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 Nôm' (字喃).
The Chinese writing was in more common usage, whereas Chữ Nôm was used by members of the educated elite. Both scripts have fallen out of common usage in modern Vietnam, and Chữ Nôm 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 (Hà Nội), Central (Huế) and South Vietnam (Sài Gòn).
Rounding is contrastive for non-low back vowels.
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 Nôm, and is widely taught in Vietnam today.
Trăm năm trong cõi người ta,
Chữ tài chữ mệnh khéo là ghét nhau.
Trải qua một cuộc bể dâu,
Những điều trông thấy mà đau đớn lòng.
Lạ gì bỉ sắc tư phong,
Trời xanh quen thói má hồng đánh ghen.
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.