The Vietnamese alphabet contains 29 letters, including nine with diacritics
, five of which are used to designate a tone
, and ạ
) and the other four used for other letters of the alphabet (ă, â/ê/ô, ơ, ư
The large number of letters with diacritics, which can even stack twice on the same letter (e.g. nhất — "first"), makes it recognizable among Latin scripts
with its complex vowel system.
Letter names and pronunciation
Handwritten Vietnamese Alphabet
There are six tones
, each with a separate diacritic, which are marked in the IPA as suprasegmentals
following the phonemic value. It uses all 22 letters of the ISO basic Latin alphabet
plus 6 additional "letters" where 4 letters are with the other 3 diacritics: Ă/ă, Â/â, Ê/ê, Ô/ô, Ơ/ơ, Ư/ư and the letter Đ/đ except for F/f, J/j, W/w and Z/z. The aforementioned 4 letters are only used to write loanwords
, languages of other ethnic groups in the country based on Vietnamese phonetics to differentiate the meanings or even Vietnamese dialects, for example: dz or z for Northern Vietnamese pronunciation of "gi" in standard Vietnamese, or to distinguish the from the Vietnamese D (pronounced y/j or dz/z) and from Đ (pronounced D like in English).
- Pronouncing b as bê or bò and p as pê or pờ is to avoid confusion in some contexts, the same for s sờ mạnh (nặng - heavy) and x as xờ (nhẹ-light), i as i (ngắn-short) and y as y (dài-long).
- Q, q is always followed by u in every word and phrase in Vietnamese, e.g. quần (trousers), quyến rũ (to attract), etc.
- The name i-cờ-rét for y is from the French name for the letter: i grec (Greek I), referring to the letter's origin from the Greek letterupsilon. The other obsolete French pronunciations include e /ə:˧/ and u /wi˧/.
This causes some ambiguity with the diphthong ia
, for example gia
could be either gi
[za ~ ja] or gi
[ziə̯ ~ jiə̯]. If there is a tone mark
the ambiguity is resolved: giá
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 is because the orthography was designed centuries ago and the spoken language has changed, as shown in the chart directly above that contrasts the difference between Middle and Modern Vietnamese.
The letters y
are mostly equivalent, and there is no concrete rule that says when to use one or the other, except in sequences like ay
(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
, the latest being a decision from the Vietnamese Ministry of Education in 1984. These efforts seem to have had limited effect. 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
), at the beginning of a syllable when followed by ê
(as in yếm
), after u
and in the sequence ay
; therefore such forms as *lý
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.
Spelling and pronunciation in Vietnamese
- ^ qua is pronounced /kwa/ except in quay, where it is pronounced /kwă/. When not preceded by q, ua is pronounced /uə̯/.
- ^ However, oong and ooc are pronounced /ɔŋ/ and /ɔk/.
- ^ uông and uôc are pronounced /uə̯ŋ/ and /uə̯k/ when not preceded by a q.
- ^ quô is pronounced /kwo/ except in quông and quôc, where it is pronounced /kwə̆w/. When not preceded by q, uô is pronounced /uə̯/.
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.
Standard spellings in Vietnamese
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.
The vowel /i/ is:
- preceded by an orthographic vowel: /xwīə̯n/ = khuyên 'to advise';
- at the beginning of a word derived from Chinese (written as i otherwise): /ʔīə̯w/ = yêu 'to love'.
- The vowel /ɔ/ is written oo before c or ng (since o in that position represents /ăw/): /ʔɔ̌k/ = oóc 'organ (musical)'; /kǐŋ kɔ̄ŋ/ = kính coong. This generally only occurs in recent loanwords or when representing dialectal pronunciation.
- Similarly, the vowel /o/ is written ôô before c or ng: /ʔōŋ/ = ôông (Nghệ An/Hà Tĩnh variant of ông /ʔə̆̄wŋ/). But unlike oo being frequently used in onomatopoeia, transcriptions from other languages and words "borrowed" from Nghệ An/Hà Tĩnh dialects (such as voọc), ôô seems to be used solely to convey the feel of the Nghệ An/Hà Tĩnh accents. In transcriptions, ô is preferred (e.g. các-tông 'cardboard', ắc-coóc-đê-ông 'accordion').
Diphthongs and triphthongs
The glide /w/ is written:
- u after /k/ (spelled q in this instance)
- o in front of a, ă, or e except after q
- o following a and e
- u in all other cases; note that /ăw/ is written as au instead of *ău (cf. ao /aw/), and that /i/ is written as y after u
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:
- ia at the end of a syllable: /mǐə̯/ = mía 'sugar cane'
- iê before a consonant or off-glide: /mǐə̯ŋ/ = miếng 'piece'; /sīə̯w/ = xiêu 'to slope, slant'
Note that the i of the diphthong changes to y after u:
- ya: /xwīə̯/ = khuya 'late at night'
- yê: /xwīə̯n/ = khuyên 'to advise'
iê changes to yê at the beginning of a syllable (ia does not change):
/īə̯n/ = yên 'calm'; /ǐə̯w/ yếu' 'weak, feeble'
The diphthong /uə̯/ is written:
- ua at the end of a syllable: /mūə̯/ = mua 'to buy'
- uô before a consonant or off-glide: /mūə̯n/ = muôn 'ten thousand'; /sūə̯j/ = xuôi 'down'
The diphthong /ɨə̯/ is written:
- ưa at the end of a syllable: /mɨ̄ə̯/ = mưa 'to rain'
- ươ before a consonant or off-glide: /mɨ̄ə̯ŋ/ = mương 'irrigation canal'; /tɨ̌ə̯j/ = tưới 'to water, irrigate, sprinkle'
Vietnamese is a tonal language
, i.e. the meaning of each word depends on the pitch (basically a specific tone
pattern) in which it is pronounced. There are six distinct tones (including no tone) in the standard northern dialect. In the south, there is a merging of the hỏi and ngã tones, in effect leaving five 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.
- Unmarked vowels are pronounced with a level voice, in the middle of the speaking range.
- The grave accent indicates that the speaker should start somewhat low and drop slightly in tone, with the voice becoming increasingly breathy.
- The hook indicates in Northern Vietnamese that the speaker should start in the middle range and fall, but in Southern Vietnamese that the speaker should start somewhat low and fall, then rise (as when asking a question in English).
- In the North, a tilde indicates that the speaker should start mid, break off (with a glottal stop), then start again and rise like a question in tone. In the South, it is realized identically to the Hỏi tone.
- The acute accent indicates that the speaker should start mid and rise sharply in tone.
- The dot or cross signifies in Northern Vietnamese that the speaker starts low and fall lower in tone, with the voice becoming increasingly creaky and ending in a glottal stop
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. Among Overseas Vietnamese communities, the old style is predominant for all purposes.
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 syllable.
In the past, syllables in multisyllabic words were concatenated with hyphens, but this practice has died out and hyphenation is now reserved for word-borrowings from other languages. A written syllable consists of at most three parts, in the following order from left to right:
- An optional beginning consonant part
- A required vowel syllable nucleus and the tone mark, if needed, applied above or below it
- An ending consonant part, can only be one of the following: c, ch, m, n, ng, nh, p, t, or nothing.
A page from Alexandre de Rhodes' 1651 dictionary
Since the beginning of the Chinese
rule 111 BC, literature, government papers, scholarly works, and religious scripture were all written in classical Chinese
) while indigenous writing in chu han started around the ninth century.
Since the 12th century, several Vietnamese words started to be written in chữ Nôm
, using variant Chinese characters
, each of them representing one word. The system was based on chữ Hán, but was also supplemented with Vietnamese-invented characters (chữ thuần nôm
, proper Nôm characters) to represent native Vietnamese words.
In 1910, the French colonial administration
enforced chữ Quốc ngữ.
The Latin alphabet then became a means to publish Vietnamese popular literature, which was disparaged as vulgar by the Chinese-educated imperial elites.
Historian Pamela A. Pears asserted that by instituting the Latin alphabet in Vietnam, the French cut the Vietnamese from their traditional Hán Nôm literature.
Since the 1920s, the Vietnamese mostly use chữ Quốc ngữ, and new Vietnamese terms for new items or words are often calqued from Hán Nôm. Some French had originally planned to replace Vietnamese with French, but this never was a serious project, given the small number of French settlers compared with the native population. The French had to reluctantly accept the use of chữ Quốc ngữ to write Vietnamese since this writing system, created by Portuguese missionaries, is based on Portuguese orthography, not French.
Between 1907 and 1908, the short-lived Tonkin Free School
promulgated chữ quốc ngữ and taught French language to the general population.
In 1917, the French system suppressed Vietnam's Confucian examination system
, viewed as an aristocratic system linked with the "ancient regime", thereby forcing Vietnamese elites to educate their offspring in the French language education system. Emperor Khải Định
declared the traditional writing system abolished in 1918.
While traditional nationalists favoured the Confucian examination system
and the use of chữ Hán, Vietnamese revolutionaries, progressive nationalists, and pro-French elites viewed the French education system as a means to "liberate" the Vietnamese from old Chinese domination and the unsatisfactory "outdated" Confucian examination system, to "democratize" education and to help link Vietnamese to European philosophies.
The French colonial system then set up another educational system, teaching Vietnamese as a first language using chữ quốc ngữ in primary school and then the French language (taught in chữ quốc ngữ). Hundreds of thosands of textbooks for primary education began to be published in chữ quốc ngữ, with the unintentional result of turning the script into the popular medium for the expression for Vietnamese culture.
Late 20th century to present
Typesetting and printing Vietnamese has been challenging due to its number of accents/diacritics.
Contemporary Vietnamese texts sometimes include words which have not been adapted to modern Vietnamese orthography, especially for documents written in Chinese characters. The Vietnamese language itself has been likened to a system akin to "ruby characters
" elsewhere in Asia. See Vietnamese language and computers
for usage on computers and the internet.
Typing Vietnamese (computer support)
Different ways in which tone marks can be presented on letters that already have diacritic e.g. (`) on letter ê when computerising Vietnamese.
The universal character set Unicode
has full support for the Latin 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 VSCII (TCVN)
, VNI, 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 on phones and computers used by Vietnamese-language users do not support direct input of diacritics by default.
Software may be built into the operating system or various free software
such as Unikey
on computers or Laban Key
for phones that act as keyboard drivers exist. They support most input methods, such as Telex
and its variants.
- Hanyu Pinyin
- Special characters:
- Historic Writing
- "Chữ Hán", classical Chinese written in Vietnam (Han characters)
- "Chữ Nôm", former script used to write Vietnamese using Han and Nom (invented characters) words
- Coding and Input Methods:
- Telex, the oldest standard input method for the Vietnamese alphabet on electronic devices.
- VNI, another input and encoding convention for Vietnamese alphabet.
- VIQR, another standard 7-bit input method for Vietnamese alphabet.
- VISCII, another standard 8-bit encoding for Vietnamese alphabet.
- Unicode, character encoding standard for most of the world's writing systems
- Vietnamese Braille
- Vietnamese calligraphy
- Vietnamese phonology
- Gregerson, Kenneth J. (1969). A study of Middle Vietnamese phonology. Bulletin de la Société des Etudes Indochinoises, 44, 135–193. (Published version of the author's MA thesis, University of Washington). (Reprinted 1981, Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics).
- Haudricourt, André-Georges (1949). "Origine des particularités de l'alphabet vietnamien (English translation as: The origin of the peculiarities of the Vietnamese alphabet)"(PDF). Dân Việt-Nam. 3: 61–68.
- Healy, Dana.(2003). Teach Yourself Vietnamese, Hodder Education, London.
- Kornicki, Peter (2017), "Sino-Vietnamese literature", in Li, Wai-yee; Denecke, Wiebke; Tian, Xiaofen (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Classical Chinese Literature (1000 BCE-900 CE), Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 568–578, ISBN 978-0-199-35659-1
- Li, Yu (2020). The Chinese Writing System in Asia: An Interdisciplinary Perspective. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-00-069906-7.
- Nguyen, Đang Liêm. (1970). Vietnamese pronunciation. PALI language texts: Southeast Asia. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-87022-462-X
- Nguyễn, Đình-Hoà. (1955). Quốc-ngữ: The modern writing system in Vietnam. Washington, D. C.: Author.
- Nguyễn, Đình-Hoà (1992). "Vietnamese phonology and graphemic borrowings from Chinese: The Book of 3,000 Characters revisited". Mon-Khmer Studies. 20: 163–182.
- Nguyễn, Đình-Hoà. (1996). Vietnamese. In P. T. Daniels, & W. Bright (Eds.), The world's writing systems, (pp. 691–699). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-507993-0.
- Nguyễn, Đình-Hoà. (1997). Vietnamese: Tiếng Việt không son phấn. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. ISBN 1-55619-733-0.
- Pham, Andrea Hoa. (2003). Vietnamese tone: A new analysis. Outstanding dissertations in linguistics. New York: Routledge. (Published version of author's 2001 PhD dissertation, University of Florida: Hoa, Pham. Vietnamese tone: Tone is not pitch). ISBN 0-415-96762-7.
- Sassoon, Rosemary (1995). The Acquisition of a Second Writing System (illustrated, reprint ed.). Intellect Books. ISBN 1871516439. Retrieved 24 April 2014.
- Thompson, Laurence E. (1991). A Vietnamese reference grammar. Seattle: University of Washington Press. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-1117-8. (Original work published 1965).
- Wellisch, Hans H. (1978). The conversion of scripts, its nature, history and utilization. Information sciences series (illustrated ed.). Wiley. ISBN 0471016209. Retrieved 24 April 2014.
- Language Monthly, Issues 40–57. Praetorius. 1987. Retrieved 24 April 2014.
- Nguyen, A. M. (2006). Let's learn the Vietnamese alphabet. Las Vegas: Viet Baby. ISBN 0-9776482-0-6
- Shih, Virginia Jing-yi. Quoc Ngu Revolution: A Weapon of Nationalism in Vietnam. 1991.
- ^ a b c d Jacques, Roland (2002). Portuguese Pioneers of Vietnamese Linguistics Prior to 1650 – Pionniers Portugais de la Linguistique Vietnamienne Jusqu'en 1650 (in English and French). Bangkok, Thailand: Orchid Press. ISBN 974-8304-77-9.
- ^ Jacques, Roland (2004). "Bồ Đào Nha và công trình sáng chế chữ quốc ngữ: Phải chăng cần viết lại lịch sử?" Translated by Nguyễn Đăng Trúc. In Các nhà truyền giáo Bồ Đào Nha và thời kỳ đầu của Giáo hội Công giáo Việt Nam (Quyển 1) – Les missionnaires portugais et les débuts de l'Eglise catholique au Viêt-nam (Tome 1) (in Vietnamese & French). Reichstett, France: Định Hướng Tùng Thư. ISBN 2-912554-26-8.
- ^ a b Trần, Quốc Anh; Phạm, Thị Kiều Ly (October 2019). Từ Nước Mặn đến Roma: Những đóng góp của các giáo sĩ Dòng Tên trong quá trình La tinh hoá tiếng Việt ở thế kỷ 17. Conference 400 năm hình thành và phát triển chữ Quốc ngữ trong lịch sử loan báo Tin Mừng tại Việt Nam. Ho Chi Minh City: Ủy ban Văn hóa, Catholic Bishops' Conference of Vietnam.
- ^ Haudricourt, André-Georges. 2010. "The Origin of the Peculiarities of the Vietnamese Alphabet." Mon-Khmer Studies 39: 89–104. Translated from: Haudricourt, André-Georges. 1949. "L'origine Des Particularités de L'alphabet Vietnamien." Dân Viêt-Nam 3: 61–68.
- ^ Jakob Rupert Friederichsen Opening Up Knowledge Production Through Participatory Research? Frankfurt 2009 [6.1 History of Science and Research in Vietnam] Page 126 "6.1.2 French colonial science in Vietnam: With the colonial era, deep changes took place in education, communication, and ... French colonizers installed a modern European system of education to replace the literary and Confucianism-based model, they promoted a romanized Vietnamese script (Quốc Ngữ) to replace the Sino-Vietnamese characters (Hán Nôm)"
- ^ "Vietnam Alphabet". vietnamesetypography.
- ^ a b c d The close vowels /i, ɨ, u/ are diphthongized [ɪi̯, ɯ̽ɯ̯, ʊu̯].
- ^ "Do you know How to pronounce Igrec?". HowToPronounce.com. Retrieved 2017-10-30.
- ^ See for example Lê Bá Khanh; Lê Bá Kông (1998) . Vietnamese-English/English-Vietnamese Dictionary (7th ed.). New York City: Hippocrene Books. ISBN 0-87052-924-2.
- ^ "vietnamese Alphabet". Omniglot.com. 2014.
- ^ Tran, Anh Q. (October 2018). "The Historiography of the Jesuits in Vietnam: 1615–1773 and 1957–2007". Jesuit Historiography Online. Brill.
- ^ Ostrowski, Brian Eugene (2010). "The Rise of Christian Nôm Literature in Seventeenth-Century Vietnam: Fusing European Content and Local Expression". In Wilcox, Wynn (ed.). Vietnam and the West: New Approaches. Ithaca, New York: SEAP Publications, Cornell university Press. pp. 23, 38. ISBN 9780877277828.
- ^ "Quoc-ngu | Vietnamese writing system". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2019-04-13.
- ^ a b Nguyên Tùng, "Langues, écritures et littératures au Viêt-nam", Aséanie, Sciences humaines en Asie du Sud-Est, Vol. 2000/5, pp. 135-149.
- ^ Pamela A. Pears (2006). Remnants of Empire in Algeria and Vietnam: Women, Words and War. Lexington Books. p. 18. ISBN 0-7391-2022-0. Retrieved 2010-11-28.
- ^ Trần Bích San. "Thi cử và giáo dục Việt Nam dưới thời thuộc Pháp" (in Vietnamese). Note 3. "The French had to accept reluctantly the existence of chữ quốc ngữ. The propagation of chữ quốc ngữ in Cochinchina was, in fact, not without resistance [by French authority or pro-French Vietnamese elite] [...] Chữ quốc ngữ was created by Portuguese missionaries according to the phonemic orthography of Portuguese language. The Vietnamese could not use chữ quốc ngữ to learn French script. The French would mispronounce chữ quốc ngữ in French orthography, particularly people's names and place names. Thus, the French constantly disparaged chữ quốc ngữ because of its uselessness in helping with the propagation of French script."
- ^ Anderson, Benedict. 1991. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso. pp. 127-128.
- ^ Wellisch 1978, p. 94.
- ^ "Language Monthly, Issues 40–57" 1987, p. 20.
- ^ Sassoon 1995, p. 123.
Last edited on 18 June 2021, at 23:57
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