OverviewThe Vietnamese Language (in Vietnamese: Tiếng Việt, or Tieng Viet without accent marks) has existed for millenia but only in spoken form for most of the earlier periods. The writing system used in Vietnam was classical Chinese (~9th → 13th Century), Chữ Nôm (13th → 17th) and Romanized script (17th → Present) , .
Geographical DistributionThe Vietnamese Language is currently used by more than 86 million Vietnamese in Vietnam and approximately 4 million Overseas Vietnamese, most notably in:
- The United States: 1.8 million
- Cambodia: 600 thousand
- France: 250 thousand
- Australia: 160 thousand
- Taiwan: 120 - 200 thousand
- Canada, Laos: 150 thousand
- And others such as Russia and South Korea
Main Features of VietnameseThe following are the most notable characteristics of Vietnamese Language, especially when compared to English:
- The Vietnamese Alphabet is closely related to the English Alphabet, but with additional letters such as ă or ơ. Learn more about Vietnamese Alphabet.
- Vietnamese Language is a tonal language: its words are written with diacritics, or accent marks. The same underlying letters with different diacritics produce different words: different in both pronuncation and meaning. For example, the word ma means ghosts while the word má means mother. Vietnamese has 6 tones.
- Vietnamese Language is monosyllabic, i.e., having only one syllable (vowel) per word, like many other Southeast Asian Languages. Contrast this with English when words have many syllables. For example, the word beautiful has 3 syllables. To learn more about Vietnamese word structure, please refer to this article.
- Vietnamese Language has many loan words from Chinese and French. The reason is that Vietnam was many times and for long periods under Chinese domination during the previous millennium, and was a French colony for almost a hundred year (1985 - 1954). Examples of words transliterated from French are sơ mi (from French word chemise, meaning shirt), búp bê (from French word poupée, meaning doll) .
To learn more about Vietnamese, start here for Grammar or here for Vocabulary.
Vietnamese Language DialectsThere are 3 main dialects of Vietnamese Language:
- the Northern Dialect (represented by Hanoi, the capital)
- the Central Dialect (represented by Hue, the former capital during feudalism)
- the Southern Dialect (represented by Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), the most dynamic city in Vietnam)
There is one very important note: these 3 dialects are mutually intelligible by all Vietnamese. They differ mainly in pronunciation of certain alphabet letters and in a few word usages. These 3 dialects don't differ at the scale of Chinese dialects such as Mandarin and Cantonese or Hokkien.
Below are the major differences in pronunciation among the 3 Vietnamese dialects:
- Northern Dialect: considered the standard of Vietnamese pronunciation, having clear distinction in pronunciation of different tones.
- Central Dialect: noted by its heaviness due to the emphasis on low tones.
- Southern Dialect: normally do not distinguish between the asking tone (hook) and the tumbling tone (tilde); also pronounce certain consonants differently.