A brief HISTORY of VIETNAMESE WRITING – Section 2

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Donny Trương1
School of Art at George Mason University

… continued for section 1

THE ALPHABET

    The official Latin-based Vietnamese alphabet consists of twenty-nine letters: seventeen consonants and twelve vowels. Except fjw, and z, twenty-two letters come from the Roman alphabet. The seven modified letters are ăâđêôơ, and ư. As in English, the order follows the Roman alphabetic convention. Letters with diacritical marks come after letters without. For instance, a precedes ă and d precedes đ. The following alphabetization is taught in schools.

Official Latin-based Vietnamese alphabet - holylandvietnamstudies.com
The official Latin-based Vietnamese alphabet

LETTERS WITH DIACRITICS

     Vietnamese has an extensive number of letters with diacritical marks to make tonal distinctions. The ordering of tone marks is varied, but the most common is Nguyễn Đình Hòa’s convention: unmarked tone (ngang), acute (sắc), grave (huyền), hook above (hỏi), tilde (ngã), and underdot (nặng). Because diacritics play an essential role in differentiating the tones, each vowel can take on one or two additional marks. The following 134 letters (uppercase and lowercase) demonstrate all the possibilities of diacritics in Vietnamese.

vietnamese diacritical marks - holylandvietnamstudies.com
Vietnamese diacritical marks

MODIFIED LETTERS

    As demonstrated in the alphabet, the Vietnamese writing system uses seven modified letters. Four have separated diacritical marks: ăâê, and ô. Three have connected diacritical marks: đơ, and ư. This chapter provides further details of the modified letters.

Vietnamese diacritical marks - holylandvietnamstudies.com
Vietnamese diacritical marks

LETTER Â

    The â has a circumflex placed above the letter a. The a-circumflex can take on an additonal acute ( ), grave ( ), hook above ( ), tilde ( ), or underdot ( ). In Vietnamese, a chevron-shaped circumflex is also used on eê ) and oô ).

LETTER Đ

    The đ has a cross bar through the letter d. The đ is an initial-only consonant. The uppercase Đ has a horizontal bar in the middle of the cap height of the letter D. The lowercase đ has a bar centered between the ascender and the x-height of the letter d.

LETTER Ê

    The ê has a circumflex placed above the letter e. The e-circumflex can take on an additonal acute ( ế ), grave ( ), hook above ( ), tilde ( ), or underdot ( ). In Vietnamese, a chevron-shaped circumflex is also used on aâ ) and oô ).

LETTER Ô

    The ô has a circumflex placed above the letter o. The o-circumflex can take on an additonal acute ( ), grave ( ), hook above ( ), tilde ( ), or underdot ( ). In Vietnamese, a chevron-shaped circumflex is also used on aâ ) and eê ).

LETTER Ơ

    The ơ has a horn attached and aligned to the right of the letter o. The o-horn can take on an additonal acute ( ), grave ( ), hook above ( ), tilde ( ), or underdot ( ). In Vietnamese, a horn is also used on uư ).

LETTER Ư

    The ư has a horn attached and aligned to the right of the letter u. The u-horn can take on an additonal acute ( ), grave ( ), hook above ( ), tilde ( ), or underdot ( ). In Vietnamese, a horn is also used on oơ ).

Vietnamese diacritical marks - holylandvietnamstudies.com
Vietnamese diacritical marks

TONE MARKS

     Vietnamese is a tonal language. Accents are used to denote six distinctive tones: “level” (ngang), “acute-angry” (sắc), “grave-lowering” (huyền), “smooth-rising” hỏi, “chesty-raised” (ngã), and “chesty-heavy” (nặng). In writing, one tone is represented as unmarked (a), four are indicated with diacritics marked on a vowel ( áà, and ã ), and one is marked with a dot under a vowel ( ). Let’s break down these individual tone marks.

UNMARKED

    An unmarked tone (ngang) has no accent. Its pitch ranges from mid to high-mid.

ACUTE

     An acute (dấu sắc) is a forward-slash accent placed on vowels: áéíóú, and ý. An acute, which starts from a narrow bottom and ends with a wide top, denotes a high rising pitch. It should rise slightly toward the right of the base character ( á ) without falling off. When combined, it must be positioned clearly from another mark ( ế, or ).

GRAVE

  A grave (dấu huyền) is a backward-slash accent placed on vowels: àèìòù, and . A grave, which starts from a wide top and ends with a narrow bottom, denotes a low pitch. It should rise slightly toward the left of the base character ( à ) without falling off. When combined, it must be positioned clearly from another mark ( , or ).

HOOK ABOVE

    A hook above (dấu hỏi) is a tone mark that resembles a dotless question mark placed on vowels: , and . It denotes a mid-low dropping pitch. When combined, it must be positioned clearly from another mark ( , or ).

TILDE

    A tilde (dấu ngã) is an accent placed on vowels: ãĩõũ, or . It denotes a high rising pitch. When combined, it must be positioned clearly from another mark ( , or ).

UNDERDOT

     An underdot (dấu nặng) is a dot placed under vowels: , and . It denotes a low dropping pitch and must be positioned clearly below the baseline.

… be continued in section 3…

BAN TU THU
01 /2020

NOTE:
1: About the author: Donny Trương is a designer with a passion for typography and the web. He received his master of arts in graphic design from the School of Art at George Mason University. He is also the author of Professional Web Typography.
◊ Bold words and sepia images has been set by Ban Tu Thu – thanhdiavietnamhoc.com

SEE MORE:
◊  A brief HISTORY of VIETNAMESE WRITING – Section 1
◊  A brief HISTORY of VIETNAMESE WRITING – Section 3
◊  etc.

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