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Vietnamese language

Vietnamese (Vietnamese "Tiếng Việt"), a tonal language, is the official language of Vietnam. It is the mother tongue of 87% of Vietnam's population, in addition to about two million Vietnamese emigrants. Although it contains many vocabulary borrowings from Chinese and was originally written using Chinese characters, it is considered by linguists to be one of the Austroasiatic languages, of which it has the most speakers (the second language being the Khmer language).

Presently, the written language uses a Roman character set based on the Portuguese alphabet called Quốc Ngữ. It was introduced in the 17th century by a French Jesuit missionary named Alexandre de Rhodes (1591-1660). With the occupation of the French in the 19th century, it became popular and by the late 20th century virtually all writings were done in Quốc Ngữ. Previous to French occupation, there were two primary writing systems used - the standard ideographic Chinese character set (漢文), and an extremely complicated variant form known as 'Chữ Nm' (字喃).

The Chinese writing was in more common usage, whereas Chữ Nm was used by members of the educated elite. Both scripts have fallen out of common usage in modern Vietnam, and Chữ Nm is near-extinct.

The six tones in Vietnamese are: (font size increased for readability)

ASCII Symbol ASCII Name Unicode Name Description Sample Unicode Vowel (e)
Kho^ng Không no tone (flat)
Sa('c Sắc rising
Huye^`n Huyền falling
Ho?i Hỏi dipping
Nga~ Ngã dipping (but not as low)
Na(.ng Nặng low, glottal

Tone markers are written above the vowel they affect, with the exception of Nặng, where the dot goes below the vowel. For example, the common family name:


begins with SAMPA /N/ (this sound is difficult for native English speakers to place at the beginning of a word), and is followed by something approximated by the English word "win". The ~ indicates a dipping tone; start somewhat low, go down in pitch, then rise to the end of the word.

Vietnamese is a monosyllabic language[?], although many compound words are present. Diphthongs and triphthongs[?] are very common. Marked differences in Vietnamese accents are found between natives of North (H Nội), Central (Huế) and South Vietnam (Si Gn).

This needs to be SAMPA-ized; adapted from pgdudda's website (http://home.attbi.com/~pgdt/Phonology/austro#Vietnamese)


Bilabial Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
Stops p/b t/d, [th]* t [ty] k  
Fricatives f/v s/z s/z x/[Y]
Nasals m n   ñ N  
Liquids   l        
* /th/ is an unvoiced, aspirated alveolar stop

Rounding is contrastive for non-low back vowels.

i   u, u
e   o, o
æ a

Example Text This text is from the first six lines of Kim Van Kieu, an epic poem by the celebrated poet Nguyen Du[?] (1765-1820). It was originally written in Nm, and is widely taught in Vietnam today.

Trăm năm trong ci người ta,
Chữ ti chữ mệnh kho l ght nhau.
Trải qua một cuộc bể du,
Những điều trng thấy m đau đớn lng.
Lạ g bỉ sắc tư phong,
Trời xanh quen thi m hồng đnh ghen.

English translation

Four score and two tens, within that short span of human life,
Talent and Destiny are poised in bitter conflict.
Oceans turn to mulberry fields: a desolate scene!
More gifts, less chance, such is the law of Nature
And the blue sky is known to be jealous of rosy cheeks.

External links

  • British Museum Exhibit (http://www.bl.uk/whatson/exhibitions/topicalvietnam): Exhibit of classical Vietnamese, including Kim Van Kieu (http://www.bl.uk/whatson/exhibitions/images/or14844f3.jpg).
  • Introduction to Vietnamese (http://www.de-han.org/vietnam/chuliau/lunsoat/sound/): Introduction to Vietnamese for Mandarin speakers.
  • Learn Vietnamese (http://www.nhandan.org.vn/english/learningvn/tiengviet): Learn the language from the national radio broadcast.
  • Nom Foundation (http://www.nomfoundation.org/): An organization dedicated to the preservation of the Nom writing.

All Wikipedia text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

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