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Vietnamese (Tiếng Việt, Chữ Nôm: 㗂越) is an Austroasiatic language that originated in Vietnam, where it is the national and official language. Vietnamese is spoken natively by an estimated 90 million people, several times as many as the rest of the Austroasiatic family combined.[5] It is the native language of the Vietnamese (Kinh) people, as well as a first or second language for other ethnic groups in Vietnam. As a result of Vietnamese emigration, Vietnamese speakers are also found in other parts of Southeast Asia, as well as East Asia, North America, Europe, and Australia. Vietnamese has also been officially recognized as a minority language in the Czech Republic.[6]

Like many other languages in the Southeast Asia and East Asia, Vietnamese is an analytic language with phonemic tone. It has head-initial directionality, with subject–verb–object order and modifiers following the words they modify. It also uses noun classifiers. Its vocabulary has been strongly influenced by Chinese, with significant borrowing from French as well.

Vietnamese was historically written using chữ Nôm, a script using Chinese characters and locally invented characters. French colonial rule led to the official adoption of the modern Vietnamese alphabet (chữ Quốc ngữ) which uses the Latin alphabet with diacritics for tones and pronunciation. While Chữ Nôm fell out of use in Vietnam by the early 20th century, it is still used by a few Gin people in China.[7]

Geographic distribution

As the national language, Vietnamese is spoken by practically everyone in Vietnam. It is also spoken by the Gin traditionally residing on three islands (now joined to the mainland) off Dongxing in southern Guangxi Province, China.[8] A significant number of Vietnamese speakers also reside in neighboring Cambodia and Laos.

In the United States, Vietnamese is the fifth most spoken language, with over 1.5 million speakers, who are concentrated in a handful of states. It is the third most spoken language in Texas and Washington; fourth in Georgia, Louisiana, and Virginia; and fifth in Arkansas and California.[9] Vietnamese is the seventh most spoken language in Australia.[10] In France, it is the most spoken Asian language and the eighth most spoken immigrant language at home.[11]

Official status

Vietnamese is the sole official and national language of Vietnam. It is the first language of the majority of the Vietnamese population, as well as a first or second language for the country's ethnic minority groups. [12]

In the Czech Republic, Vietnamese has been recognized as one of 14 minority languages, on the basis of communities that have resided in the country either traditionally or on a long-term basis. This status grants the Vietnamese community in the country a representative on the Government Council for Nationalities, an advisory body of the Czech Government for matters of policy towards national minorities and their members. It also grants the community the right to use Vietnamese with public authorities and in courts anywhere in the country.[13][14]

As a foreign language

Vietnamese is increasingly being taught in schools and institutions outside of Vietnam, a large part which is contributed by its large diaspora. In countries with strongly established Vietnamese-speaking communities such as the United States, France, Australia, Canada, Germany, as well as former Soviet bloc countries like Czech Republic, Poland, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Russia, Vietnamese language education largely serves as a cultural role to link descendants of Vietnamese immigrants to their ancestral culture. Meanwhile, in countries near Vietnam such as Cambodia, Laos, China, and Thailand, the increased role of Vietnamese in foreign language education is largely due to the growth and influence of Vietnam's economy.[15]

Since the 1980s, Vietnamese language schools (trường Việt ngữ) have been established for youth in many Vietnamese-speaking communities around the world, notably in the United States.[16][17]

Historic and stronger trade and diplomatic relations with Vietnam and a growing interest among the French Vietnamese population (one of France's most established non-European ethnic groups) of their ancestral culture have also led to an increasing number of institutions in France, including universities, to offer formal courses in the language.[18]

Since the late 1980s, the Vietnamese German community has enlisted the support of city governments to bring Vietnamese into high school curricula for the purpose of teaching and reminding Vietnamese German students of their mother-tongue. Furthermore, there has also been a number of Germans studying Vietnamese due to increased economic investment in Vietnam.[19][19][20]

In East Asia, which share a strong cultural common with Vietnam for being part of Sinosphere, rising number of Vietnamese language learners can also be found in China, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea.[21] Several universities in China since 2010s have incorporated Vietnamese into its education course.[22] The phenomenon also rises in South Korea due to recent improvement of relationship between two countries and due to historical bond dated from Lý Long Tường's fleeing from Vietnam to Korea.[23] Since 2018, Taiwan has started to include Vietnamese as one of its education in elementary schools.[24] Vietnamese also gains significant interest in Japan.[25]

Linguistic classification

Early linguistic work some 150 years ago[26] already classified Vietnamese as belonging to the Mon–Khmer branch of the Austroasiatic language family (a family that also includes Khmer, spoken in Cambodia, as well as various smaller and/or regional languages, such as the Munda and Khasi languages spoken in eastern India, and others in Laos, southern China and parts of Thailand). Later, Muong was found to be more closely related to Vietnamese than other Mon–Khmer languages, and a Viet–Muong subgrouping was established, also including Thavung, Chut, Cuoi, etc.[27] The term "Vietic" was proposed by Hayes (1992),[28] who proposed to redefine Viet–Muong as referring to a subbranch of Vietic containing only Vietnamese and Muong. The term "Vietic" is used, among others, by Gérard Diffloth, with a slightly different proposal on subclassification, within which the term "Viet–Muong" refers to a lower subgrouping (within an eastern Vietic branch) consisting of Vietnamese dialects, Muong dialects, and Nguồn (of Quảng Bình Province).[29]

Lexicon

As a result of the historical period of Vietnam under Chinese rule, and consequent influence from China as a neighbour as an independent state, Vietnamese lexicon received a two-fold layer of integration of Chinese words from Middle Chinese (during the time Vietnam was annexed by China) and from Literary Chinese (when Vietnam gained independence after 938 AD) into Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary.

Other borrowings, such as those from the Cham language, were due to inter-trading between the two groups and from Vietnam's annexation of the Champa Kingdom, which absorbed the Champa's Indianized culture, creating Central Vietnam. A similar situation happened in the southeast section of the Khmer Kingdom, which created present-day Southern Vietnam and facilitated borrowings from the Khmer language.

Additionally, the French presence in Vietnam from 1777 to the Geneva Accords of 1954, resulted in significant influence from the Southeast Asia and East Asia, Vietnamese is an analytic language with phonemic tone. It has head-initial directionality, with subject–verb–object order and modifiers following the words they modify. It also uses noun classifiers. Its vocabulary has been strongly influenced by Chinese, with significant borrowing from French as well.

Vietnamese was historically written using chữ Nôm, a script using Chinese characters and locally invented characters. French colonial rule led to the official adoption of the modern Vietnamese alphabet (chữ Quốc ngữ) which uses the Latin alphabet with diacritics for tones and pronunciation. While Chữ Nôm fell out of use in Vietnam by the early 20th century, it is still used by a few Gin people in China.[7]

As the national language, Vietnamese is spoken by practically everyone in Vietnam. It is also spoken by the Gin traditionally residing on three islands (now joined to the mainland) off Dongxing in southern Guangxi Province, China.[8] A significant number of Vietnamese speakers also reside in neighboring Cambodia and Laos.

In the United States, Vietnamese is the fifth most spoken language, with over 1.5 million speakers, who are concentrated in a handful of states. It is the third most spoken language in Texas and Washington; fourth in Georgia, Louisiana, and Virginia; and fifth in Arkansas and California.[9] Vietnamese is the seventh most spoken language in Australia.[10] In France, it is the most spoken Asian language and the eighth most spoken immigrant language at home.[11]

Official status

Vietnamese is the sole official and national language of Vietnam. It is the first language of the majority of the Vietnamese population, as well as a first or second language for the country's ethnic minority groups. [12]

In the Czech Republic, Vietnamese has been recognized as one of 14 minority languages, on the basis of communities that have resided in the country either traditionally or on a long-term basis. This status grants the Vietnamese community in the country a representative on the Government Council for Nationalities, an advisory body of the Czech Government for matters of policy towards national minorities and their members. It also grants the community the right to use Vietnamese with public authorities and in courts anywhere in the country.[13][14]

As a foreign language

Vietnamese is increasingly being taught in schools and institutions outside of Vietnam, a large part which is contributed by its large diaspora. In countries with strongly established Vietnamese-speaking communities such as the United States, France, Australia, Canada, Germany, as well as former Soviet bloc countries like Czech Republic, Poland, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Russia, Vietnamese language education largely serves as a cultural role to link descendants of Vietnamese immigrants to their ancestral culture. Meanwhile, in countries near Vietnam such as Cambodia, Laos, China, and Thailand, the increased role of Vietnamese in foreign language education is largely due to the growth and influence of Vietnam's economy.[15]

Since the 1980s, Vietnamese language schools (trường Việt ngữ) have been established for youth in many Vietnamese-speaking communities around the world, notably in the United States.[16][17]

Historic and stronger trade and diplomatic relations with Vietnam and a growing interest among the French Vietnamese population (one of France's most established non-European ethnic groups) of their ancestral culture have also led to an increasing number of institutions in France, including universities, to offer formal courses in the language.[18]

Since the late 1980s, the Vietnamese German community has enlisted the support of city governments to bring Vietnamese into high school curricula for the purpose of teaching and reminding Vietnamese German students of their mother-tongue. Furthermore, there has also been a number of Germans studying Vietnamese due to increased economic investment in Vietnam.[19][19][20]

In East Asia, which share a strong cultural common with Vietnam for being part of Sinosphere, rising number of Vietnamese language learners can also be found in China, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea.[9] Vietnamese is the seventh most spoken language in Australia.[10] In France, it is the most spoken Asian language and the eighth most spoken immigrant language at home.[11]

Vietnamese is the sole official and national language of Vietnam. It is the first language of the majority of the Vietnamese population, as well as a first or second language for the country's ethnic minority groups. [12]

In the Czech Republic, Vietnamese has been recognized as one of 14 minority languages, on the basis of communities that have resided in the country either traditionally or on a long-term basis. This status grants the Czech Republic, Vietnamese has been recognized as one of 14 minority languages, on the basis of communities that have resided in the country either traditionally or on a long-term basis. This status grants the Vietnamese community in the country a representative on the Government Council for Nationalities, an advisory body of the Czech Government for matters of policy towards national minorities and their members. It also grants the community the right to use Vietnamese with public authorities and in courts anywhere in the country.[13][14]

Vietnamese is increasingly being taught in schools and institutions outside of Vietnam, a large part which is contributed by its large diaspora. In countries with strongly established Vietnamese-speaking communities such as the United States, France, Australia, Canada, Germany, as well as former Soviet bloc countries like Czech Republic, Poland, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Russia, Vietnamese language education largely serves as a cultural role to link descendants of Vietnamese immigrants to their ancestral culture. Meanwhile, in countries near Vietnam such as Cambodia, Laos, China, and Thailand, the increased role of Vietnamese in foreign language education is largely due to the growth and influence of Vietnam's economy.[15]

Since the 1980s, Vietnamese language schools (trường Việt ngữ) have been established for youth in many Vietnamese-speaking communities around the world, notably in the United States.trường Việt ngữ) have been established for youth in many Vietnamese-speaking communities around the world, notably in the United States.[16][17]

Historic and stronger trade and diplomatic relations with Vietnam and a growing interest among the French Vietnamese population (one of France's most established non-European ethnic groups) of their ancestral culture have also led to an increasing number of institutions in France, including universities, to offer formal courses in the language.[18]

Since the late 1980s, the Vietnamese German community has enlisted the support of city governments to bring Vietnamese into high school curricula for the purpose of teaching and reminding Vietnamese German students of their mother-tongue. Furthermore, there has also been a number of Germans studying Vietnamese due to increased economic investment in Vietnam.[19][19][20]

In East Asia, which share a strong cultural common with Vietnam for being part of Sinosphere, rising number of Vietnamese language learners can also be found in China, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea.[21] Several universities in China since 2010s have incorporated Vietnamese into its education course.[22] The phenomenon also rises in South Korea due to recent improvement of relationship between two countries and due to historical bond dated from Lý Long Tường's fleeing from Vietnam to Korea.[23] Since 2018, Taiwan has started to include Vietnamese as one of its education in elementary schools.[24] Vietnamese also gains significant interest in Japan.[25]

Early linguistic work some 150 years ago[26] already classified Vietnamese as belonging to the Mon–Khmer branch of the Austroasiatic language family (a family that also includes Khmer, spoken in Cambodia, as well as various smaller and/or regional languages, such as the Munda and Khasi languages spoken in eastern India, and others in Laos, southern China and parts of Thailand). Later, Muong was found to be more closely related to Vietnamese than other Mon–Khmer languages, and a Viet–Muong subgrouping was established, also including Thavung, Chut, Cuoi, etc.[27] The term "Vietic" was proposed by Hayes (1992),[28] who proposed to redefine Viet–Muong as referring to a subbranch of Vietic containing only Vietnamese and Muong. The term "Vietic" is used, among others, by Gérard Diffloth, with a slightly different proposal on subclassification, within which the term "Viet–Muong" refers to a lower subgrouping (within an eastern Vietic branch) consisting of Vietnamese dialects, Muong dialects, and Nguồn (of Quảng Bình Province).[29]

Lexicon

As a result of the historical period of Vietnam under Chinese rule, and consequent influence from China as a neighbour as an independent state, Vietnamese lexicon received a two-fold layer of integration of Chinese words from Middle Chinese (during the time Vietnam was annexed by China) and from Literary Chinese (when Vietnam gained independence after 938 AD) into Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary.

Other borrowings, such as those from the Cham language, were due to inter-trading between the two groups and from Vietnam's annexation of the Champa Kingdom, which absorbed the Champa's Indianized culture, creating Central Vietnam. A similar situat

Other borrowings, such as those from the Cham language, were due to inter-trading between the two groups and from Vietnam's annexation of the Champa Kingdom, which absorbed the Champa's Indianized culture, creating Central Vietnam. A similar situation happened in the southeast section of the Khmer Kingdom, which created present-day Southern Vietnam and facilitated borrowings from the Khmer language.

Additionally, the French presence in Vietnam from 1777 to the Geneva Accords of 1954, resulted in significant influence from the French language. Much of this French-derived vocabulary consists of words, technology, and concepts introduced to Vietnam by French colonists, such as the word 'cà phê' which derived from the French word 'café'. As for the later result of Vietnam War, loanwords from Russian and English entered Vietnamese vocabulary.

Nowadays, many new words are being added to the language's lexicon due to influence from the Western World; for example 'TV' is written as 'tivi'. Sometimes these words are calques translated into Vietnamese (for example, 'software' is calqued into 'phần mềm', which means "soft-part"). Some calques are multi-syllabic, e.g. Campuchia (Cambodia).

Vietnamese has a large number of vowels. Below is a vowel diagram of Hanoian Vietnamese (including centering diphthongs):

  Front Central Back
Centering ia/iê [iə̯] ưa/ươ [ɨə̯] ua/uô [uə̯]Front and central vowels (i, ê, e, ư, â, ơ, ă, a) are unrounded, whereas the back vowels (u, ô, o) are rounded. The vowels â [ə] and ă [a] are pronounced very short, much shorter than the other vowels. Thus, ơ and â are basically pronounced the same except that ơ [əː] is of normal length while â [ə] is short – the same applies to the vowels long a [aː] and short ă [a].[30]

The centering diphthongs are formed with only the three high vowels (i, ư, u). They are generally spelled as ia, ưa, ua when they end a word and are spelled , ươ, , respectively, when they are followed by a consonant.

In addition to single vowels (or monophthongs) and centering diphthongs, Vietnamese has closing diphthongs[31] and triphthongs. The closing diphthongs and triphthongs consist of a main vowel component followed by a shorter semivowel offglide /j/ or /w/.[32] There are restrictions on the high offglides: /j/ cannot occur after a front vowel (i, ê, e) nucleus and /w/ cannot occur after a back vowel (u, ô, o) nucleus.[33]

  /w/ offglide /j/ offglide
Front Central Back
Centering iêu [iə̯w] ươu monophthongs) and centering diphthongs, Vietnamese has closing diphthongs[31] and triphthongs. The closing diphthongs and triphthongs consist of a main vowel component followed by a shorter semivowel offglide /j/ or /w/.[32] There are restrictions on the high offglides: /j/ cannot occur after a front vowel (i, ê, e) nucleus and /w/ cannot occur after a back vowel (u, ô, o) nucleus.[33]

The correspondence between the orthography and pronunciation is complicated. For example, the offglide /j/ is usually written as i; however, it may also be represented with y. In addition, in the diphthongs [āj] and [āːj] the letters y and i also indicate the pronunciation of the main vowel: ay = ă + /j/, ai = a + /j/. Thus, tay "hand" is [tāj] while tai "ear" is [tāːj]. Similarly, u and o indicate different pronunciations of the main vowel: au = ă + /w/, ao = a + /w/. Thus, thau "brass" is [tʰāw] while thao "raw silk" is [tʰāːw].

Consonants

The consonants that occur in Vietnamese are listed below in the Vietnamese orthography with the phonetic pronunciation to the right.

Labial Dental/
Alveolar
Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m [m] n [n] nh [ɲ] ng/ngh [ŋ]
Stop tenuis p [p] t [t] tr [ʈ] ch [c] c/k/q [k]
aspirated th [tʰ]
glottalized b [ɓ] đ [ɗ]
The consonants that occur in Vietnamese are listed below in the Vietnamese orthography with the phonetic pronunciation to the right.

Labial Dental/
Some consonant sounds are written with only one letter (like "p"), other consonant sounds are written with a digraph (like "ph"), and others are written with more than one letter or digraph (the velar stop is written variously as "c", "k", or "q").

Not all dialects of Vietnamese have the same consonant in a given word (although all dialects use the same spelling in the written language). See the language variation section for further elaboration.

The analysis of syllable-final orthographic ch and nh in Hanoi Vietnamese has had different analyses. One analysis has final ch, nh as being phonemes /c/, /ɲ/ contrasting with syllable-final t, c /t/, /k/ and n, ng /n/, /ŋ/ and identifies final ch with the syllable-initial ch /c/. The other analysis has final ch and nh as predictable allophonic variants of the velar phonemes /k/ and /ŋ/ that occur after the upper front vowels i /i/ and ê /e/; although they also occur after a, but in such cases are believed to have resulted from an earlier e /ɛ/ which diphthongized to ai (cf. ach from aic, anh from aing). (See Vietnamese phonology: Analysis of final ch, nh for further details.)

Tones

Pitch contours and duration of the six Northern Vietnamese tones as spoken by a male speaker (not from Hanoi). Fundamental frequency is plotted over time. From Nguyễn & Edmondson (1998).

Each Vietnamese syllable is pronounced with an inherent tone,[34] centered on the main vowel or group of vowels. Tones differ in:

Tone is indicated by diacritics written above or below the vowel (most of the tone diacritics appear above the vowel; however, the nặng tone dot diacritic goes below the vowel).[35] The six tones in the northern varieties (including Hanoi), with their self-referential Vietnamese names, are:

Name Description Diacritic Example Sample vowel
ngang   'level' mid level (no mark) ma  'ghost' Not all dialects of Vietnamese have the same consonant in a given word (although all dialects use the same spelling in the written language). See the language variation section for further elaboration.

The analysis of syllable-final orthographic ch and nh in Hanoi Vietnamese has had different analyses. One analysis has final ch, nh as being phonemes /c/, /ɲ/ contrasting with syllable-final t, c /t/, /k/ and n, ng /n/, /ŋ/ and identifies final ch with the syllable-initial ch /c/. The other analysis has final ch and nh as predictable allophonic variants of the velar phonemes /k/ and /ŋ/ that occur after the upper front vowels i /i/ and ê /e/; although they also occur after a, but in such cases are believed to have resulted from an earlier e /ɛ/ which diphthongized to ai (cf. ach from aic, anh from aing). (See Vietnamese phonology: Analysis of final ch, nh for further details.)

Each Vietnamese syllable is pronounced with an inherent tone,[34] centered on the main vowel or group of vowels. Tones differ in:

Tone is indicated by diacritics written above or below the vowel (most of the tone diacritics appear above the vowel; however, the nặng tone dot diacritic goes below the vowel).[35] The six tones in the northern varieties (including Hanoi), with their self-referential Vietnamese names, are:

Name Description Diacritic Example Sample vowel
ngang   'level' mid level (no mark) ma  'ghost' About this sound[35] The six tones in the northern varieties (including Hanoi), with their self-referential Vietnamese names, are:

Name Description Diacritic Example Sample vowel
ngang   'level' mid level

Other dialects of Vietnamese have fewer tones (typically only five).

In Vietnamese poetry, tones are classed into two groups: (tone pattern)

Tone group Tones within tone group
bằng "level, flat" ngang and huyền
trắc "oblique, sharp" sắc, hỏi, ngã, and nặng

Words with tones belonging to a particular tone group must occur in certain positions within the poetic verse.

Vietnamese Catholics practice a distinctive style of prayer recitation called đọc kinh, in which each tone is assigned a specific note or sequence of notes.

Language variation

The Vietnamese language has several mutually intelligible regional varieties (or dialects). The five main dialects are as follows:[36]

Dialect region Localities Names under French colonization
Northern Vietnamese Hanoi, Haiphong, Red River Delta, Northwest and Northeast Tonkinese
North-central (or Area IV) Vietnamese Thanh Hoá, Nghệ An, Hà Tĩnh Annamese
Mid-Central Vietnamese Quảng Bình, Quảng Trị, Huế, Thừa Thiên Annamese
South-Central Vietnamese (or Area V) Đà Nẵng, Quảng Nam, Quảng Ngãi, Bình Định, Phú Yên, Nha Trang Annamese
Southern Vietnamese Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu, Ho Chi Minh City, Lâm Đồng, Mekong Delta Cochinchinese

Vietnamese has traditionally been divided into three dialect regions: North, Central, and South. However, Michel Ferlus and Nguyễn Tài Cẩn offer evidence for considering a North-Central region separate from Central. The term Haut-Annam refers to dialects spoken from northern Nghệ An Province to southern (former) Thừa Thiên Province that preserve archaic features (like consonant clusters and undiphthongized vowels) that have been lost in other modern dialects.

These dialect regions differ mostly in their sound systems (see below), but also in vocabulary (including basic vocabulary, non-basic vocabulary, and grammatical words) and grammar.[37] The North-central and Central regional varieties, which have a significant amount of vocabulary differences, are generally less mutually intelligible to Northern and Southern speakers. There is less internal variation within the Southern region than the other regions due to its relatively late settlement by Vietnamese speakers (around the end of the 15th century). The North-central region is particularly conservative; its pronunciation has diverged less from Vietnamese orthography than the other varieties, which tend to merge certain sounds. Along the coastal areas, regional variation has been neutralized to a certain extent, while more mountainous regions preserve more variation. As for sociolinguistic attitudes, the North-central varieties are often felt to be "peculiar" or "difficult to understand" by speakers of other dialects, despite the fact that their pronunciation fits the written language the most closely; this is typically because of various words in their vocabulary which are unfamiliar to other speakers (see the example vocabulary table below).