chữ Quốc ngữ
|Creator||Portuguese Jesuits, Alexandre de Rhodes|
|Languages||Vietnamese, other indigenous languages of Vietnam|
The Vietnamese alphabet (Vietnamese: chữ Quốc ngữ, "script of the national language") is the modern Latin writing script or writing system for Vietnamese. It uses the Latin script based on Romance languages originally developed by Portuguese missionary Francisco de Pina (1585 – 1625).
The Vietnamese alphabet contains 29 letters, including seven letters using four diacritics: ă, â/ê/ô, ơ/ư, đ. There are an additional five diacritics used to designate tone (as in à, á, ả, ã, and ạ). The complex vowel system and the large number of letters with diacritics, which can even stack twice on the same letter (e.g. nhất meaning "first"), makes it easy to distinguish the Vietnamese alphabet from other Latin scripts.
The Vietnamese system produces words that have no silent letters, with letters and words consistent in how they are read and spoken, with rare exceptions. The elaborate use of diacritics produces a highly accurate sound transcription for tonal languages.
Vietnamese uses all the letters of the ISO basic Latin alphabet except for f, j, w, and z. These 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 southerner pronunciation of v in standard Vietnamese.
In total, there are 12 vowels (nguyên âm) and 17 consonants (phụ âm, literally "extra sound").
|Letter||Name (when pronounced)||IPA||Name when
used in spelling
|Hà Nội||Sài Gòn|
|B b||bê, bê bò||/ɓe˧/||/ɓe˧/||bờ||/ɓəː˨˩/|
|G g||giê||/ʒe˧/||/ʒe˧, ɹe˧/||gờ||/ɣəː˨˩/|
|I i||i ngắn||/i˧ ŋan˧˥/||/ɪi̯˧ ŋaŋ˧˥/||i||/i˧/
|L l||en lờ||/ɛn˧ ləː˨˩/||/ɛŋ˧ ləː˨˩/||lờ||/ləː˨˩/|
|M m||em mờ||/ɛm˧ məː˨˩/||/ɛm˧ məː˨˩/||mờ||/məː˨˩/|
|N n||en nờ, anh nờ||/ɛn˧ nəː˨˩/||/an˧ nəː˨˩/||nờ||/nəː˨˩/|
|P p||pê, bê phở||/pe˧/||/pe˧/||pờ||/pəː˨˩/|
|Q q||quy||/ku˧, kwi˧/||/kwi˧/||quờ
|R r||e rờ||/ɛ˧ rəː˨˩/||/ɛ˧ ɹəː˨˩/||rờ||/rəː˨˩/|
|S s||ét xì, ét xờ||/ɛt˦˥ si˨˩/||/ɛt˦˥, ə:t˦˥ (sə˨˩)/||sờ||/ʂəː˨˩/|
|X x||ích xì||/ik˦˥ si˨˩/||/ɪ̈t˦˥ (si˨˩)/||xờ||/səː˨˩/|
|Y y||y dài||/i˧ zaːj˨˩/||/ɪi̯˧ jaːj˨˩/||y||/i˧/
The alphabet is largely derived from Portuguese with major influence from French, although the usage of gh and gi was borrowed from Italian (compare ghetto, Giuseppe) and that for c/k/qu from Greek and Latin (compare canis, kinesis, quō vādis), mirroring the English usage of these letters (compare cat, kite, queen).
|C c||/k/||/k̚/||⟨k⟩ is used instead when preceding ⟨i y e ê⟩. K is also used before U in the Vietnamese city Pleiku.|
⟨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||/tɕ/||/c/||/ʲk/||/t̚/||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 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⟩ represented /ʝ/. The distinction between ⟨d⟩ and ⟨gi⟩ is now purely etymological in most modern dialects. Realized as [ʒ] in Northern spelling pronunciation. Spelled ⟨g⟩ before another ⟨i⟩.[a]|
|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.|
|Kh kh||/x/||In Middle Vietnamese, ⟨kh⟩ was pronounced [kʰ]|
|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. Some Vietnamese pronounce it as a "b" sound instead (as in Arabic).|
|Ph ph||/f/||In Middle Vietnamese, ⟨ph⟩ was pronounced [pʰ]|
|Qu qu||/kʷ/||Spelling used in place of ⟨co cu⟩ if a /w/ on-glide exists.|
|R r||/z/||/r/||Variably pronounced as a fricative [ʐ], approximant [ɹ], flap [ɾ] or trill [r] in Southern speech.|
|S s||/s/||/ʂ/||Realized as [ʃ] in Northern spelling pronunciation.|
|T t||/t/||/t̚/||/k/||In Southern Vietnamese, word-final ⟨t⟩ is realized as [k] if not following ⟨i ê⟩.|
|Tr tr||/tɕ/||/ʈ/||Realized as [tʃ] in Northern spelling pronunciation.|
|V v||/v/||In Middle Vietnamese, it was represented by a b with flourish ⟨|
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 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 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 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), after u and in the sequence ay; 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]
|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
|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)
|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]
|ơ|| /ə/ except as below|
/ə̯/ in ươ /ɨə̯/
|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
|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, so the meaning of each word depends on the pitch in which it is pronounced. Tones are marked in the IPA as suprasegmentals following the phonemic value. Some tones are also associated with a glottalization pattern.
There are six distinct tones in the standard northern dialect. 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.
In the south, there is a merging of the hỏi and ngã tones, in effect leaving five tones.
|Diacritic||Symbol||Name||Contour||Vowels with diacritic|
|unmarked||N/A||Ngang||mid level, ˧||A/a, Ă/ă, Â/â, E/e, Ê/ê, I/i, O/o, Ô/ô, Ơ/ơ, U/u, Ư/ư, Y/y|
|grave accent||à||Huyền||low falling, ˨˩||À/à, Ằ/ằ, Ầ/ầ, È/è, Ề/ề, Ì/ì, Ò/ò, Ồ/ồ, Ờ/ờ, Ù/ù, Ừ/ừ, Ỳ/ỳ|
|hook above||ả||Hỏi||mid falling, ˧˩ (Northern); dipping, ˨˩˥ (Southern)||Ả/ả, Ẳ/ẳ, Ẩ/ẩ, Ẻ/ẻ, Ể/ể, Ỉ/ỉ, Ỏ/ỏ, Ổ/ổ, Ở/ở, Ủ/ủ, Ử/ử, Ỷ/ỷ|
|tilde||ã||Ngã||glottalized rising, ˧˥ˀ (Northern); slightly lengthened Dấu Hỏi tone (Southern)||Ã/ã, Ẵ/ẵ, Ẫ/ẫ, Ẽ/ẽ, Ễ/ễ, Ĩ/ĩ, Õ/õ, Ỗ/ỗ, Ỡ/ỡ, Ũ/ũ, Ữ/ữ, Ỹ/ỹ|
|acute accent||á||Sắc||high rising, ˧˥||Á/á, Ắ/ắ, Ấ/ấ, É/é, Ế/ế, Í/í, Ó/ó, Ố/ố, Ớ/ớ, Ú/ú, Ứ/ứ, Ý/ý|
|dot below||ạ||Nặng||glottalized falling, ˧˨ˀ (Northern); low rising, ˩˧ (Southern)||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. 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:
Since the beginning of the Chinese rule 111 BC, literature, government papers, scholarly works, and religious scripture were all written in classical Chinese (chữ Hán) 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.
As early as 1620, with the work of Francisco de Pina, Portuguese and Italian Jesuit missionaries in Vietnam began using Latin script to transcribe the Vietnamese language as an assistance for learning the language. The work was continued by the Avignonese Alexandre de Rhodes. Building on previous dictionaries by Gaspar do Amaral and Antonio Barbosa, Rhodes compiled the Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum, a Vietnamese–Portuguese–Latin dictionary, which was later printed in Rome in 1651, using their spelling system. These efforts led eventually to the development of the present Vietnamese alphabet. For 200 years, chữ Quốc ngữ was used within the Catholic community.
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. An important reason why Latin script became the standard writing system of Vietnam but did not do so in Cambodia and Laos that were both dominated by the French for a similar amount of time and existed within the same colonial framework has to do with the fact that the Nguyễn Emperors of Vietnam heavily promoted its usage. According to the historian Liam Kelley in his 2016 work "Emperor Thành Thái’s Educational Revolution" neither the French nor the revolutionaries had enough power to spread the usage of chữ Quốc ngữ down to the village level. It was by imperial decree in 1906 of Emperor Thành Thái, that parents could decide whether their children will follow a curriculum in Hán văn (漢文) or Nam âm (南音, "Southern sound", the contemporary Vietnamese name for chữ Quốc ngữ). This decree was issued at the same time when other social changes, such as the cutting of long male hair, were occurring. The main reason for the popularisation of the Latin alphabet in Vietnam/Đại Nam during the Nguyễn dynasty (the French protectorates of Annam and Tonkin) was because of the pioneering efforts by intellectuals from French Cochinchina combined with the progressive and scientific policies of the French government in French Indochina, that created the momentum for the usage of chữ Quốc ngữ to spread.
From the first days it was recognized that the Chinese language was a barrier between us and the natives; the education provided by means of the hieroglyphic characters was completely beyond us; this writing makes possible only with difficulty transmitting to the population the diverse ideas which are necessary for them at the level of their new political and commercial situation. Consequently we are obliged to follow the traditions of our own system of education; it is the only one which can bring close to us the Annamites of the colony by inculcating in them the principles of European civilization and isolating them from the hostile influence of our neighbors.— In a letter dated January 15, 1866, Paulin Vial, Directeur du Cabinet du Gouverneur de la Cochinchine
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 thousands 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.
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.
Main article: Vietnamese language and computers
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 and Windows-1258 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 modern phone and computer operating systems, including iOS, Android and MacOS, have now supported the Vietnamese language and direct input of diacritics by default. Previously, Vietnamese users had to manually install free softwares such as Unikey on computers or Laban Key on phones to type Vietnamese diacritics. These keyboards support input methods such as Telex, VNI, VIQR and its variants.
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