The Vietnamese alphabet (Vietnamese: chữ Quốc ngữ; literally "national language script") is the modern writing system for the Vietnamese language. It uses the Latin script, based on its employment in the alphabets of Romance languages, in particular the Portuguese alphabet, with some digraphs and the addition of nine accent marks or diacritics – four of them to create additional sounds, and the other five to indicate the tone of each word. The many diacritics, often two on the same vowel, make written Vietnamese easily recognizable.
There are 29 letters in the Vietnamese alphabet.
|Letter||Name||Name when used in spelling||IPA|
|B b||bê||bờ||/ɓe˧, ɓəː˧˩/|
|C c||xê||cờ||/se˧, kəː˧˩/|
|D d||dê||dờ||/ze˧, zəː˧˩/|
|Đ đ||đê||đờ||/ɗe˧, ɗəː˧˩/|
|G g||giê||gờ||/ze˧, ɣəː˧˩/|
|H h||hát||hờ||/hat˥, həː˧˩/|
|I i||i; i ngắn||/i˧, i˧ ŋan˧˥/|
|P p||pê; bê phở (colloq.)||pờ||/pe˧, pəː˧˩/|
|Q q||cu; cuy||quờ||/ku˧, kwi˧, kwəː˧˩/|
|R r||e-rờ||rờ||/ɛ˧ɹəː˧˩, ʐəː˧˩/|
|S s||ét-xì; xờ nặng||sờ||/ɛt˦˥si˧˩, ʂəː˧˩/|
|T t||tê||tờ||/te˧, təː˧˩/|
|V v||vê||vờ||/ve˧, vəː˧/|
|X x||ích xì; xờ nhẹ||xờ||/ik˦˥si˧˩, səː˧˩/|
|Y y||i dài; i-cờ-rét||/i˧zaːj˧˩, i˧kəː˧ɹɛt˦˥/|
The alphabet is largely derived from the Portuguese, although the usage of gh and gi was borrowed from Italian (cf. ghetto, Giuseppe), and that for c/k/qu from Greek and Latin (cf. canis, kinesis, quo vadis).
|C c||/k/||/k/||⟨k⟩ is used when preceding ⟨i y e ê⟩.
⟨qu⟩ is used instead of ⟨co cu⟩ if a /w/ on-glide exists.
Realized as [k͡p] in word-final position following rounded vowels ⟨u ô o⟩.
|Ch ch||/t͡ɕ/||/ʲk/||/t/||Multiple phonemic analyses of final ⟨ch⟩ have been proposed (main article).|
|D d||/z/||/j/||In Middle Vietnamese, ⟨d⟩ represented /ð/. The distinction between ⟨d⟩ and ⟨gi⟩ is now purely etymological (and is the only one) in most modern dialects.|
|Gh gh||Spelling used ⟨gh⟩ instead of ⟨g⟩ before ⟨i e ê⟩, seemingly to follow the Italian convention. ⟨g⟩ is not allowed in these environments.|
|Gi gi||/z/||/j/||In Middle Vietnamese, ⟨gi⟩ was pronounced [ʝ]. The distinction between ⟨d⟩ and ⟨gi⟩ is now purely etymological (and is the only one) in most modern dialects. Spelled ⟨g⟩ before another ⟨i⟩.[a]|
|H h||/h/||Unpronounced in Southern Vietnamese before /w/, except through spelling pronunciation.|
|K k||/k/||Spelling used instead of ⟨c⟩ before ⟨i y e ê⟩ to follow the European tradition. ⟨c⟩ is not allowed in these environments.|
|N n||/n/||/n/||/ŋ/||In Southern Vietnamese, word-final ⟨n⟩ is realized as [ŋ] if not following ⟨i ê⟩.|
|Ng ng||/ŋ/||/ŋ/||Realized as [ŋ͡m] in word-final position following rounded vowels ⟨u ô o⟩.|
|Ngh ngh||Spelling used instead of ⟨ng⟩ before ⟨i e ê⟩ in accordance with ⟨gh⟩.|
|Nh nh||/ɲ/||/ʲŋ/||/n/||Multiple phonemic analyses of final ⟨nh⟩ have been proposed (main article).|
|P p||/p/||Only occurs initially in loanwords. Even so, not many Vietnamese can convincingly pronounce a "p" sound, and often resulting in a "b" sound instead.|
|Ph ph||/f/||In Middle Vietnamese, ⟨ph⟩ was pronounced [pʰ]|
|Qu qu||/kʷ/||/w/||Spelling used in place of ⟨co cu⟩ if a /w/ on-glide exists.
Can be realized as [kʷ] in Southern speech through spelling pronunciation.
|R r||/z/||/ʐ/ or /r/||Is sometimes pronounced as /ɹ/ in loanwords or in informal Southern speech.|
|S s||/s/||/ʂ/||In Middle Vietnamese, ⟨s⟩ was pronounced [ʂ].|
|T t||/t/||/t/||/k/||In Southern Vietnamese, word-final ⟨t⟩ is realized as [k] if not following ⟨i ê⟩.|
|V v||/v/||/j/||In Middle Vietnamese, it was represented by a b with flourish ⟨ꞗ⟩ and was pronounced [β].
Can be realized as [v] in Southern speech through spelling pronunciation and in loanwords.
|X x||/s/||In Middle Vietnamese, ⟨x⟩ was pronounced [ɕ].|
The correspondence between the orthography and pronunciation is somewhat complicated. In some cases, the same letter may represent several different sounds, and different letters may represent the same sound. This may be because the orthography was designed centuries ago and the spoken language has changed, or because the inventors were trying to spell the sounds of several dialects at once.
The letters y and i are mostly equivalent, and there is no concrete rule that says when to use one or the other, except in sequences like ay and uy (i.e. tay ("arm, hand") is read /tă̄j/ while tai ("ear") is read /tāj/). There have been attempts since the late 20th century to standardize the orthography by replacing all the vowel uses of y with i, the latest being a decision from the Vietnamese Ministry of Education in 1984. These efforts seem to have had limited effect, in part because some people bristled at the thought of names such as Nguyễn becoming Nguiễn and Thúy (a common female name) becoming Thúi (stinky), even though the standardization does not apply to diphthongs and triphthongs and allowed exceptions to proper names. In textbooks published by Nhà Xuất bản Giáo dục ("Publishing House of Education"), y is used to represent /i/ only in Sino-Vietnamese words that are written with one letter y alone (diacritics can still be added, as in ý, ỷ), at the beginning of a syllable when followed by ê (as in yếm, yết), and after u; therefore such forms as *lý and *kỹ are not "standard", though they are much preferred elsewhere. Most people and the popular media continue to use the spelling that they are most accustomed to.
|a|| /a/ ([æ] in some dialects) except as below
/ă/ in au /ăw/ and ay /ăj/ (but /a/ in ao /aw/ and ai /aj/)
/ăj/ before syllable-final nh /ŋ/ and ch /k/, see
Vietnamese phonology#Analysis of final ch, nh
/ə̯/ in ưa /ɨə̯/, ia /iə̯/ and ya /iə̯/
/ə̯/ in ua except after q[note 1]
|o|| /ɔ/ except as below
/ăw/ before ng and c[note 2]
/w/ after any vowel letter (= after a or e)
/w/ before any vowel letter except i (= before ă, a or e)
|ă||/ă/||ô|| /o/ except as below
/ə̆w/ before ng and c except after a u that is not preceded by a q[note 3]
/ə̯/ in uô except after q[note 4]
|â||/ə̆/||ơ|| /ə/ except as below
/ə̯/ in ươ /ɨə̯/
|e||/ɛ/||u|| /u/ except as below
/w/ after q or any vowel letter
/w/ before any vowel letter except a, ô and i
Before a, ô and i: /w/ if preceded by q, /u/ otherwise
|ê|| /e/ except as below
/ə̆j/ before syllable-final nh /ŋ/ and ch /k/, see
Vietnamese phonology#Analysis of final ch, nh
/ə̯/ in iê /iə̯/ and yê /iə̯/
|i|| /i/ except as below
/j/ after any vowel letter
|y|| /i/ except as below
/j/ after any vowel letter except u (= after â and a)
The uses of the letters i and y to represent the phoneme /i/ can be categorized as "standard" (as used in textbooks published by Nhà Xuất bản Giáo dục) and "non-standard" as follows.
|In one-lettered non-Sino-Vietnamese syllables||i (e.g.: i tờ, í ới, ì ạch, ỉ ôi, đi ị)|
|In one-lettered Sino-Vietnamese syllables||y (e.g.: y học, ý kiến, ỷ lại)|
|Syllable-initial, not followed by ê||i (e.g.: ỉa đái, im lặng, ích lợi, ỉu xìu)|
|Syllable-initial, followed by ê||y (e.g.: yếu ớt, yếm dãi, yết hầu)|
|After u||y (e.g.: uy lực, huy hoàng, khuya khoắt, tuyển mộ, khuyết tật, khuỷu tay, huýt sáo, khuynh hướng)|
|After qu, not followed by ê, nh||y (e.g.: quý giá, quấn quýt)||i (e.g.: quí giá, quấn quít)|
|After qu, followed by ê, nh||y (e.g.: quyên góp, xảo quyệt, mừng quýnh, hoa quỳnh)|
|After b, d, đ, r, x||i (e.g.: bịa đặt, diêm dúa, địch thủ, rủ rỉ, triều đại, xinh xắn)|
|After g, not followed by a, ă, â, e, ê, o, ô, ơ, u, ư||i (e.g.: cái gì?, giữ gìn)|
|After h, k, l, m, t, not followed by any letter, in non-Sino-Vietnamese syllables||i (e.g.: ti hí, kì cọ, lí nhí, mí mắt, tí xíu)|
|After h, k, l, m, t, not followed by any letter, in Sino-Vietnamese syllables||i (e.g.: hi vọng, kì thú, lí luận, mĩ thuật, giờ Tí)||y (e.g.: hy vọng, kỳ thú, lý luận, mỹ thuật, giờ Tý)|
|After ch, gh, kh, nh, ph, th||i (e.g.: chíp hôi, ghi nhớ, ý nghĩa, khiêu khích, nhí nhố, phiến đá, buồn thiu)|
|After n, s, v, not followed by any letter, in non-proper-noun syllables||i (e.g.: ni cô, si tình, vi khuẩn)|
|After n, s, v, not followed by any letter, in proper nouns||i (e.g.: Ni, Thuỵ Sĩ, Vi)||y (e.g.: Ny, Thụy Sỹ, Vy)|
|After h, k, l, m, n, s, t, v, followed by a letter||i (e.g.: thương hiệu, kiên trì, bại liệt, ngôi miếu, nũng nịu, siêu đẳng, mẫn tiệp, được việc)|
|In Vietnamese personal names, after a consonant||i||either i or y, depending on personal preference|
This "standard" set by Nhà Xuất bản Giáo dục is not definite. It is unknown why the literature books use Lí while the history books use Lý.
The table below matches the vowels of Hanoi Vietnamese (written in the IPA) and their respective orthographic symbols used in the writing system.
|Rising Vowels||Rising-Falling Vowels||Falling Vowels|
|nucleus (V)||/w/ on-glides||/w/ + V + off-glide||/j/ off-glides||/w/ off-glides|
|front||e||/wɛ/ oe/(q)ue*||/wɛw/ oeo/(q)ueo*||/ɛw/ eo|
|ê||/we/ uê||/ew/ êu|
|i||/wi/ uy||/wiw/ uyu||/iw/ iu|
|ia/iê/yê*||/wiə̯/ uyê/uya*||/iə̯w/ iêu/yêu*|
|central||a||/wa/ oa/(q)ua*||/waj/ oai/(q)uai, /waw/ oao/(q)uao*||/aj/ ai||/aw/ ao|
|ă||/wă/ oă/(q)uă*||/wăj/ oay/(q)uay*||/ăj/ ay||/ăw/ au|
|â||/wə̆/ uâ||/wə̆j/ uây||/ə̆j/ ây||/ə̆w/ âu|
|ơ||/wə/ uơ||/əj/ ơi||/əw/ ơu|
|ư||/ɨj/ ưi||/ɨw/ ưu|
|ưa/ươ*||/ɨə̯j/ ươi||/ɨə̯w/ ươu|
The glide /w/ is written:
The off-glide /j/ is written as i except after â and ă, where it is written as y; note that /ăj/ is written as ay instead of *ăy (cf. ai /aj/) .
The diphthong /iə̯/ is written:
The diphthong /uə̯/ is written:
The diphthong /ɨə̯/ is written:
Vietnamese is a tonal language, i.e., the meaning of each word depends on the "tone" (basically a specific tone and glottalization pattern) in which it is pronounced. There are six distinct tones in the standard northern dialect. In the south, there is a merging of the hỏi and ngã tones, in effect leaving five basic tones. The first one ("level tone") is not marked, and the other five are indicated by diacritics applied to the vowel part of the syllable. The tone names are chosen such that the name of each tone is spoken in the tone it identifies.
|Name||Contour||Diacritic||Vowels with diacritic|
|Ngang or Bằng||mid level, ˧||unmarked||A/a, Ă/ă, Â/â, E/e, Ê/ê, I/i, O/o, Ô/ô, Ơ/ơ, U/u, Ư/ư, Y/y|
|Huyền||low falling, ˨˩||grave accent||À/à, Ằ/ằ, Ầ/ầ, È/è, Ề/ề, Ì/ì, Ò/ò, Ồ/ồ, Ờ/ờ, Ù/ù, Ừ/ừ, Ỳ/ỳ|
|Hỏi||mid falling, ˧˩ (Northern); dipping, ˨˩˥ (Southern)||hook above||Ả/ả, Ẳ/ẳ, Ẩ/ẩ, Ẻ/ẻ, Ể/ể, Ỉ/ỉ, Ỏ/ỏ, Ổ/ổ, Ở/ở, Ủ/ủ, Ử/ử, Ỷ/ỷ|
|Ngã||glottalized rising, ˧˥ˀ (Northern); dipping, ˨˩˥ (Southern)||tilde||Ã/ã, Ẵ/ẵ, Ẫ/ẫ, Ẽ/ẽ, Ễ/ễ, Ĩ/ĩ, Õ/õ, Ỗ/ỗ, Ỡ/ỡ, Ũ/ũ, Ữ/ữ, Ỹ/ỹ|
|Sắc||high rising, ˧˥||acute accent||Á/á, Ắ/ắ, Ấ/ấ, É/é, Ế/ế, Í/í, Ó/ó, Ố/ố, Ớ/ớ, Ú/ú, Ứ/ứ, Ý/ý|
|Nặng||glottalized falling, ˧˨ˀ (Northern); low rising, ˩˧ (Southern)||dot below||Ạ/ạ, Ặ/ặ, Ậ/ậ, Ẹ/ẹ, Ệ/ệ, Ị/ị, Ọ/ọ, Ộ/ộ, Ợ/ợ, Ụ/ụ, Ự/ự, Ỵ/ỵ|
In syllables where the vowel part consists of more than one vowel (such as diphthongs and triphthongs), the placement of the tone is still a matter of debate. Generally, there are two methodologies, an "old style" and a "new style". While the "old style" emphasizes aesthetics by placing the tone mark as close as possible to the center of the word (by placing the tone mark on the last vowel if an ending consonant part exists and on the next-to-last vowel if the ending consonant doesn't exist, as in hóa, hủy), the "new style" emphasizes linguistic principles and tries to apply the tone mark on the main vowel (as in hoá, huỷ). In both styles, when one vowel already has a quality diacritic on it, the tone mark must be applied to it as well, regardless of where it appears in the syllable (thus thuế is acceptable while thúê is not). In the case of the ươ diphthong, the mark is placed on the ơ. The u in qu is considered part of the consonant. Currently, the new style is usually used in textbooks published by Nhà Xuất bản Giáo dục, while most people still prefer the old style in casual uses.
In lexical ordering, differences in letters are treated as primary, differences in tone markings as secondary, and differences in case as tertiary differences. (Letters include for instance A and Ă but not Ẳ. Older dictionaries also treated digraphs and trigraphs like CH and NGH as base letters.) Ordering according to primary and secondary differences proceeds syllable by syllable. According to this principle, a dictionary lists tuân thủ before tuần chay because the secondary difference in the first syllable takes precedence over the primary difference in the second.
As a result of influence from the Chinese writing system, each syllable in Vietnamese is written separately as if it were a word. In the past, syllables in multisyllabic words were concatenated with hyphens, but this practice has died out, and hyphenation is now reserved for foreign borrowings. A written syllable consists of at most three parts, in the following order from left to right:
The Vietnamese language was first written down, from the 13th century onwards, using variant Chinese characters (chữ Nôm 字喃), each of them representing one word. The system was based on the script used for writing classical Chinese (chữ nho), but it was supplemented with characters developed in Vietnam (chữ thuần nôm, proper Nom characters) to represent native Vietnamese words.
As early as 1520, Portuguese and Italian Jesuit missionaries in Vietnam began using Latin script to transcribe the Vietnamese language as an assistance for learning the language. These efforts led eventually to the development of the present Vietnamese alphabet, started by Portuguese missionary Francisco de Pina. His work was continued by the Avignon missionary Alexandre de Rhodes, who worked in the country between 1624 and 1644. Building on previous dictionaries by Gaspar do Amaral and António Barbosa, Rhodes wrote the Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum, a Vietnamese–Portuguese–Latin dictionary, which was later printed in Rome in 1651, using their spelling system.
This section's representation of one or more viewpoints about a controversial issue may be unbalanced or inaccurate.(March 2018)
Later on, under French rule in the late 19th century, some missionaries saw the Confucian literati as the main obstacle to Catholic conversion in Vietnam, hence the elimination of the Chinese language was also regarded as a means for isolating Vietnam from its heritage, and instrumental in neutralizing its traditional elite.[better source needed] Historian Pamela A. Pears asserted that the French, by instituting the Roman alphabet in Vietnam, cut the Vietnamese off from their traditional literature, rendering them unable to read it.[how?] However, it was the French authority that had to reluctantly accept the use of chữ Quốc ngữ to write Vietnamese.
The French colonial education system was based in the east of Indochina,[clarification needed] and in that context the Tonkin Free School flourished fleetingly, set up by nationalists in 1907, and adopted the alphabetic script. By 1917, the Confucian examination system was suppressed, so convincing the Vietnamese elites of the need to educate their offspring in the French language education system. That, however, did not satisfy the ruling French, who demanded exclusive educational establishments. The colonial regime then came up with the idea of setting up an educational system for natives with quoc ngu Vietnamese as first language in primary school, but French as second language, via quoc ngu. Hundred of thousands of text books for primary education began to be published in quoc ngu, with the result of unintentionally turning the script into the popular medium for the expression of Vietnamese culture. By the late 1930s, approximately 10% of the population was literate, a huge increase over several decades before.
Prior to the advent of 21st-century computer-assisted typesetting methods, the act of typesetting and printing Vietnamese had been described as a "nightmare" due to the number of accents and diacritics.
Writing Sino-Vietnamese words with quốc ngữ caused some confusion about the origins of some terms, due to the large number of homophones in Chinese and Sino-Vietnamese. For example, both 明 (bright) and 冥 (dark) are read as minh, which therefore has two opposite meanings (although the meaning of "dark" is now esoteric and is used in only a few compound words). Perhaps for this reason, the Vietnamese name for Pluto is not Minh Vương Tinh (冥王星 – lit. underworld king star) as in other East Asian languages, but is Diêm Vương Tinh (閻王星), named after the Buddhist deity Yama. During the Hồ Dynasty, Vietnam was officially known as Đại Ngu (大虞 – Great Yu). Most modern Vietnamese know ngu as "stupid" (愚); consequently, some misinterpret it as "Big Idiot". In this case, Ngu means peace and joy. However, the homograph/homophone problem is not as serious as it may seem, because although many Sino-Vietnamese words have multiple meanings when written with quốc ngữ, usually only one has widespread usage, while the others are relegated to obscurity. Furthermore, Sino-Vietnamese words are usually not used alone, but in compound words; thus, the meaning of the compound word is preserved even if individually each has multiple meanings. Most importantly, since quốc ngữ is an exact phonemic transcription of the spoken language, its understandability is as high or higher than a normal conversation.
The universal character set Unicode has full support for the Vietnamese writing system, although it does not have a separate segment for it. The required characters that other languages use are scattered throughout the Basic Latin, Latin-1 Supplement, Latin Extended-A, and Latin Extended-B blocks; those that remain (such as the letters with more than one diacritic) are placed in the Latin Extended Additional block. An ASCII-based writing convention, Vietnamese Quoted Readable, and several byte-based encodings including TCVN3, VNI, and VISCII were widely used before Unicode became popular. Most new documents now exclusively use the Unicode format UTF-8.
Unicode allows the user to choose between precomposed characters and combining characters in inputting Vietnamese. Because, in the past, some fonts implemented combining characters in a nonstandard way (see Verdana font), most people use precomposed characters when composing Vietnamese-language documents (except on Windows where Windows-1258 used combining characters).
Most keyboards used by Vietnamese-language users do not support direct input of diacritics by default. Various free software such as Unikey that act as keyboard drivers exist. They support the most popular input methods, including Telex, VNI, VIQR and its variants.