasal | m | n | | nh | ng/ngh | |- ! style="text-align: left; background: #efefef;" colspan="2" | Approximant | u/o | l | | y/i | | |}

Some consonant sounds are written with only one letter (like "p"), other consonant sounds are written with a two-letter digraph (like "ph"), and others are written with more than one letter or digraph (the velar stop is written variously as "c", "k", or "q").

Not all dialects of Vietnamese have the same consonant in a given word (although all dialects use the same spelling in the written language). See the language variation section for further elaboration.

The analysis of syllable-final orthographic ch and nh in Hanoi Vietnamese has had different analyses. One analysis has final ch, nh as being phonemes contrasting with syllable-final t, c and n, ng and identifies final ch with the syllable-initial ch . The other analysis has final ch and nh as predictable allophonic variants of the velar phonemes and that occur before upper front vowels i and . (See Vietnamese phonology: Analysis of final ch, nh for further details.)

Language variation

There are various mutually intelligible regional varieties (or dialects), the main four being:[12]

! Dialect region ! Localities ! Names under French colonization |- | Northern Vietnamese | Hanoi, Haiphong, and various provincial forms | Tonkinese |- | North-central (or Area IV) Vietnamese | Ngh An (Vinh, Thanh Ch ng), Thanh Ho , Qu ng B nh, H T nh | High Annamese |- | Central Vietnamese | Hu , Qu ng Nam | Low Annamese |- | Southern Vietnamese | Saigon, Mekong (Far West) | Cochinchinese |}

The first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights spoken by Nghiem Mai Phuong, native speaker of a northern variety. (audio help)

Ho Chi Minh reading his Declaration of Independence. Ho Chi Minh is from Nghe An Province, speaking a northern-central variety. (audio help)

Vietnamese has traditionally been divided into three dialect regions: North, Central, and South. However, Michel Fergus and Nguy n T i C n offer evidence for considering a North-Central region separate from Central. The term Haut-Annam refers to dialects spoken from northern Ngh An Province to southern (former) Th a Thi n Province that preserve archaic features (like consonant clusters and undiphthongized vowels) that have been lost in other modern dialects.

These dialect regions differ mostly in their sound systems (see below), but also in vocabulary (including basic vocabulary, non-basic vocabulary, and grammatical words) and grammar.[13] The North-central and Central regional varieties, which have a significant amount of vocabulary differences, are generally less mutually intelligible to Northern and Southern speakers. There is less internal variation within the Southern region than the other regions due to its relatively late settlement by Vietnamese speakers (in around the end of the 15th century). The North-central region is particularly conservative. Along the coastal areas, regional variation has been neutralized to a certain extent, while more mountainous regions preserve more variation. As for sociolinguistic attitudes, the North-central varieties are often felt to be "peculiar" or "difficult to understand" by speakers of other dialects.

It should be noted that the large movements of people between North and South beginning in the mid-20th century and continuing to this day have resulted in a significant number of Southern residents speaking in the Northern accent/dialect and, to a lesser extent, Northern residents speaking in the Southern accent/dialect. Following the Geneva Accords of 1954 that called for the temporary division of the country, almost a million northerners (mainly from Hanoi and the surrounding Red River Delta areas) moved south (mainly to Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, and the surrounding areas) as part of Operation Passage to Freedom. About a third of that number of people made the move in the reverse direction.

Following the reunification of Vietnam in 1975 76, Northern and North-Central speakers from the densely populated Red River Delta and the traditionally poorer provinces of Nghe An, Ha Tinh and Quang Binh have continued to move South to look for better economic opportunities. Additionally, government and military personnel are posted to various locations throughout the country, often away from their home regions. More recently, the growth of the free market system has resulted in business people and tourists traveling to distant parts of Vietnam. These movements have resulted in some small blending of the dialects but, more significantly, have made the Northern dialect more easily understood in the South and vice versa. It is also interesting to note that most Southerners, when singing modern/popular Vietnamese songs, would do so in the Northern accent. This is true in Vietnam as well as in the overseas Vietnamese communities.

|+ Regional variation in grammatical words[14] ! Northern !! Central !! Southern !! English gloss |- | n y || ni or n || n y || "this" |- | th n y || ri || v y || "thus, this way" |- | y || n , t || || "that" |- | th , th y || r a, r a t || v y || "thus, so, that way" |- | kia || t || || "that yonder" |- | k a || t || || "that yonder (far away)" |- | u || m || u || "where" |- | n o || m || n o || "which" |- | sao, th n o || r ng || sao || "how, why" |- | t i || tui || tui || "I, me (polite)" |- | tao || tau || tao, qua || "I, me (arrogant, familiar)" |- | ch ng t i || b y tui || t i tui || "we, us (but not you, polite)" |- | ch ng tao || b y choa || t i tao || "we, us (but not you, arrogant, familiar)" |- | m y || mi || m y || "you (thou) (arrogant, familiar)" |- | ch ng m y || b y, b n b y || t i m y || "you guys, y'all (arrogant, familiar)" |- | n || h n, ngh || n || "he/him, she/her, it (arrogant, familiar)" |- | ch ng n || b n h n || t i n || "they/them (arrogant, familiar)" |- | ng y || ng n || ng || "he/him, that gentleman, sir" |- | b y || m n , m n , b n || b || "she/her, that lady, madam" |- | c y || o n || c || "she/her, that unmarried young lady" |- | ch y || n || ch || "she/her, that young lady" |- | anh y || eng n || nh || "he/him, that young man (of equal status)" |}

The syllable-initial ch and tr digraphs are pronounced distinctly in North-central, Central, and Southern varieties, but are merged in Northern varieties (i.e. they are both pronounced the same way). The North-central varieties preserve three distinct pronunciations for d, gi, and r whereas the North has a three-way merger and the Central and South have a merger of d and gi while keeping r distinct. At the end of syllables, palatals ch and nh have merged with alveolars t and n, which, in turn, have also partially merged with velars c and ng in Central and Southern varieties.

|+ Regional consonant correspondences ! Syllable position !! Orthography !! Northern !! North-central !! Central !! Southern |- ! rowspan="8" | syllable-initial ! x | rowspan="2" | | || || |- ! s | || || |- ! ch | rowspan="2" | | || || |- ! tr | || || |- ! r | rowspan="3" | | || || |- ! d | | rowspan="3" | | rowspan="3" | |- ! gi | |- ! v[15] | || |- ! rowspan="10" | syllable-final ! c | || | rowspan="2" | | rowspan="3" | |- ! t | rowspan="4" | | rowspan="4" | |- ! style="line-height: 1em;" | t
after e | |- ! style="line-height: 1em;" | t
after | rowspan="3" | | |- ! style="line-height: 1em;" | t
after i | rowspan="2" | |- ! ch | || |- ! ng | || | rowspan="2" | | rowspan="2" | |- ! n | rowspan="2" | | rowspan="2" | |- ! style="line-height: 1em;" | n
after i, | rowspan="2" | | rowspan="2" | |- ! nh | || |}

In addition to the regional variation described above, there is also a merger of l and n in certain rural varieties:

|+ l, n variation ! Orthography ! "Mainstream" varieties ! Rural varieties |- ! n | | rowspan="2" | |- ! l | |}

Variation between l and n can be found even in mainstream Vietnamese in certain words. For example, the numeral "five" appears as n m by itself and in compound numerals like n m m i "fifty" but appears as l m in m i l m "fifteen". (See Vietnamese syntax: Cardinal numerals.) In some northern varieties, this numeral appears with an initial nh instead of l: hai m i nh m "twenty-five" vs. mainstream hai m i l m.[16]

The consonant clusters that were originally present in Middle Vietnamese (of the 17th century) have been lost in almost all modern Vietnamese varieties (but retained in other closely related Vietic languages). However, some speech communities have preserved some of these archaic clusters: "sky" is bl i with a cluster in H o Nho (Y n M prefecture, Ninh Binh Province) but tr i in Southern Vietnamese and gi i in Hanoi Vietnamese (initial single consonants , respectively).


Generally, the Northern varieties have six tones while those in other regions have five tones. The h i and ng tones are distinct in North and some North-central varieties (although often with different pitch contours) but have merged in Central, Southern, and some North-central varieties (also with different pitch contours). Some North-central varieties (such as H T nh Vietnamese) have a merger of the ng and n ng tones while keeping the h i tone distinct. Still other North-central varieties have a three-way merger of h i, ng , and n ng resulting in a four-tone system. In addition, there are several phonetic differences (mostly in pitch contour and phonation type) in the tones among dialects.

|+ Regional tone correspondences ! rowspan="2" | Tone ! rowspan="2" | Northern ! colspan="3" | North-central ! rowspan="2" | Central ! rowspan="2" | Southern |- style="font-size: small; line-height: 1.1em;" !  Vinh  !! Thanh
Ch ng
!! H T nh |- ! style="text-align: left;" | ngang | 33 || 35 || 35 || 35, 353 || 35 || 33 |- ! style="text-align: left;" | huy n | 21 || 33 || 33 || 33 || 33 || 21 |- ! style="text-align: left;" | s c | 35 || 11 || 11, 13 || 13 || 13 || 35 |- ! style="text-align: left;" | h i | 31 3 || 31 | rowspan="2" | 31 | 31 | rowspan="2" | 312 | rowspan="2" | 214 |- ! style="text-align: left;" | ng | 3 5 || 13 | rowspan="2" | 22 |- ! style="text-align: left;" | n ng | 21 || 22 || 22 || 22 || 212 |}

The table above shows the pitch contour of each tone using Chao tone number notation (where 1 = lowest pitch, 5 = highest pitch); glottalization (creaky, stiff, harsh) is indicated with the symbol; breathy voice with ; glottal stop with ; sub-dialectal variants are separated with commas. (See also the tone section below.)


Vietnamese, like many languages in Southeast Asia, is an analytic (or isolating) language. Vietnamese does not use morphological marking of case, gender, number or tense (and, as a result, has no finite/nonfinite distinction).[17] Also like other languages in the region, Vietnamese syntax conforms to subject verb object word order, is head-initial (displaying modified-modifier ordering), and has a noun classifier system. Additionally, it is pro-drop, wh-in-situ, and allows verb serialization.

Some Vietnamese sentences with English word glosses and translations are provided below.

|- style="font-style: italic;" | Mai || l || sinh vi n. |- | Mai || be || student |- | colspan="3" | "Mai is a student." (College student) |}

|- style="font-style: italic;" | Gi p || r t || cao. |- | Giap || very || tall |- | colspan="3" | "Giap is very tall." |}

|- style="font-style: italic;" | Ng i || || l || anh || n . |- | person || that || be || brother || he |- | colspan="4" | "That person is his brother." |}

|- style="font-style: italic;" | Con || ch || n y || ch ng || bao gi || s a || c . |- | classifier || dog || this || not || ever || bark || at.all |- | colspan="7" | "This dog never barks at all." |}

|- style="font-style: italic;" | N || ch || n || c m || Vi t Nam || th i. |- | he || only || eat || rice.colloquial || Vietnam || only |- | colspan="6" | "He only eats Vietnamese food." |}

|- style="font-style: italic;" | C i || th ng || ch ng || em || n || ch ng || ra || g . |- | style="font-variant: small-caps;" | focus | style="font-variant: small-caps;" | classifier | husband || I (as wife) || he || not || turn.out || what |- | colspan="8" | "That husband of mine, he is good for nothing." |}

|- style="font-style: italic;" | T i || th ch || con || ng a || en. |- | I (generic) || like | style="font-variant: small-caps;" | classifier | horse || black |- | colspan="5" | "I like the black horse." |}

|- style="font-style: italic;" | T i || th ch || c i || con || ng a || en. |- | I (generic) || like | style="font-variant: small-caps;" | focus | style="font-variant: small-caps;" | classifier | horse || black |- | colspan="6" | "I like that black horse." |}

Writing system

Vietnamese was formerly written using the Chinese writing system in a modified form, with indigenous pronunciation. Currently, the written language uses the Vietnamese alphabet (qu c ng or "national script", literally "national language"), based on the Latin script. Originally a Romanization of Vietnamese, it was codified in the 17th century by a French Jesuit missionary named Alexandre de Rhodes (1591–1660), based on works of earlier Portuguese missionaries (Gaspar do Amaral and Ant nio Barbosa). The use of the script was gradually extended from its initial domain in Christian writing to become more popular among the general public.

Under French colonial rule, the script became official and required for all public documents in 1910 by issue of a decree by the French R sident Sup rieur of the protectorate of Tonkin. By the end of first half 20th century virtually all writings were done in qu c ng .

Changes in the script were made by French scholars and administrators and by conferences held after independence during 1954–1974. The script now reflects a so-called Middle Vietnamese dialect that has vowels and final consonants most similar to northern dialects and initial consonants most similar to southern dialects (Nguy n 1996). This Middle Vietnamese is presumably close to the Hanoi variety as spoken sometime after 1600 but before the present. (This is not unlike how English orthography is based on the Chancery Standard of late Middle English, with many spellings retained even after significant phonetic change.)

Before adopting Roman script under French rule, Vietnamese used two ideographic writing systems:

  • Literary Chinese ch nho characters (scholar's characters, ): were used by the educated elite and in official documents until Vietnam gained independence from China in 939 CE.
  • Vernacular ch n m characters ) look like Chinese characters to the untrained eye. In fact, many characters were borrowed and many more modified and invented to represent native Vietnamese words. For the next 1000 years from the 10th century and into the 20th much of Vietnamese literature, philosophy, history, law, medicine, religion, and government policy was written in N m script.

Both scripts have fallen out of common usage in modern Vietnam, and only a few scholars and some extremely elderly people are able to read ch n m today. In China, members of the Jing Minority still write in Ch N m.

Ch nho was still in use on early North Vietnamese and late French Indochinese banknotes issued after World War II[18] but fell out of official use shortly thereafter.

Computer support

The Unicode character set contains all Vietnamese characters and the Vietnamese currency symbol. On systems that do not support Unicode, many 8-bit Vietnamese code pages are available such as VISCII or CP1258. Where ASCII must be used, Vietnamese letters are often typed using the VIQR convention, though this is largely unnecessary with the increasing ubiquity of Unicode. There are many software tools that help type true Vietnamese text on US keyboards, such as WinVNKey and Unikey on Windows, or MacVNKey on Macintosh.



It seems likely that in the distant past, Vietnamese shared more characteristics common to other languages in the Austro-Asiatic family, such as an inflectional morphology and a richer set of consonant clusters, which have subsequently disappeared from the language. However, Vietnamese appears to have been heavily influenced by its location in the Southeast Asian sprachbund, with the result that it has acquired or converged toward characteristics such as isolating morphology and tonogenesis. These characteristics, which may or may not have been part of Proto-Austro-Asiatic, nonetheless have become part of many of the phylogenetically unrelated languages of Southeast Asia; for example, Thai (one of the Tai Kadai languages), Tsat (a member of the Malayo-Polynesian group within Austronesian), and Vietnamese each developed tones as a phonemic feature.

The ancestor of the Vietnamese language was originally based in the area of the Red River in what is now northern Vietnam, and during the subsequent expansion of the Vietnamese language and people into what is now central and southern Vietnam (through conquest of the ancient nation of Champa and the Khmer people of the Mekong Delta in the vicinity of present-day Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), characteristic tonal variations have emerged.

Vietnamese was linguistically influenced primarily by Chinese, which came to predominate politically in the 2nd century B.C. With the rise of Chinese political dominance came radical importation of Chinese vocabulary and grammatical influence. As Chinese was, for a prolonged period, the only medium of literature and government, as well as the primary written language of the ruling class in Vietnam, much of the Vietnamese lexicon in all realms consists of H n Vi t (Sino-Vietnamese) words. In fact, as the vernacular language of Vietnam gradually grew in prestige toward the beginning of the second millennium, the Vietnamese language was written using Chinese characters (using both the original Chinese characters, called H n t , as well as a system of newly created and modified characters called Ch n m) adapted to write Vietnamese, in a similar pattern as used in Japan (kanji), Korea (hanja), and other countries in the Sinosphere. The N m writing reached its zenith in the 18th century when many Vietnamese writers and poets composed their works in Ch N m, most notably Nguy n Du and H Xu n H ng (dubbed "the Queen of N m poetry").

As contact with the West grew, the Qu c Ng system of Romanized writing was developed in the 17th century by Portuguese and other Europeans involved in proselytizing and trade in Vietnam. When France invaded Vietnam in the late 19th century, French gradually replaced Chinese as the official language in education and government. Vietnamese adopted many French terms, such as m (dame, from madame), ga (train station, from gare), s mi (shirt, from chemise), and b p b (doll, from poup e). In addition, many Sino-Vietnamese terms were devised for Western ideas imported through the French. However, the Romanized script did not come to predominate until the beginning of the 20th century, when education became widespread and a simpler writing system was found more expedient for teaching and communication with the general population.

A Vietnamese Catholic Nguyen Truong To sent petitions to the Court which suggested a Chinese character based syllabary which would be used for Vietnamese sounds, however, his petition failed. The French colonial administration sought to eliminate the Chinese writing system, confucianism, and other Chinese influences from Vietnam by getting rid of Ch N m.[19]

Periods of Vietnamese

Henri Maspero described six periods of the Vietnamese language:

  1. Pre-Vietnamese, also known as Proto-Viet Muong or Proto-Vietnamuong, the ancestor of Vietnamese and the related Muong language.
  2. Proto-Vietnamese, the oldest reconstructable version of Vietnamese, dated to just before the entry of massive amounts of Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary into the language, c. 7th to 9th century AD? At this state, the language had three tones.
  3. Archaic Vietnamese, the state of the language upon adoption of the Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary, c. 10th century AD.
  4. Ancient Vietnamese, the language represented by chu nom characters (c. 15th century) and the Chinese Vietnamese glossary Hua-yi Yi-yu (c. 16th century). By this point a tone split had happened in the language, leading to six tones but a loss of contrastive voicing among consonants.
  5. Middle Vietnamese, the language of the Vietnamese Portuguese Latin dictionary of the Jesuit missionary Alexandre de Rhodes (c. 17th century).
  6. Modern Vietnamese, from the 19th century.

Middle Vietnamese

The writing system used for Vietnamese is based closely on the system developed by Alexandre de Rhodes for his Vietnamese Portuguese Latin dictionary, published in 1651. It reflects the pronunciation of the Vietnamese of Hanoi at that time, a stage commonly termed Middle Vietnamese. The pronunciation of the "rime" of the syllable, i.e. all parts other than the initial consonant (optional glide, vowel nucleus, tone and final consonant), appears nearly identical between Middle Vietnamese and modern Hanoi pronunciation. On the other hand, the Middle Vietnamese pronunciation of the initial consonant differs greatly from all modern dialects, and in fact is significantly closer to the modern Saigon dialect than the modern Hanoi dialect.

The following diagram shows the orthography and pronunciation of Middle Vietnamese:

|- style="background: #efefef;" ! colspan="2" | ! Labial ! Dental/Alveolar ! Retroflex ! Palatal ! Velar ! Glottal |- ! style="text-align: left; background: #efefef;" rowspan="3" | Stop | style="text-align: left; background: #efefef;" | voiceless | p | t | tr | ch | c/k | |- | style="text-align: left; background: #efefef;" | aspirated | ph | th | | | kh | |- | style="text-align: left; background: #efefef;" | voiced glottalized | b | | | | |- ! style="text-align: left; background: #efefef;" rowspan="2" | Fricative | style="text-align: left; background: #efefef;" | voiceless | | | s | x | | h |- | style="text-align: left; background: #efefef;" | voiced | b with flourish | d | | gi | g/gh | |- ! style="text-align: left; background: #efefef;" colspan="2" | Nasal | m | n | | nh | ng/ngh | |- ! style="text-align: left; background: #efefef;" colspan="2" | Approximant | v/u/o | l | r | y/i/ | | |}

occurs only at the end of a syllable.

This symbol has been proposed for inclusion in Unicode as "Latin small letter B with flourish".[20] It has a rounded hook that starts halfway up the left side (where the top of the curved part of the b meets the vertical, straight part) and curves about 180 degrees counterclockwise, ending below the bottom-left corner.

does not occur at the beginning of a syllable, but can occur at the end of a syllable, where it is notated i or y (with the difference between the two often indicating differences in the quality or length of the preceding vowel), and after and , where it is notated . This , and the it notated, have disappeared from the modern language.

Note that b and p never contrast in any position, suggesting that they are allophones; likewise for gi and y/i/ .

The language also has three clusters at the beginning of syllables, which have since disappeared:

  • tl > modern tr
  • bl > modern gi (Northern), tr (Southern)
  • ml > mnh > modern nh

Most of the unusual correspondences between spelling and modern pronunciation are explained by Middle Vietnamese. Note in particular:

  • de Rhodes' system has two different b letters, a regular b and a "hooked" b in which the upper section of the curved part of the b extends leftward past the vertical bar and curls down again in a semicircle. This apparently represented a voiced bilabial fricative . Within a century or so, both and had merged as , spelled as v.
  • de Rhodes' system has a second medial glide that is written and appears in some words with initial d and hooked b. These later disappear.
  • was (and still is) alveolar, whereas d was dental. The choice of symbols was based on the dental rather than alveolar nature of and its allophone in Spanish and other Romance languages. The inconsistency with the symbols assigned to vs. was based on the lack of any such place distinction between the two, with the result that the stop consonant appeared more "normal" than the fricative . In both cases, the implosive nature of the stops does not appear to have had any role in the choice of symbol.
  • x was alveolopalatal rather than dental , as in the modern language. In 17th-century Portuguese, the common language of the Jesuits, s was an apicoalveolar sibilant (as still in much of Spain and some parts of Portugal), while x was a palatoalveolar . The similarity of apicoalveolar to the Vietnamese retroflex led to the assignment of s and x as above.

Proto-Viet Muong

The following diagram shows the phonology of Proto-Viet Muong (the nearest ancestor of Vietnamese and the closely related Muong language), along with the outcomes in the modern language:[21][22][23]

|- style="background: #efefef;" ! colspan="2" | ! Labial ! Interdental ! Dental/Alveolar ! Palatoalveolar ! Retroflex ! Palatal ! Velar ! Glottal |- ! style="text-align: left; background: #efefef;" rowspan="4" | Stop/
Affricate | style="text-align: left; background: #efefef;" | voiceless | > b | | > | | > x | > ch | > k/c/q | > # |- | style="text-align: left; background: #efefef;" | voiced | > b | | > | | | > ch | > k/c/q |- | style="text-align: left; background: #efefef;" | aspirated | > ph | | > th | | | | > kh | |- | style="text-align: left; background: #efefef;" | voiced glottalized | > m | | > n | | | > nh | |- ! style="text-align: left; background: #efefef;" colspan="2" | Nasal | > m | | > n | | | > nh | > ng/ngh | |- ! style="text-align: left; background: #efefef;" rowspan="2" | Fricative | style="text-align: left; background: #efefef;" | voiceless | | | > t | > th | | | | > h |- | style="text-align: left; background: #efefef;" | voiced | > v | > d | | | > r | > gi | > g/gh | |- ! style="text-align: left; background: #efefef;" colspan="2" | Approximant | > v | | > l | | > r | > d | | |}

According to Ferlus, and are not accepted by all researchers. Ferlus 1992[21] had an additional sound , and had the preglottalized consonant in place of the implosive consonant . Note that the latter two sounds are not all that different, as both are voiced palatal sounds, and both are types of glottalic consonants.

The fricatives indicated above in parentheses developed as allophones of stop consonants occurring between vowels (i.e. when a minor syllable occurred). These fricatives were not present in Proto-Viet Muong, as indicated by their absence in Muong, but were evidently present in the later Proto-Vietnamese stage. Subsequent loss of the minor-syllable prefixes phonemicized the fricatives. Ferlus 1992[21] proposes that originally there were both voiced and voiceless fricatives, corresponding to original voiced or voiceless stops, but Ferlus 2009[22] appears to have abandoned that hypothesis, suggesting that stops were softened and voiced at approximately the same time, according to the following pattern:

  • >
  • >
  • >
  • >
  • and >

In Middle Vietnamese, the outcome of these sounds was written with a hooked b, representing a that was still distinct from v (then pronounced ). See above.

It is unclear what this sound was. According to Ferlus 1992,[21] in the Archaic Vietnamese period (c. 10th century AD, when Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary was borrowed) it was , distinct at that time from .

The following initial clusters occurred, with outcomes indicated:

  • pr, br, tr, dr, kr, gr > > > s
  • pl, bl > MV bl > Northern gi, Southern tr
  • kl, gl > MV tl > tr
  • ml > MV ml > mnh > nh
  • kj > gi

Note also that a large number of words were borrowed from Middle Chinese, forming part of the Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary. These caused the original introduction of the retroflex sounds and (modern s, tr) into the language.

Origin of the tones

Proto-Viet Muong had no tones to speak of. The tones later developed in some of the daughter languages from distinctions in the initial and final consonants. Vietnamese tones developed as follows:

|- ! Register ! Initial consonant ! Smooth ending ! Glottal ending ! Fricative ending |- ! High (first) register | Voiceless | A1 ngang "level" | B1 s c "sharp" | C1 h i "asking" |- ! Low (second) register | Voiced | A2 huy n "hanging" | B2 n ng "heavy" | C2 ng "tumbling" |}

Glottal-ending syllables ended with a glottal stop , while fricative-ending syllables ended with or . Both types of syllables could co-occur with a resonant (e.g. or ).

At some point, a tone split occurred, as in many other East Asian languages. Essentially, an allophonic distinction developed in the tones, whereby the tones in syllables with voiced initials were pronounced differently from those with voiceless initials. (Approximately speaking, the voiced allotones were pronounced with additional breathy voice or creaky voice and with lowered pitch. The quality difference predominates in today's northern varieties, e.g. in Hanoi, while in the southern varieties the pitch difference predominates, as in Ho Chi Minh City.) Subsequent to this, the plain-voiced stops became voiceless and the allotones became new phonemic tones. Note that the implosive stops were unaffected, and in fact developed tonally as if they were unvoiced. (This behavior is common to all East Asian languages with implosive stops.)

As noted above, Proto-Viet Muong had sesquisyllabic words with an initial minor syllable (in addition to, and independent of, initial clusters in the main syllable). When a minor syllable occurred, the main syllable's initial consonant was intervocalic and as a result suffered lenition, becoming a voiced fricative. The minor syllables were eventually lost, but not until the tone split had occurred. As a result, words in modern Vietnamese with voiced fricatives occur in all six tones, and the tonal register reflects the voicing of the minor-syllable prefix and not the voicing of the main-syllable stop in Proto-Viet Muong that produced the fricative. For similar reasons, words beginning with and occur in both registers. (Thompson 1976[23] reconstructed voiceless resonants to account for outcomes where resonants occur with a first-register tone, but this is no longer considered necessary, at least by Ferlus.)

Word play

A language game known as n i l i is used by Vietnamese speakers. N i l i involves switching the tones in a pair of words and also the order of the two words or the first consonant and rime of each word; the resulting n i l i pair preserves the original sequence of tones. Some examples:

! Original phrase !! !! Phrase after n i l i transformation !! Structural change |- | i d m "(child) wet their pants" || || d m i (nonsense words) || word order and tone switch |- | ch a hoang "pregnancy out of wedlock" || || ho ng ch a "scared yet?" || word order and tone switch |- | b y t i "all the king's subjects" || || b i t y "French waiter" || initial consonant, rime, and tone switch |- | b m t "secrets" || || b t m "revealing secrets"|| initial consonant and rime switch |}

The resulting transformed phrase often has a different meaning but sometimes may just be a nonsensical word pair. N i l i can be used to obscure the original meaning and thus soften the discussion of a socially sensitive issue, as with d m i and ho ng ch a (above) or, when implied (and not overtly spoken), to deliver a hidden subtextual message, as with b i t y.[24] Naturally, n i l i can be used for a humorous effect.[25]

Another word game somewhat reminiscent of pig latin is played by children. Here a nonsense syllable (chosen by the child) is prefixed onto a target word's syllables, then their initial consonants and rimes are switched with the tone of the original word remaining on the new switched rime.

! Nonsense syllable !! Target word !! !! Intermediate form with prefixed syllable !! !! Resulting "secret" word |- | la || ph "beef or chicken noodle soup" || || la ph || || l ph |- | la || n "to eat" || || la n || || l n a |- | la || ho n c nh "situation" || || la ho n la c nh || || loan h lanh c |- | chim || ho n c nh "situation" || || chim ho n chim c nh || || choan h m chanh k m |}

This language game is often used as a "secret" or "coded" language useful for obscuring messages from adult comprehension.


See "The Tale of Kieu" for an extract of the first six lines of Truy n Ki u, an epic narrative poem by the celebrated poet Nguy n Du, ), which is often considered the most significant work of Vietnamese literature. It was originally written in N m (titled o n Tr ng T n Thanh ) and is widely taught in Vietnam today.

See also




  • D ng, Qu ng-H m. (1941). Vi t-nam v n-h c s -y u [Outline history of Vietnamese literature]. Saigon: B Qu c gia Gi o d c.
  • Emeneau, M. B. (1947). Homonyms and puns in Annamese. Language, 23 (3), 239-244.
  • Emeneau, M. B. (1951). Studies in Vietnamese (Annamese) grammar. University of California publications in linguistics (Vol. 8). Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Hashimoto, Mantaro. (1978). The current state of Sino-Vietnamese studies. Journal of Chinese Linguistics, 6, 1-26.
  • Nguy n, nh-Ho . (1995). NTC's Vietnamese English dictionary (updated ed.). NTC language dictionaries. Lincolnwood, Illinois: NTC Pub. Press. ISBN; ISBN
  • Nguy n, nh-Ho . (1997). Vietnamese: Ti ng Vi t kh ng son ph n. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
  • Rhodes, Alexandre de. (1991). T i n Annam-Lusitan-Latinh [original: Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum]. (L. Thanh, X. V. Ho ng, & Q. C. , Trans.). Hanoi: Khoa h c X h i. (Original work published 1651).
  • Thompson, Laurence C. (1991). A Vietnamese reference grammar. Seattle: University of Washington Press. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. (Original work published 1965). (Online version:
  • U ban Khoa h c X h i Vi t Nam. (1983). Ng -ph p ti ng Vi t [Vietnamese grammar]. Hanoi: Khoa h c X h i.

Sound system

  • Brunelle, Marc. (2009) Tone perception in Northern and Southern Vietnamese. Journal of Phonetics, 37(1), 79-96.
  • Brunelle, Marc. (2009) Northern and Southern Vietnamese Tone Coarticulation: A Comparative Case Study. Journal of Southeast Asian Linguistics, 1, 49-62.
  • Michaud, Alexis. (2004). Final consonants and glottalization: New perspectives from Hanoi Vietnamese. Phonetica 61) pp. 119 146. Preprint version
  • Nguy n, V n L i; & Edmondson, Jerold A. (1998). Tones and voice quality in modern northern Vietnamese: Instrumental case studies. Mon Khmer Studies, 28, 1-18. (Online version:
  • Thompson, Laurence E. (1959). Saigon phonemics. Language, 35 (3), 454-476.

Pragmatics and language variation

  • Alves, Mark J. (forthcoming). A look at North-Central Vietnamese. In Papers from the Thirteenth Annual Meeting of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society. Arizona State University Press. Pre-publication electronic version:
  • Alves, Mark J.; & Nguy n, Duy H ng. (2007). Notes on Thanh-Ch ng Vietnamese in Ngh -An province. In M. Alves, M. Sidwell, & D. Gil (Eds.), SEALS VIII: Papers from the 8th annual meeting of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society 1998 (pp. 1 9). Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, The Australian National University, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies. Electronic version:
  • Ho ng, Th Ch u. (1989). Ti ng Vi t tr n c c mi n t n c: Ph ng ng h c [Vietnamese in different areas of the country: Dialectology]. H N i: Khoa h c x h i.
  • Honda, Koichi. (2006). F0 and phonation types in Nghe Tinh Vietnamese tones. In P. Warren & C. I. Watson (Eds.), Proceedings of the 11th Australasian International Conference on Speech Science and Technology (pp. 454 459). Auckland, New Zealand: University of Auckland. Electronic version:
  • Luong, Hy Van. (1987). Plural markers and personal pronouns in Vietnamese person reference: An analysis of pragmatic ambiguity and negative models. Anthropological Linguistics, 29 (1), 49-70.
  • Pham, Andrea Hoa. (2005). Vietnamese tonal system in Nghi Loc: A preliminary report. In C. Frigeni, M. Hirayama, & S. Mackenzie (Eds.), Toronto working papers in linguistics: Special issue on similarity in phonology (Vol. 24, pp. 183 459). Auckland, New Zealand: University of Auckland. Electronic version:
  • Sophana, Srichampa. (2004). Politeness strategies in Hanoi Vietnamese speech. Mon Khmer Studies, 34, 137-157. (Online version:
  • Sophana, Srichampa. (2005). Comparison of greetings in the Vietnamese dialects of Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City. Mon Khmer Studies, 35, 83-99. (Online version:
  • V , Thang Ph ng. (1982). Phonetic properties of Vietnamese tones across dialects. In D. Bradley (Ed.), Papers in Southeast Asian linguistics: Tonation (Vol. 8, pp. 55 75). Sydney: Pacific Linguistics, The Australian National University.
  • V ng, H u L . (1981). V i nh n x t v c di m c a v n trong th m Qu ng Nam H i An [Some notes on special qualities of the rhyme in local Quang Nam speech in Hoi An]. In M t S V n Ng n Ng H c Vi t Nam [Some linguistics issues in Vietnam] (pp. 311 320). H N i: Nh Xu t B n i H c v Trung H c Chuy n Nghi p.

Historical and comparative

  • Alves, Mark. (1999). "What's so Chinese about Vietnamese?", in Papers from the Ninth Annual Meeting of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society. University of California, Berkeley. PDF
  • Cooke, Joseph R. (1968). Pronominal reference in Thai, Burmese, and Vietnamese. University of California publications in linguistics (No. 52). Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Gregerson, Kenneth J. (1969). A study of Middle Vietnamese phonology. Bulletin de la Soci t des Etudes Indochinoises, 44, 135-193. (Reprinted in 1981).
  • Nguy n, nh-Ho . (1986). Alexandre de Rhodes' dictionary. Papers in Linguistics, 19, 1-18.
  • Shorto, Harry L. edited by Sidwell, Paul, Cooper, Doug and Bauer, Christian (2006). A Mon Khmer comparative dictionary. Canberra: Australian National University. Pacific Linguistics. ISBN
  • Thompson, Laurence E. (1967). The history of Vietnamese finals. Language, 43 (1), 362-371.


  • Haudricourt, Andr -Georges. (1949). Origine des particularit s de l'alphabet vietnamien. D n Vi t-Nam, 3, 61-68.
  • Nguy n, nh-Ho . (1955). Qu c-ng : The modern writing system in Vietnam. Washington, D. C.: Author.
  • Nguy n, nh-Ho . (1990). Graphemic borrowing from Chinese: The case of ch n m, Vietnam's demotic script. Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica, 61, 383-432.
  • Nguy n, nh-Ho . (1996). Vietnamese. In P. T. Daniels, & W. Bright (Eds.), The world's writing systems, (pp. 691 699). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN.


  • Nguyen, Bich Thuan. (1997). Contemporary Vietnamese: An intermediate text. Southeast Asian language series. Northern Illinois University, Center for Southeast Asian Studies.
  • Healy, Dana. (2004). Teach yourself Vietnamese. Teach yourself. Chicago: McGraw-Hill. ISBN
  • Hoang, Thinh; Nguyen, Xuan Thu; Trinh, Quynh-Tram; (2000). Vietnamese phrasebook, (3rd ed.). Hawthorn, Vic.: Lonely Planet. ISBN
  • Moore, John. (1994). Colloquial Vietnamese: A complete language course. London: Routledge. ISBN; ISBN (w/ CD); ISBN (w/ cassettes);
  • Nguy n, nh-Ho . (1967). Read Vietnamese: A graded course in written Vietnamese. Rutland, Vermont: C.E. Tuttle.
  • L m, L -duc; Emeneau, M. B.; & Steinen, Diether von den. (1944). An Annamese reader. Berkeley: University of California, Berkeley.
  • Nguy n, ang Li m. (1970). Vietnamese pronunciation. PALI language texts: Southeast Asia. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN -X

External links

Online Lessons


Language Tools

af:Vi tnamees ar: frp:Vi tnamien ast:Vietnamita az:Vyetnam dili bn: zh-min-nan:Oa t-l m-g be: ' bcl:Tataramon na Bietnamita bg: br:Vietnameg ca:Vietnamita cs:Vietnam tina cy:Fietnameg da:Vietnamesisk (sprog) de:Vietnamesische Sprache et:Vietnami keel el: es:Idioma vietnamita eo:Vjetnama lingvo ext:Luenga vietnamita eu:Vietnamera fa: hif:Vietnamese bhasa fr:Vietnamien ga:An V tneaimis gl:Lingua vietnamita hak:Ye t-n m-ng ko: hy: hi: hr:Vijetnamski jezik io:Vietnamana linguo id:Bahasa Vietnam is:V etnamska it:Lingua vietnamita he: jv:Basa Vietnam kl:Vietnamimiusut kn: ka: kk: kv: lad:Lingua vietnameza la:Lingua Vietnamica lv:Vjetnamie u valoda lt:Vietnamie i kalba hu:Vietnami nyelv mk: mi:Reo Whitinamu mr: arz: ms:Bahasa Vietnam mn: nl:Vietnamees ja: ce:Vetnamhoyn mott no:Vietnamesisk nn:Vietnamesisk pa: pnb: pms:Lenga vietnam is pl:J zyk wietnamski pt:L ngua vietnamita ro:Limba vietnamez qu:Witnam simi ru: sa: sco:Vietnamese leid sq:Gjuha vietnameze simple:Vietnamese language ckb: sr: sh:Vijetnamski jezik fi:Vietnamin kieli sv:Vietnamesiska tl:Wikang Biyetnames ta: th: tg: tr:Vietnamca uk: ' ug: za:Vah Yiednamz vi:Ti ng Vi t zh-classical: yo: d Vietnam zh-yue: zh:

Source: Wikipedia | The above article is available under the GNU FDL. | Edit this article

Search for Vietnamese language in Tutorials
Search for Vietnamese language in Encyclopedia
Search for Vietnamese language in Videos
Search for Vietnamese language in Books
Search for Vietnamese language in Software
Search for Vietnamese language in DVDs
Search for Vietnamese language in Store


Vietnamese language in Encyclopedia
Vietnamese_language top Vietnamese_language

Home - Add TutorGig to Your Site - Disclaimer

©2011-2013 All Rights Reserved. Privacy Statement