VIETNAMESE LANGUAGE for Vietnamese and Foreigners – Introduction – Section 1

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     The Vietnamese language is the communicative language of Vietnamese people and also the mother-tongue of Viet people (also named as Kinh, the major ethnic group in Vietnam). The formation of a common language used by the entire people is a hard task due to the diversity of dialects and accents. Vietnamese is based on melodious syllables and stressed accent. Accent has an important role to play in helping distinguish and identify the meaning of the sayings. There also exist numerous accents in the Vietnamese language, among which the most common and favorite is the Southern one. This accent seems to be different form the a standard one as its pronunciation is based heavily on the main sound disregard of the standard accent and even grammar. Vietnamese is a monosyllabic language with each articulated sound carrying a certain meaning. Also, it offers innumerable pairs of compound words, which are comprised of 2, 3 or even for constituent single sounds. 

    The Vietnamese language has been formed and developed for many centuries now. Documents of early feudal dynasties used Chinese and not until the birth of Nom [Nôm] (Demotic script) language in 14th century was it employed in both speaking and writing, especially in composing literature. In 17th century, Vietnamese or namely national language came to existing. Its origin is closely related to Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and French propagators working in South East Asia countries. 

Han Nom script -
Han Nom script (Source: Learn Forum)

   Those invented a new writing script as the mean to express the Vietnamese language. The most noticeable contributors to the formation and studying Vietnamese at that time was a French vicar named Alexandre de Rhode1 with his publication of one of the first Vietnamese dictionary and grammar called Vietnamese–Portuguese–Latin Dictionary. Initially, Vietnamese was used merely for the purpose of propagation but was soon popularised officially when French people imposed their colonial regime on Vietnam. To some extents, Vietnamese was originally the tools for ruling of colonists, but then, thanks to its convenience, Vietnamese became popular. Moreover, its easy-to-pronounce alphabet system and combination enabled it to overcome any criticism.2, 3

    Vietnamese (tiếng Việt, or less commonly Việt ngữ) is the national and official language of Vietnam. It is the mother tongue of 86% of Vietnam’s population, and of about three million overseas Vietnamese. It is also spoken as a second language by many ethnic minorities of Vietnam. It is part of the Austroasiatic language family4, of which it has the most speakers by a significant margin (several times larger than the other Austroasiatic languages put together). Much of Vietnamese vocabulary has been borrowed from Chinese, and it was formerly written using the Chinese writing system, albeit in a modified format and was given vernacular pronunciation. As a byproduct of French colonial rule, the language displays some influence from French, and the Vietnamese writing system (quốc ngữ) in use today is an adapted version of the Latin alphabet, with additional diacritics for tones and certain letters.

    As the national language of the majority ethnic group, Vietnamese is spoken throughout Vietnam by the Vietnamese people, as well as by ethnic minorities. It is also spoken in overseas Vietnamese communities, most notably in the United States, where it has more than one million speakers and is the seventh most-spoken language (it is 3rd in Texas, 4th in Arkansas and Louisiana, and 5th in California). In Australia, it is the sixth most-spoken language.

    According to the Ethnologue, Vietnamese is also spoken by substantial numbers of people in Cambodia, Canada, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Laos, Martinique, the Netherlands, New Caledonia, Norway, the Philippines, the Russian Federation, Senegal, Taiwan, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and Vanuatu.

    “At first, as Vietnamese has tones and shares a large vocabulary with Chinese, it was grouped into Sino-Tibetan”. Later, it was found that the tones of Vietnamese appeared very recently (André-Georges Haudricourt-1954)5 and the Chinese-like vocabulary is also borrowed from Han Chinese during their shared history (1992); these two aspects had nothing to do with the origin of Vietnamese. Vietnamese was then classified into the Kam-Tai subfamily of Daic together with Zhuang (including Nùng and Tày in North Vietnam) and Thai, after removing the surface influences of Chinese. Nevertheless, the Daic aspects were also borrowed from Zhuang in their long history of being neighbors (André-Georges Haudricourt), not original aspects of Vietnamese. Finally, Vietnamese was classified into the Austroasiatic linguistic family4, the Mon-Khmer subfamily, Viet-Moung branch (1992) after more studies were done. Kinh is the largest population in Vietnam. According to Fudan University’s 2006 study, it belongs to Mon-Khmer linguistically, but there is no last word for its origin.

    Henri Maspero6 maintained the Vietnamese Language of Thai-Origin, and the Reverend Father Souvignet traced it to the Indo-Malay group. A.G. Haudricourt5 had refuted the thesis of Maspero6 and concluded that Vietnamese is properly placed in the Austroasiatic family. None of these theories quite explain the origin of the Vietnamese language. One thing, however, remains certain: Vietnamese is not a pure language. It seems to be a blend of several languages, ancient and modern, encountered throughout history following successive contacts between foreign peoples and the people of Vietnam.

   While spoken by the Vietnamese people for millennia, written Vietnamese did not become the official administrative language of Vietnam until the 20th century. For most of its history, the entity now known as Vietnam used written classical Chinese. In the 13th century, however, the country invented Chữ nôm, a writing system making use of Chinese characters with phonetic elements in order to better suit the tones associated with the Vietnamese language. Chữ nôm was proven to be much more efficient than classical Chinese characters that it was extensively used in the 17th and 18th centuries for poetry and literature. Chữ nôm was used for administrative purposes during the brief Hồ and Tây Sơn Dynasties7. During French colonialism, French superseded Chinese in administration. It was not until independence from France that Vietnamese was used officially. It is the language of instruction in schools and universities and is the language for official business.

     Like many other Asian countries, as a result of close ties with China for thousands of years, much of the Vietnamese lexicon relating to science and politics is derived from Chinese. At least 60% of the lexical stock has Chinese roots, not including naturalized word borrowings from China, although many compound words are composed of native Vietnamese words combined with Chinese borrowings. One can usually distinguish between a native Vietnamese word and a Chinese borrowing if it can be reduplicated or its meaning does not change when the tone is shifted. As a result of French occupation, Vietnamese has since had many words borrowed from the French language, for example cà phê (from French café). Nowadays, many new words are being added to the language’s lexicon due to heavy Western cultural influence; these are usually borrowed from English, for example TV (though usually seen in the written form as tivi). Sometimes these borrowings are calques literally translated into Vietnamese (for example, software is calqued into phần mềm, which literally means “soft part”).8

… continue in section 2 …

◊  VIETNAMESE LANGUAGE for Vietnamese and Foreigners – Vietnamese Alphabet – Section 2
◊  VIETNAMESE LANGUAGE for Vietnamese and Foreigners – Vietnamese Consonants – Section 3
◊  VIETNAMESE LANGUAGE for Vietnamese and Foreigners – Vietnamese Tones – Section 4
◊  VIETNAMESE LANGUAGE for Vietnamese and Foreigners – Vietnamese Consonants – Section 5

1 Alexandre de Rhodes, S.J. [15 March 1591 in Avignon, Papal States (now in France) – 5 November 1660 in Isfahan, Persia] was an Avignonese Jesuit missionary and lexicographer who had a lasting impact on Christianity in Vietnam. He wrote the Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum, the first trilingual Vietnamese-Portuguese-Latin dictionary, published in Rome, in 1651.
2  Source:  Lac Viet Computing Corporation.
3  Source: IRD New Tech.
4 The Austroasiatic languages, also known as Mon–Khmer, are a large language family of Mainland Southeast Asia, also scattered throughout parts of India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and southern China. There are around 117 million speakers of Austroasiatic languages. Of these languages, only Vietnamese, Khmer and Mon have a long-established recorded history and only Vietnamese and Khmer have official status as modern national languages (in Vietnam and Cambodia, respectively).
André-Georges Haudricourt (January 17, 1911 in Paris – August 20, 1996 in Paris) was a French botanist, anthropologist and linguist.
Henri Paul Gaston Maspero (15 December 1883 in Paris – 17 March 1945 in Buchenwald concentration camp, Weimar Nazi Germany) was a French sinologist and professor who contributed to a variety of topics relating to East Asia. Maspero is best known for his pioneering studies of Daoism. He was imprisoned by the Nazis during World War II and died in the Buchenwald concentration camp.
The name Tây Sơn (Nhà Tây Sơn 家西山) is used in Vietnamese history in various ways to refer to the period of peasant rebellions and decentralized dynasties established between the end of the figurehead Lê dynasty in 1770 and the beginning of the Nguyễn dynasty in 1802. The name of the rebel leaders’ home district, Tây Sơn, came to be applied to the leaders themselves (the Tây Sơn brothers: i.e., Nguyễn Nhạc, Huệ, and Lữ), their uprising (the Tây Sơn Uprising) or their rule (the [Nguyễn] Tây Sơn dynasty).
8  Source:  The Wikipedia Encyclopedia.
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◊  Indexes, bold text, italic text in bracket and sepia image has been set by Ban Tu Thu –

02 /2020

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