The Vietic languages are a branch of the Austroasiatic language family. The branch was once referred to by the terms Việt–Mường, Annamese–Muong, and Vietnamuong; the term Vietic was proposed by Hayes (1992),[2] who proposed to redefine Việt–Mường as referring to a sub-branch of Vietic containing only Vietnamese and Mường.

Many of the Vietic languages have tonal or phonational systems intermediate between that of Viet–Muong and other branches of Austroasiatic that have not had significant Chinese or Tai influence.

Vietnamese, today, has had significant Chinese influence especially in vocabulary and tonal system. Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary accounts for about 30–60% of Vietnamese vocabulary, not including calques from China.


Based on linguistic diversity, the most probable homeland of the Vietic languages appears to have been located in modern-day Bolikhamsai Province and Khammouane Province in Laos as well as parts of Nghệ An Province and Quảng Bình Province in Vietnam. The time depth of the Vietic branch dates back at least 2,000 years.[3]

The ancestor of the Vietic language is traditionally assumed to have been based around the Red River area and in what is now Northern Central Vietnam. However, origins of the Vietic languages remains a controversial topic among linguists.


The Vietnamese language was identified as Austroasiatic in the mid-nineteenth century, and there is now strong evidence for this classification. Modern Vietnamese is a monosyllabic tonal language like Cantonese and has lost many Proto-Austroasiatic phonological and morphological features. Vietnamese also has large stocks of borrowed Chinese and Tai vocabulary. However, there continues to be resistance to the idea that Vietnamese could be more closely related to Khmer than to Chinese or Tai languages. The vast majority of scholars attribute these typological similarities to language contact rather than to common inheritance.

Chamberlain (1998) argues that the Red River Delta region was originally Tai-speaking and became Vietnamese-speaking only between the seventh and ninth centuries AD as a result of emigration from the south, i.e., modern Central Vietnam, where the highly distinctive and conservative North-Central Vietnamese dialects are spoken today. Therefore, the region of origin of Vietnamese (and the earlier Viet–Muong) was well south of the Red River.[3] Like the ethnonym Lao, the name Yue/Việt originally referred to Tai–Kadai-speaking groups. In northern Vietnam, these later adopted Viet–Muong[3] and further north Chinese, where the designation Yue Chinese preserves the ethnonym. (Both in Vietnam and southern China, however, many Tai–Kadai languages remain in use.)

Furthermore, John Phan (2013, 2016)[4][5] argues that “Annamese Middle Chinese,” was spoken in the Red River Valley and was then later absorbed into the Vietnamese language. Annamese Middle Chinese was part of a Middle Chinese dialect continuum in southwestern China that included Waxiang Chinese, the Jiudu patois 九都土話 of Hezhou, Southern Pinghua, and various Xiang Chinese dialects (e.g., Xiangxiang 湘鄉, Luxi 瀘溪, Qidong 祁東, and Quanzhou 全州).[5]. Phan (2013) considers there to be three major types of Sino-Vietnamese borrowings, which were borrowed during different eras.

On the other hand, Ferlus (2009) showed that the inventions of pestle, oar and a pan to cook sticky rice, which is the main characteristic of the Đông Sơn culture, correspond to the creation of new lexicons for these inventions in Northern Vietic (Việt–Mường) and Central Vietic (Cuoi-Toum).[6] The new vocabularies of these inventions were proven to be derivatives from original verbs rather than borrowed lexical items. The current distribution of Northern Vietic also correspond to the area of Dong Son culture. Thus, Ferlus conclude that the Northern Vietic (Viet-Muong) is the direct heirs of the Dongsonian, who have resided in Southern part of Red river delta and North Central Vietnam since the 1st millennium BC [6]


Vietic speakers reside in and around the Nakai–Nam Theun Conservation Area of Laos and north-central Vietnam (Chamberlain 1998). Many of these speakers are referred to as Mường, Nhà Làng, and Nguồn. Chamberlain (1998) lists current locations in Laos for the following Vietic peoples.[7] An overview based on first-hand fieldwork has been proposed by Michel Ferlus.[8]

  • Nguồn: Ban Pak Phanang, Boualapha District, Khammouane; others in Vietnam
  • Liha, Phong (Cham), and Toum: Khamkeut District; probably originally from the northern Nghe An / Khamkeut border area
  • Ahoe: originally lived in Na Tane Subdistrict of Nakai District, and Ban Na Va village in Khamkeut District; taken to Hinboun District during the war, and then later resettled in Nakai Tay (39 households) and in Sop Hia (20 households) on the Nakai Plateau.
  • Thaveung (Ahao and Ahlao dialects): several villages near Lak Xao; probably originally from the Na Heuang area
  • Cheut: Ban Na Phao and Tha Sang, Boualapha District; others probably also in Pha Song, Vang Nyao, Takaa; originally from Hin Nam No and Vietnam
  • Atel: Tha Meuang on the Nam Sot (primarily Malang people); originally from the Houay Kanil area
  • Thémarou: Vang Chang on the Nam Theun; Ban Soek near the Nam Noy
  • Makang: Na Kadok, Khamkeut District (primarily Saek people); originally from the Upper Sot area
  • Malang: Tha Meuang on the Nam Sot
  • "Salang": Ban Xe Neua, Boualapha District
  • Atop: Na Thone, Khamkeut District (primarily Tai Theng people); originally from the Upper Sot area
  • Mlengbrou: near the Nam One; later relocated to the Yommalath District side of the Ak Mountain, and now living in Ban Sang, Yommalath District (primarily Yooy people)
  • Kri: Ban Maka

In Vietnam, some Vietic hill-tribe peoples, including the Arem, Rục, Maliêng, and Mày (Cươi), were resettled at Cu Nhái (located either in western Quảng Bình Province or in the southwest of Hương Khê District in Hà Tĩnh Province). The Sách are also found in Vietnam.

The following table lists the lifestyles of various Vietic-speaking ethnic groups. Unlike the neighboring Tai ethnic groups, many Vietic groups are not paddy agriculturalists.

Cultural typology of Vietic-speaking ethnic groups[3]
Lifestyle Vietic group
Small-group foraging nomads Atel, Thémarou, Mlengbrou, (Cheut?)
Originally collectors and traders who have become emergent swidden sedentists Arao, Maleng, Malang, Makang, Tơe, Ahoe, Phóng
Swidden cultivators who move every 2–3 years among pre-existing village sites Kri
Combined swidden and paddy sedentists Ahao, Ahlao, Liha, Phong (Cham), Toum


The discovery that Vietnamese was a Mon–Khmer language, and that its tones were a regular reflection of non-tonal features in the rest of the family, is considered a milestone in the development of historical linguistics.[9] Vietic languages show a typological range from a Chinese or Tai typology to a typical Mon-Khmer Austroasiatic typology, including (a) complex tonal systems, complex phonation systems or blends; (b) C(glide)VC or CCVC syllable templates; monosyllabic or polysyllabic and isolating or agglutinative typology.[10][11]

  • Arem: This language lacks the breathy phonation common to most Vietic languages, but does have glottalized final consonants.
  • Cuôi: Hung in Laos, and Thô in Vietnam
  • Aheu (Thavung): This language makes a four-way distinction between clear and breathy phonation combined with glottalized final consonants. This is very similar to the situation in the Pearic languages in which, however, the glottalization is in the vowel.
  • Ruc, Sach, May, and Chưt: A dialect cluster; the register system is the four-way contrast of Aheu augmented with pitch.
  • Maleng (Bo, Pakatan): Tones as in Ruc-Sach.
  • Pong, Hung, Tum, Khong-Kheng
  • Việt–Mường: Vietnamese and Mường. These two dialect chains share 75% of their basic vocabulary, and have similar systems of 5–6 contour tones. These are regular reflexes of other Vietic languages: The three low and three high tones correspond to voiced and voiceless initial consonants in the ancestral language; these then split depending on the original final consonants: Level tones correspond to open syllables or final nasal consonants; high rising and low falling tones correspond to final stops, which have since disappeared; dipping tones to final fricatives, which have also disappeared; and glottalized tones to final glottalized consonants, which have deglottalized.


Chamberlain (2003)

The following classification of the Vietic languages is from Chamberlain (2003:422), as quoted in Sidwell (2009:145). Unlike past classifications, there is a sixth "South" branch that includes Kri, a newly described language.

Sidwell (2014)

Based on comparative studies of Ferlus (1982, 1992, 1997, 2001) and new studies in Muong languages of Phan (2012), Sidwell (2014 ) pointed out that Muong is a paraphyletic taxon and form a subgroup with Vietnamese. The subgroup Viet-Muong coordinates alongside several Vietic groups. Thus, He proposed a new internal classification for Vietic [13]


  • Viet-Muong: Vietnamese, Mường Muốt, Mường Nàbái, Mường Chỏi...
  • Pong-Toum: Đan Lai, Hung, Toum, Cuôi...
  • Chut
    • East: Mãliềng, Maleng, Arem, Kri, Chứt (Mày, Rụt, Sách, Mụ Già)...
    • West: Thavung, Pakatan...

However, John Phan (2012)[14] argues that Muong is paraphyletic and does not form a group.

Animal cycle names

Michel Ferlus (1990, 2013)[15][16] notes that the 12-year animal cycle (zodiac) names in the Khmer, Thai, and Lao calendars were borrowed from a phonologically conservative form of Viet-Muong. The animal cycle names were adapted from the Chinese calendar into Old Vietnamese, and were then borrowed by the Khmer during the pre-Angkorian period (Ferlus 2013:9-10). The following table of 12-year animal cycle names is from Ferlus (2013:7), with reconstructed names in the Vietic donor language from Ferlus (1990). Thai names, which have been borrowed from Khmer, have also been provided in the table below.

Animal Donor language Modern Khmer Khmer transliteration Old Khmer Proto-Viet-Muong Muong Pong Kari Thai name
Rat *ɟuot cuːt jūt *ɟuot *ɟuot cuot⁸ - - Chuat (ชวด)
Ox *caluu cʰlou chlūv *c.luː *c.luː kluː¹ kluː¹ săluː² Chalu (ฉลู)
Tiger *kʰaal kʰaːl khāl *kʰaːl *k.haːlˀ kʰaːl³ kʰaːl³ - Khan (ขาล)
Rabbit *tʰɔh tʰɑh thoḥ *tʰɔh *tʰɔh tʰɔː⁵ tʰɔː³ - Thɔ (เถาะ)
Dragon *marooŋ roːŋ roṅ *m.roːŋ *m.roːŋ roːŋ² - roːŋ¹ Marong (มะโรง)
Snake *masaɲ mə̆saɲ msāñ' *m.saɲ *m.səɲˀ saɲ³ siŋ³ - Maseng (มะเส็ง)
Horse *mamia mə̆miː mamī *m.ŋɨa *m.ŋǝːˀ ŋɨa⁴ - măŋəː⁴ Mamia (มะเมีย)
Goat *mamɛɛ mə̆mɛː mamæ *m.ɓɛː *m.ɓɛːˀ - ɓɛː³ - Mamɛɛ (มะแม)
Monkey *vɔɔk vɔːk vak *vɔːk *vɔːk vɔːk⁸ vɔːk⁸ - Wɔɔk (วอก)
Rooster *rakaa rə̆kaː rakā *r.kaː *r.kaː kaː¹ kaː¹ kaː¹ Rakaa (ระกา)
Dog *cɔɔ cɑː ca *cɔː *ʔ.cɔːˀ cɔː³ cɔː³ cɔː³ Jɔɔ (จอ)
Pig *kur kao/kol kur *kur *kuːrˀ kuːj³ kuːl⁴ kuːl⁴ Kun (กุน)

Ferlus (2013) notes that the animal cycle names were borrowed from a Viet-Muong (Northern Vietic) language rather than from a Southern Vietic language, since the vowel in thʈe Old Khmer name for 'snake' *m.saɲ corresponds to Viet-Muong rather than to Southern Vietic.

Further reading

  • Alves, Mark J. (2003). Ruc and Other Minor Vietic Languages: Linguistic Strands Between Vietnamese and the Rest of the Mon-Khmer Language Family. In Papers from the Seventh Annual Meeting of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society, ed. by Karen L. Adams et al.. Tempe, Arizona, 3-19. Arizona State University, Program for Southeast Asian Studies.
  • Barker, M. E. (1977). Articles on Proto-Viet–Muong. Vietnam publications microfiche series, no. VP70-62. Huntington Beach, Calif: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
  • Nguyễn, Tài Cẩn. (1995). Giáo trình lịch sử ngữ âm tiếng Việt (sơ thảo) (Textbook of Vietnamese historical phonology). Hà Nội: Nhà Xuất Bản Gíao Dục.
  • Trần Trí Dõi (2011). Một vài vấn đề nghiên cứu so sánh - lịch sử nhóm ngôn ngữ Việt - Mường [A historical-comparative study of Viet-Muong group]. Hà Nội: Nhà xuất bản Đại Học Quốc Gia Hà nội. ISBN 978-604-62-0471-8


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Vietic". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  2. ^ Hayes, La Vaughn H. 1992. Vietic and Việt-Mường: a new subgrouping in Mon-Khmer. Mon-Khmer Studies 21. 211–228.
  3. ^ a b c d Chamberlain, J.R. 1998, "The origin of Sek: implications for Tai and Vietnamese history", in The International Conference on Tai Studies, ed. S. Burusphat, Bangkok, Thailand, pp. 97-128. Institute of Language and Culture for Rural Development, Mahidol University.
  4. ^ Phan, John. 2013. Lacquered Words: the Evolution of Vietnamese under Sinitic Influences from the 1st Century BCE to the 17th Century CE. Ph.D. dissertation: Cornell University.
  5. ^ a b Phan, John D. & de Sousa, Hilário. 2016. A preliminary investigation into Proto-Southwestern Middle Chinese. (Paper presented at the International workshop on the history of Colloquial Chinese – written and spoken, Rutgers University, New Brunswick NJ, 11–12 March 2016.)
  6. ^ a b Ferlus, Michael (2009). "A Layer of Dongsonian Vocabulary in Vietnamese" (PDF). Journal of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society. 1: 95–108. 
  7. ^ http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTLAOPRD/Resources/jim_chamberlain_monitoring_report_on_nt2_consultations.pdf
  8. ^ Ferlus, Michel. 1996. Langues et peuples viet-muong. Mon-Khmer Studies 26. 7–28.
  9. ^ Ferlus, Michel. 2004. The Origin of Tones in Viet-Muong. In Somsonge Burusphat (ed.), Papers from the Eleventh Annual Conference of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society 2001, 297–313. Tempe, Arizona: Arizona State University Programme for Southeast Asian Studies Monograph Series Press.
  10. ^ See Alves 2003 on the typological range in Vietic.
  11. ^ The following information is taken from Paul Sidwell's lecture series on the Mon–Khmer languages.[1]
  12. ^ Phan, John D. 2012. "Mường is not a subgroup: Phonological evidence for a paraphyletic taxon in the Viet-Muong sub-family." Mon-Khmer Studies 40:1-18.
  13. ^ Sidwell P., Jenny M. 2014/2015a. "The handbook of Austroasiatic languages: Austroasiatic Classification". Leiden, Boston: Brill. pp. 144–220.
  14. ^ Phan, John. 2012. "Mường is not a subgroup: Phonological evidence for a paraphyletic taxon in the Viet-Muong sub-family." In Mon-Khmer Studies, no. 40, pp. 1-18., 2012.
  15. ^ Ferlus, Michel. 1990. "Sur L’origine Des Langues Việt-Mường." In The Mon-Khmer Studies Journal, 18-19: 52-59.
  16. ^ Michel Ferlus. The sexagesimal cycle, from China to Southeast Asia. 23rd Annual Conference of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society, May 2013, Bangkok, Thailand. <halshs-00922842v2>

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