tiếng Việt
Pronunciation[tiəŋ˧˦ viət̚˧˨ʔ] (Hà Nội)
[tiəŋ˦˧˥ viək̚˨˩ʔ] (Huế)
[tiəŋ˦˥ viək̚˨˩˨] ~ [tiəŋ˦˥ jiək̚˨˩˨] (Hồ Chí Minh City)
Native to
Native speakers
85 million (2019)[1]
Early forms
Latin (Vietnamese alphabet)
Vietnamese Braille
Chữ Nôm (historical)
Official status
Official language in
Recognised minority
language in
Regulated byVietnam Academy of Social Sciences
Language codes
ISO 639-1vi
ISO 639-2vie
ISO 639-3vie
Areas within Vietnam with majority Vietnamese speakers, mirroring the ethnic landscape of Vietnam with ethnic Vietnamese dominating around the lowland pale of the country.[4]
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Vietnamese (Vietnamese: tiếng Việt) is an Austroasiatic language spoken primarily in Vietnam where it is the national and official language. Vietnamese is spoken natively by around 85 million people,[1] 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 second or first language for other ethnic groups in Vietnam.

Like many languages in Southeast Asia and East Asia, Vietnamese is highly analytic and is tonal. 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 had significant influence from Middle Chinese and loanwords from French.[6] Although it is often mistakenly thought as being an monosyllabic language, Vietnamese words typically consist of from one to many as ten morphemes or syllables; the majority of Vietnamese vocabulary are disyllabic and trisyllabic words.[7]

Vietnamese is written using the Vietnamese alphabet (chữ Quốc ngữ). The alphabet is based on the Latin script and was officially adopted in the early 20th century during French rule of Vietnam. It uses digraphs and diacritics to mark tones and some phonemes. Vietnamese was historically written using chữ Nôm, a logographic script using Chinese characters (chữ Hán) to represent Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary and some native Vietnamese words, together with many locally invented characters to represent other words.[8][9]


A 1906 analysis map of Austroasiatic languages (previously known as Mon-Annam languages) by British linguists Walter William Skeat and Charles Otto Blagden. Vietnamese is shown as Annamese.

Early linguistic work in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Logan 1852, Forbes 1881, Müller 1888, Kuhn 1889, Schmidt 1905, Przyluski 1924, and Benedict 1942)[10] classified Vietnamese as belonging to the Mon–Khmer branch of the Austroasiatic language family (which also includes the Khmer language 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, Mường 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.[11] The term "Vietic" was proposed by Hayes (1992),[12] who proposed to redefine Viet–Muong as referring to a subbranch of Vietic containing only Vietnamese and Mường. 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, Mường dialects, and Nguồn (of Quảng Bình Province).[13]

It has been proposed by Phan (2010, 2013) that Vietnamese is possibly a hybrid language which differs from a creole language. It is theorised that Vietnamese was descended from a proto-Austroasiatic language and was later hybridised by Middle Chinese. This hybridisation occurred due to a population of supposed Annamese Middle Chinese speakers living in the Red River Delta among Vietic speakers shifting from speaking Middle Chinese to speaking Proto-Viet–Muong.[14][15] This in turn, had an ad stratum effect where Proto-Viet-Muong borrowed a large amount of words from Annamese Middle Chinese forming an Old-Sino-Vietnamese substrate.[16] But ultimately Vietnamese is descended from Proto-Viet-Muong.


Vietnamese belongs to the Northern (Viet–Muong) clusters of the Vietic branch, spoken by the Vietic peoples, originating from Northern Vietnam. The language was first recorded in the Tháp Miếu Temple Inscription, dating from early 13th century AD.[17] The inscription was carved on a stone stele, in combined chữ Hán (Chinese characters used in the Vietnamese traditional writing system) and an archaic form of the chữ Nôm (writing system for vernacular Vietnamese language using Chinese characters).[18]

In the distant past, Vietnamese shared more characteristics common to other languages in Southeast Asia and with the Austroasiatic family, such as an inflectional morphology and a richer set of consonant clusters, which have subsequently disappeared from the language under Chinese influence.

While modern Vietnamese is heavily characterized with its monosyllabicity, tonality, and analytic typology, Proto-Vietic was polysyllabic and agglutinative. Except Vietnamese and Muong languages, many Vietic languages are still partial/non-tonal and polysyllabic, just as other Austroasiatic languages. The Vietnamese linguistic transition from being polysyllabic to monosyllabic took many centuries, and the modern Vietnamese CVC structure is relatively recent in the overall development process of reduction.[19]

Vietnamese is heavily influenced by its location in the Mainland Southeast Asia linguistic area, with the result that it has acquired or converged toward characteristics such as isolating morphology and phonemically distinctive tones, through processes of tonogenesis. These characteristics have become part of many of the genetically unrelated languages of Southeast Asia; for example, Tsat (a member of the Malayo-Polynesian group within Austronesian), and Vietnamese each developed tones as a phonemic feature. The ancestor of the Vietnamese language is usually believed to have been originally based in the area of the Red River Delta in what is now northern Vietnam.[20][21][22]

Distinctive tonal variations emerged during the subsequent expansion of the Vietnamese language and people from the Red River Plain into what is now central and southern Vietnam through conquest of the ancient nation of Champa and the Khmer people of the Mekong Delta in the vicinity of present-day Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon.

Northern Vietnam was primarily influenced by Chinese, which came to predominate politically in the 2nd century BC whilst central and southern lands were occupied by Chamic and Khmer empires. After the emergence of the Ngô dynasty at the beginning of the 10th century, the ruling class adopted Classical Chinese as the formal medium of government, scholarship and literature. With the dominance of Chinese came radical importation of Chinese vocabulary and grammatical influence. The resulting Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary makes up about a third of the Vietnamese lexicon in all realms, and may account for as much as 60% of the vocabulary used in formal texts.[23]

After France invaded Vietnam in the late 19th century, French gradually replaced Literary Chinese as the official language in education and government. Vietnamese adopted many French terms, such as đầm ('dame', from madame), ga ('train station', from gare), sơ mi ('shirt', from chemise), and búp bê ('doll', from poupée), resulting in a language that was Austroasiatic but with major Sino-influences and some minor French influences from the French colonial era.

French sinologist, Henri Maspero, described six periods of the Vietnamese language:[24][25]

  1. Proto-Viet–Muong, also known as Pre-Vietnamese, the ancestor of Vietnamese and the related Mường language (before 7th century AD).
  2. Proto-Vietnamese, the oldest reconstructable version of Vietnamese, dated to just before the entry of massive amounts of Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary into the language, c. 7th to 9th century AD. At this state, the language had three tones.
  3. Archaic Vietnamese, the state of the language upon adoption of the Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary and the beginning of creation of the Vietnamese characters (chữ Nôm) during the Ngô dynasty, c. 10th century AD.
  4. Ancient Vietnamese, the language represented by chữ Nôm (c. 15th century), widely used during the Lê dynasty. The Ming glossary "Annanguo Yiyu" 安南國譯語 (c. 15th century) by the Bureau of Interpreters 會同館 (from the series Huáyí Yìyǔ (Chinese: 華夷譯語) recorded the language at this point of history. The Bureau of Interpreters used Chinese approximations to record Vietnamese rather than use Sino-Vietnamese to record as has been done in Annan Yiyu 安南譯語, a prior work.[26] By this point, a tone split had happened in the language, leading to six tones but a loss of contrastive voicing among consonants.
  5. Middle Vietnamese, the language found in Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum of the Jesuit missionary Alexandre de Rhodes (c. 17th century); the dictionary was published in Rome in 1651. Another famous dictionary of this period was written by P. J. Pigneau de Behaine in 1773 and published by Jean-Louis Taberd in 1838.
  6. Modern Vietnamese, from the 19th century.
An Nam quốc dịch ngữ 安南國譯語 recorded the pronunciations of 15th century Vietnamese, such as for 天 (sky) - 雷 /luei/ representing blời (Modern Vietnamese: trời).[26]


The following diagram shows the phonology of Proto–Viet–Muong (the nearest ancestor of Vietnamese and the closely related Mường language), along with the outcomes in the modern language:[27][28][29][30]

Labial Dental/Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal *m > m *n > n *ɲ > nh *ŋ > ng/ngh
Stop tenuis *p > b *t > đ *c > ch *k > k/c/q *ʔ > #
voiced *b > b *d > đ *ɟ > ch *ɡ > k/c/q
aspirated * > ph * > th * > kh
implosive *ɓ > m *ɗ > n *ʄ > nh 1
Affricate * > x 1
Fricative voiceless *s > t *h > h
voiced 2 *(β) > v 3 *(ð) > d *(r̝) > r 4 *(ʝ) > gi *(ɣ) > g/gh
Approximant *w > v *l > l *r > r *j > d

^1 According to Ferlus, */tʃ/ and */ʄ/ are not accepted by all researchers. Ferlus 1992[27] also had additional phonemes */dʒ/ and */ɕ/.

^2 The fricatives indicated above in parentheses developed as allophones of stop consonants occurring between vowels (i.e. when a minor syllable occurred). These fricatives were not present in Proto-Viet–Muong, as indicated by their absence in Mường, but were evidently present in the later Proto-Vietnamese stage. Subsequent loss of the minor-syllable prefixes phonemicized the fricatives. Ferlus 1992[27] proposes that originally there were both voiced and voiceless fricatives, corresponding to original voiced or voiceless stops, but Ferlus 2009[28] appears to have abandoned that hypothesis, suggesting that stops were softened and voiced at approximately the same time, according to the following pattern:

^3 In Middle Vietnamese, the outcome of these sounds was written with a hooked b (ꞗ), representing a /β/ that was still distinct from v (then pronounced /w/). See below.

^4 It is unclear what this sound was. According to Ferlus 1992,[27] in the Archaic Vietnamese period (c. 10th century AD, when Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary was borrowed) it was *, distinct at that time from *r.

The following initial clusters occurred, with outcomes indicated:

A large number of words were borrowed from Middle Chinese, forming part of the Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary. These caused the original introduction of the retroflex sounds /ʂ/ and /ʈ/ (modern s, tr) into the language.

Origin of tones

Proto-Viet–Muong had no tones to speak of. The tones later developed in some of the daughter languages from distinctions in the initial and final consonants. Vietnamese tones developed as follows:[31]

Register Initial consonant Smooth ending Glottal ending Fricative ending
High (first) register Voiceless A1 ngang "level" B1 sắc "sharp" C1 hỏi "asking"
Low (second) register Voiced A2 huyền "deep" B2 nặng "heavy" C2 ngã "tumbling"

Glottal-ending syllables ended with a glottal stop /ʔ/, while fricative-ending syllables ended with /s/ or /h/. Both types of syllables could co-occur with a resonant (e.g. /m/ or /n/).

At some point, a tone split occurred, as in many other mainland Southeast Asian languages. Essentially, an allophonic distinction developed in the tones, whereby the tones in syllables with voiced initials were pronounced differently from those with voiceless initials. (Approximately speaking, the voiced allotones were pronounced with additional breathy voice or creaky voice and with lowered pitch. The quality difference predominates in today's northern varieties, e.g. in Hanoi, while in the southern varieties the pitch difference predominates, as in Ho Chi Minh City.) Subsequent to this, the plain-voiced stops became voiceless and the allotones became new phonemic tones. The implosive stops were unaffected, and in fact developed tonally as if they were unvoiced. (This behavior is common to all East Asian languages with implosive stops.)

As noted above, Proto-Viet–Muong had sesquisyllabic words with an initial minor syllable (in addition to, and independent of, initial clusters in the main syllable). When a minor syllable occurred, the main syllable's initial consonant was intervocalic and as a result suffered lenition, becoming a voiced fricative. The minor syllables were eventually lost, but not until the tone split had occurred. As a result, words in modern Vietnamese with voiced fricatives occur in all six tones, and the tonal register reflects the voicing of the minor-syllable prefix and not the voicing of the main-syllable stop in Proto-Viet–Muong that produced the fricative. For similar reasons, words beginning with /l/ and /ŋ/ occur in both registers. (Thompson 1976[30] reconstructed voiceless resonants to account for outcomes where resonants occur with a first-register tone, but this is no longer considered necessary, at least by Ferlus.)

Old Vietnamese

Old Vietnamese phonology[32]
Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m (m) n (n) nh (ɲ) ng/ngh (ŋ)
Stop tenuis b/v ([p b]) d/đ ([t d]) ch/gi (c) c/k/q ([k ɡ]) # (ʔ)
aspirated ph () th () t/r (s) kh () h (h)
Implosive stop m (ɓ) n (ɗ) nh (ʄ)
Fricative voiced v (v) d (j)
Affricate x ()
Liquid r [r] l [l]

Old Vietnamese/Ancient Vietnamese was a Vietic language which was separated from Viet–Muong around the 9th century, and evolved into Middle Vietnamese by 16th century. The sources for the reconstruction of Old Vietnamese are Nom texts, such as the 12th-century/1486 Buddhist scripture Phật thuyết Đại báo phụ mẫu ân trọng kinh ("Sūtra explained by the Buddha on the Great Repayment of the Heavy Debt to Parents"),[33] old inscriptions, and a late 13th-century (possibly 1293) Annan Jishi glossary by Chinese diplomat Chen Fu (c. 1259 – 1309).[34] Old Vietnamese used Chinese characters phonetically where each word, monosyllabic in Modern Vietnamese, is written with two Chinese characters or in a composite character made of two different characters.[35] This conveys the transformation of the Vietnamese lexicon from sesquisyllabic to fully monosyllabic under the pressure of Chinese linguistic influence, characterized by linguistic phenomena such as the reduction of minor syllables; loss of affixal morphology drifting towards analytical grammar; simplification of major syllable segments, and the change of suprasegment instruments.[36]

For example, the modern Vietnamese word "trời" (heaven) was read as *plời in Old/Ancient Vietnamese and as blời in Middle Vietnamese.[37]

Middle Vietnamese

The writing system used for Vietnamese is based closely on the system developed by Alexandre de Rhodes for his 1651 Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum. It reflects the pronunciation of the Vietnamese of Hanoi at that time, a stage commonly termed Middle Vietnamese (tiếng Việt trung đại). The pronunciation of the "rime" of the syllable, i.e. all parts other than the initial consonant (optional /w/ glide, vowel nucleus, tone and final consonant), appears nearly identical between Middle Vietnamese and modern Hanoi pronunciation. On the other hand, the Middle Vietnamese pronunciation of the initial consonant differs greatly from all modern dialects, and in fact is significantly closer to the modern Saigon dialect than the modern Hanoi dialect.

The following diagram shows the orthography and pronunciation of Middle Vietnamese:

Labial Dental/
Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m [m] n [n] nh [ɲ] ng/ngh [ŋ]
Stop tenuis p [p]1 t [t] tr [ʈ] ch [c] c/k [k]
aspirated ph [pʰ] th [tʰ] kh [kʰ]
implosive b [ɓ] đ [ɗ]
Fricative voiceless s/ſ [ʂ] x [ɕ] h [h]
voiced [β]2 d [ð] gi [ʝ] g/gh [ɣ]
Approximant v/u/o [w] l [l] y/i/ĕ [j]3
Rhotic r [r]
The first page of the section in Alexandre de Rhodes's Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum (Vietnamese–Portuguese–Latin dictionary)

^1 [p] occurs only at the end of a syllable.
^2 This letter, , is no longer used.
^3 [j] does not occur at the beginning of a syllable, but can occur at the end of a syllable, where it is notated i or y (with the difference between the two often indicating differences in the quality or length of the preceding vowel), and after /ð/ and /β/, where it is notated ĕ. This ĕ, and the /j/ it notated, have disappeared from the modern language.

Note that b [ɓ] and p [p] never contrast in any position, suggesting that they are allophones.

The language also has three clusters at the beginning of syllables, which have since disappeared:

Most of the unusual correspondences between spelling and modern pronunciation are explained by Middle Vietnamese. Note in particular:

de Rhodes's entry for dĕóu᷄ shows distinct breves, acutes and apices.

De Rhodes's orthography also made use of an apex diacritic, as in o᷄ and u᷄, to indicate a final labial-velar nasal /ŋ͡m/, an allophone of /ŋ/ that is peculiar to the Hanoi dialect to the present day. This diacritic is often mistaken for a tilde in modern reproductions of early Vietnamese writing.

Geographic distribution

Global distribution of speakers

As a result of emigration, Vietnamese speakers are also found in other parts of Southeast Asia, East Asia, North America, Europe, and Australia. Vietnamese has also been officially recognized as a minority language in the Czech Republic.[a]

As the national language, Vietnamese is the lingua franca in Vietnam. It is also spoken by the Jing people traditionally residing on three islands (now joined to the mainland) off Dongxing in southern Guangxi Province, China.[38] A large number of Vietnamese speakers also reside in neighboring countries of Cambodia and Laos.

In the United States, Vietnamese is the sixth 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-most in Georgia, Louisiana, and Virginia; and fifth-most in Arkansas and California.[39] Vietnamese is the third most spoken language in Australia other than English, after Mandarin and Arabic.[40] In France, it is the most spoken Asian language and the eighth most spoken immigrant language at home.[41]

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.[42]

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.[43][44]

As a foreign language

Vietnamese is taught in schools and institutions outside of Vietnam, a large part contributed by its diaspora. In countries with Vietnamese-speaking communities Vietnamese language education largely serves as a role to link descendants of Vietnamese immigrants to their ancestral culture. In neighboring countries and vicinities near Vietnam such as Southern China, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand, Vietnamese as a foreign language is largely due to trade, as well as recovery and growth of the Vietnamese economy.[45][46]

Since the 1980s, Vietnamese language schools (trường Việt ngữ/ trường ngôn ngữ Tiếng Việt) have been established for youth in many Vietnamese-speaking communities around the world such as in the United States, Germany and France.[47][48][49][50][51]


Main article: Vietnamese phonology


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

  Front Central Back
Centering ia/iê [iə̯] ưa/ươ [ɨə̯] ua/uô [uə̯]
Close i/y [i] ư [ɨ] u [u]
ê [e] ơ [əː]
â [ə]
ô [o]
e [ɛ] a [aː]
ă [a]
o [ɔ]

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].[b]

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 iê, ươ, uô, respectively, when they are followed by a consonant.

In addition to single vowels (or monophthongs) and centering diphthongs, Vietnamese has closing diphthongs[c] and triphthongs. The closing diphthongs and triphthongs consist of a main vowel component followed by a shorter semivowel offglide /j/ or /w/.[d] 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.[e]

  /w/ offglide /j/ offglide
Front Central Back
Centering iêu [iə̯w] ươu [ɨə̯w] ươi [ɨə̯j] uôi [uə̯j]
Close iu [iw] ưu [ɨw] ưi [ɨj] ui [uj]
êu [ew]
ơi [əːj]
ây [əj]
ôi [oj]
eo [ɛw] ao [aːw]
au [aw]
ai [aːj]
ay [aj]
oi [ɔj]

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].


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

Labial Dental/
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]
implosive b [ɓ] đ [ɗ]
Fricative voiceless ph [f] x [s] s [ʂ~s] kh [x~kʰ] h [h]
voiced v [v] d/gi [z~j] g/gh [ɣ]
Approximant l [l] y/i [j] u/o [w]
Rhotic r [r]

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"). In some cases, they are based on their Middle Vietnamese pronunciation; since that period, ph and kh (but not th) have evolved from aspirated stops into fricatives (like Greek phi and chi), while d and gi have collapsed and converged together (into /z/ in the north and /j/ in the south).

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.

Syllable-final orthographic ch and nh in 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.)


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 one of six inherent tones,[f] 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; except the nặng tone dot diacritic goes below the vowel).[g] The six tones in the northern varieties (including Hanoi), with their self-referential Vietnamese names, are:

Name and meaning Description Contour Diacritic Example Sample vowel Unicode
ngang   'level' mid level ˧ (no mark) ma  'ghost' a
huyền   'deep' low falling (often breathy) ˨˩ ◌̀ (grave accent)  'but' à U+0340 or U+0300
sắc   'sharp' high rising ˧˥ ◌́ (acute accent)  'cheek, mother (southern)' á U+0341 or U+0301
hỏi   'questioning' mid dipping-rising ˧˩˧ ◌̉ (hook above) mả  'tomb, grave' U+0309
ngã   'tumbling' creaky high breaking-rising ˧ˀ˦˥ ◌̃ (tilde)  'horse (Sino-Vietnamese), code' ã U+0342 or U+0303
nặng   'heavy' creaky low falling constricted (short length) ˨˩ˀ ◌̣ (dot below) mạ  'rice seedling' U+0323

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

Tonal differences of three speakers as reported in Hwa-Froelich & Hodson (2002).[52] The curves represent temporal pitch variation while two sloped lines (//) indicates a glottal stop.
Tone Northern dialect Southern dialect Central dialect
Ngang (a)
Huyền (à)
Sắc (á)
Hỏi (ả)
Ngã (ã)
Nặng (ạ)

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.

Old tonal classification

Before Vietnamese switched from a Chinese-based script to a Latin-based script, Vietnamese had used the traditional Chinese system of classifying tones. Using this system, Vietnamese has 8 tones, but modern linguists only count 6 phonemic tones.

Vietnamese tones were classified into two main groups, bằng (平; 'level tones') and trắc (仄; 'sharp tones'). Tones such as ngang belong to the bằng group, while other tones such as ngã belong to the trắc group. Then, these tones were further divided in several other categorizes: bình (平; 'even'), thượng (上; 'rising'), khứ (去; 'departing'), and nhập (入; 'entering').

Sắc and nặng are counted twice in the system, once in khứ (去; 'departing') and again in nhập (入; 'entering'). The reason for the extra two tones is that syllables ending in the stops /p/, /t/, /c/ and /k/ are treated as having entering tones, but phonetically they are exactly the same.

The tones in the old classification were called Âm bình 陰平 (ngang), Dương bình 陽平 (huyền), Âm thượng 陰上 (hỏi), Dương thượng 陽上 (ngã), Âm khứ 陰去 (sắc; for words that do not end in /p/, /t/, /c/ and /k/), Dương khứ 陽去 (nặng; for words that do not end in /p/, /t/, /c/ and /k/), Âm nhập 陰入 (sắc; for words that do end in /p/, /t/, /c/ and /k/), and Dương nhập 陽入 (nặng; for words that do end in /p/, /t/, /c/ and /k/).

Traditional tone category Traditional tone name Modern tone name Example
bằng'level' bình'even' Âm bình 陰平 ngang ma 'ghost'
Dương bình 陽平 huyền mà 'but'
trắc'sharp' thượng'rising' Âm thượng 陰上 hỏi rể 'son-in-law; groom'
Dương thượng 陽上 ngã rễ 'root'
khứ'departing' Âm khứ 陰去 sắc lá 'leaf'
Dương khứ 陽去 nặng lạ 'strange'
nhập'entering' Âm nhập 陰入 sắc mắt 'eye'
Dương nhập 陽入 nặng mặt 'face'


Main articles: Vietnamese grammar and Vietnamese morphology

Vietnamese, like Thai and many languages in Southeast Asia, is an analytic language. Vietnamese does not use morphological marking of case, gender, number or tense (and, as a result, has no finite/nonfinite distinction).[h] Also like other languages in the region, Vietnamese syntax conforms to subject–verb–object word order, is head-initial (displaying modified-modifier ordering), and has a noun classifier system. Additionally, it is pro-drop, wh-in-situ, and allows verb serialization.

Some Vietnamese sentences with English word glosses and translations are provided below.




giáo viên


Minh là {giáo viên}

Minh BE teacher.

"Minh is a teacher."







Trí 13 tuổi

Trí 13 age

"Trí is 13 years old,"



có vẻ



sinh viên

student (college)



học sinh.

student (under-college)

Mai {có vẻ} là {sinh viên} hoặc {học sinh}.

Mai seem BE {student (college)} or {student (under-college)}

"Mai seems to be a college or high school student."







Tài đang nói.

Tài PRES.CONT talk

"Tài is talking."







Giáp rất cao.

Giáp INT tall

"Giáp is very tall."







older brother





Người đó là anh của nó.

person that.DET BE {older brother} POSS 3.PRO

"That person is his/her brother."









bao giờ






Con chó này chẳng {bao giờ} sủa cả.

CL dog DET NEG ever bark all

"This dog never barks at all."








Việt Nam




Nó chỉ ăn cơm {Việt Nam} thôi.

3.PRO just eat rice.FAM Vietnam only

"He/she/it only eats Vietnamese rice (or food, especially spoken by the elderly)."











Tôi thích con ngựa đen.

1.PRO like CL horse black

"I like the black horse."















Tôi thích cái con ngựa đen đó.

1.PRO like FOC CL horse black DET

"I like that black horse."



ở lại








cho tới










Hãy {ở lại} đây ít phút {cho tới} khi tôi quay lại.

HORT stay here few minute until when 1.PRO turn again

"Please stay here for a few minutes until I return."


Ethnolinguistic Groups of Mainland Southeast Asia
A comparison between Sino-Vietnamese (left) vocabulary with Mandarin and Cantonese pronunciations below and native Vietnamese vocabulary (right).

Austroasiatic origins

Many early studies brainstormed Vietnamese language-origins to have been either Tai, Sino-Tibetan or Austroasiatic. Austroasiatic origins are so far the most tenable to date, with some of the oldest words in Vietnamese being Austroasiatic in origin.[31][53]

Chinese contact

Old Nôm character for rice noodle soup "phở". The character on the left means "rice" whilst the character on the right "頗" was used to indicate the sound of the word (phở).

Although Vietnamese roots are classified as Austroasiatic, Vietic and Viet-Muong, the result of language contact with Chinese heavily influenced the Vietnamese language, causing it to diverge from Viet-Muong into Vietnamese, which was seen to have split Vietnamese from Muong around the 10th to 11th century. For instance, the Vietnamese word quản lý, meaning "management" (noun) or "manage" (verb) is likely descended from the same word as guǎnlǐ (管理) in Chinese, kanri (管理, かんり) in Japanese, and gwanli (관리, 管理) in Korean. Instances of Chinese contact include the historical Nam Việt (aka Nanyue) as well as other periods of influences. Besides English and French, which have made some contributions to Vietnamese language, Japanese loanwords into Vietnamese are also a more recently studied phenomenon.

Modern linguists describe modern Vietnamese having lost many Proto-Austroasiatic phonological and morphological features that original Vietnamese had.[54] The Chinese influence on Vietnamese corresponds to various periods when Vietnam was under Chinese rule, and subsequent influence after Vietnam became independent. Early linguists thought that this meant Vietnamese lexicon then received only two layers of Chinese words, one stemming from the period under actual Chinese rule and a second layer from afterwards. These words are grouped together as Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary.

However, according to linguist John Phan, “Annamese Middle Chinese” was already used and spoken in the Red River Valley by the 1st century CE, and its vocabulary significantly fused with the co-existing Proto-Viet-Muong language, the immediate ancestor of Vietnamese. He lists three major classes of Sino-Vietnamese borrowings:[55][56][57] Early Sino-Vietnamese (Han dynasty (ca. 1st century CE) and Jin dynasty (ca. 4th century CE), Late Sino-Vietnamese (Tang dynasty), Recent Sino-Vietnamese (Ming dynasty and afterwards)

French era

Vietnam became French protectorates/colonial territories in 1883 until the Geneva Accords of 1954, which resulted in significant influence from French into the Indochina region (Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam). Examples include:

"Cà phê" in Vietnamese was derived from the French café (coffee). Yogurt in Vietnamese is "sữa chua" (lit. "sour milk"), but also calqued from French (yaourt) into Vietnamese (da ua - /j/a ua). "Phô mai" (cheese) is also derived from the French fromage. Musical note was borrowed into Vietnamese as "nốt" or "nốt nhạc", from the French note de musique. The Vietnamese term for steering wheel is "vô lăng", a partial derivation from the French volant directionnel. The necktie (cravate in French) is rendered into Vietnamese as "cà vạt".

In addition, modern Vietnamese pronunciations of French names remain directly derived from the original French pronunciation ("Pa-ri" for Paris, "Mác-xây" for Marseille, "Boóc-đô" for Bordeaux, etc.), whereas pronunciations of other foreign names (Chinese excluded) are generally derived from English pronunciations.


Some English words were incorporated into Vietnamese as loan words, such as "TV" borrowed as "tivi" or just TV, but still officially called truyền hình. Some other borrowings are calques, translated into Vietnamese, for example, 'software' is translated into "phần mềm" (literally meaning "soft part"). Some scientific terms such as "biological cell" were derived from chữ Hán, for example, the word tế bào is 細胞 in chữ Hán, whilst other scientific names such as "acetylcholine" are unaltered. Words like "peptide", may be seen as peptit.


Japanese loanwords are a more recently studied phenomenon, with a paper by Nguyễn & Lê (2020) classifying three layers of Japanese loanwords, where the third layer was used by Vietnamese who studied Japanese and the first two layers being the main layers of borrowings that were derived from Japanese.[58] The first layer consisted of Kanji words created by Japanese to represent Western concepts that were not readily available in Chinese or Japanese, where by the end of the 19th century they were imported to other Asian languages.[59] This first layer was called Sino-Vietnamese words of Japanese-origins. For example, the Vietnamese term for "association club", câu lạc bộ, which was borrowed from Chinese (俱乐部; pinyin: jùlèbù; jyutping: keoi1 lok6 bou6), which was borrowed from Japanese (kanji: 倶楽部; katakana: クラブ; rōmaji: kurabu) which came from English ("club"), resulting in indirect borrowing from Japanese.

The second layer was from brief Japanese occupation of Vietnam from 1940 until 1945. However, Japanese cultural influence in Vietnam started significantly from the 1980s. This new, second layer of Japan-origin loanwords is distinctive from Sino-Vietnamese words of Japanese-origin in that they were borrowed directly from Japanese. This vocabulary included words representative of Japanese culture, such as kimono, sumo, samurai, and bonsai from modified Hepburn romanisation. These loanwords are coined as "new Japanese loanwords". A significant number of new Japanese loanwords were also of Chinese origin. Sometimes, the same concept can be described using both Sino-Vietnamese words of Japanese origin (first layer) and new Japanese loanwords (second layer). For example, judo can be referred to as both judo and nhu đạo, the Vietnamese reading of 柔道.[58]

Modern Chinese influence

Some words such as lạp xưởng from 臘腸 (Chinese sausage) primarily keeps to the Cantonese pronunciation, brought over from southern Chinese migrants, whereas in Hán-Việt, which has been described as being close to Middle Chinese pronunciation, is it actually pronounced lạp trường. However, the Cantonese term is the more well known name for Chinese sausage in Vietnam. Meanwhile, any new terms calqued from Chinese would be from Mandarin into Sino-Vietnamese pronunciation. Additionally, in southern provinces of Vietnam, the name xí ngầu can be used to refer to dice, which may have derived from a Cantonese or Teochew idiom "xập xí, xập ngầu" (十四, 十五, Sino-Vietnamese: thập tứ, thập ngũ) meaning "fourteen, fifteen" meaning 'uncertain'.

Pure Vietnamese words

Basic vocabulary in Vietnamese has Proto-Vietic origins. Vietnamese shares a large amount of vocabulary with the Mường languages, a close relative of the Vietnamese language.

nước non
Numbers in Vietnamese and Mường
English Vietnamese Mường Proto-Vietic
zero không không N/A, from Middle Chinese 空 /kʰuŋ/
one một mốch, môch *moːc
two hai hal *haːr
three ba pa *pa
four bốn pổn *poːnʔ
five năm đằm, đăm *ɗam
six sáu khảu *p-ruːʔ
seven bảy páy *pəs
eight tám thảm *saːmʔ
nine chín chỉn *ciːnʔ
ten mười mườl *maːl

Other compound words, such as nước non (chữ Nôm: 渃𡽫, "country/nation", lit. "water and mountains") appear to be of purely Vietnamese origin, which used to be inscribed in chữ Nôm characters (compounded self-coined Chinese characters) but are now written in the Vietnamese alphabet.


Vietnamese slang (tiếng lóng) has changed over time. Vietnamese slang consists of pure Vietnamese words as well as words borrowed from other languages such as Mandarin or Indo-European languages.[60] It is estimated that Vietnamese slang that originated from Mandarin accounts for a tiny proportion of all Vietnamese slang (4.6% of surveyed data in newspapers).[60] On the other hand, slang that originated from Indo-European languages accounts for a more significant proportion (12%) and is much more common in today's uses.[60] Slang borrowed from these languages can be either transliteration or vernacular.[60] Some examples:

Word IPA Description
Ex /ɛk̚/, /ejk̚/ a word borrowed from English used to describe ex-lover, usually pronounced similarly to ếch ("frog"). This is an example of vernacular slang.[60]
/ʂoː/ a word derived from the English word "show" which has the same meaning, usually pair with the word chạy ("to run") to make the phrase chạy sô, which translates in English to "running shows", but its everyday use has the same connotation as "having to do a lot of tasks within a short amount of time". This is an example of transliteration slang.[60]

With the rise of the Internet, new slang is generated and popularized through social media. This more modern slang is commonly used among the younger generation of teenspeak in Vietnam. This more recent slang is mostly pure Vietnamese, and almost all the words are homonyms or some form of wordplay. Some slang words may include profanity swear words (derogatory) or just a play on words.

Some examples with newer and older slang that originate from northern, central or southern Vietnamese dialects include:

Word IPA Description
vãi /vǎːj/ "Vãi" (predominately from northern Vietnamese) is a profanity word that can be a noun, or a verb depending on the context. It refers to a female Buddhist temple-goer in its noun form and refers to spilling something over in its verb form. In slang terms, it is commonly used to emphasize an adjective or a verb, for example, ngon vãi ("very delicious"), sợ vãi ("very scary").[61] Similar uses to expletive, bloody.
trẻ trâu /ʈɛ̌ːʈəw/ A noun whose literal translation is "buffalo kid". It is usually used to describe younger children or people who behave like a child, like putting on airs, and acting foolishly to attract other people's attention (with negative actions, words, and thoughts).[62]
gấu /ɣə̆́w/ A noun meaning "bear". It is also commonly used to refer to someone's lover.[63]
/ɣàː/ A noun meaning "chicken". It is also commonly used to refer to someone's lack of ability to complete or compete in a task.[62]
cá sấu /káːʂə́w/ A noun meaning "crocodile". It is also commonly used to refer to someone's lack of beauty. The word sấu can be pronounced similarly to xấu (ugly).[63]
thả thính /tʰǎːtʰíŋ̟/ A verb used to describe the action of dropping roasted bran as bait for fish. Nowadays, it is also used to describe the act of dropping hints to another person that one is attracted to.[63]
nha (and other variants) /ɲaː/ Similar to other particles: nhé, nghe, nhỉ, nhá. It can be used to end sentences. "Rửa chén, nhỉ" can mean "Wash the dishes... yeah?" [64]
dô (South) and dzô or zô (North) /zo:/, /jow/ Eye dialect of the word vô, meaning "in". Slogans when drinking at parties. Usually, people in the South of Vietnam will pronounce it as "dô", but when contacted, people in the North pronounce it as dzô. The letter "z" which is not usually present in the Vietnamese alphabet, can be used for emphasis or for slang terms.[65]
lu bu, lu xu bu /lu: bu:/,

/lu: su: bu:/

"Lu bu" (from southern Vietnamese) meaning busy. "Lu xu bu" meaning so busy at a particular task or activity that the person cannot do much else. e.g. quá lu bu (so busy).[66]

Whilst there have been any older slang words from previous generations, the prevalence of uses of slang among young people in Vietnam, as specific teen speak conversations become difficult to understand for older generations and is subjected to debate sometimes. Some believe that incorporating teen-speak or internet slang into a daily conversation among teenagers will affect the formality and cadence of speech.[67] Others argue that it is not the slang that is the problem, but rather the lack of communication techniques for the instant internet messaging era. They believe slang should not be dismissed, but instead, youth should be informed enough to know when to use them and when it is appropriate.

Writing systems

Main articles: History of writing in Vietnam and Vietnamese Braille

The first two lines of the classic Vietnamese epic poem The Tale of Kiều, written in the Nôm script and the modern Vietnamese alphabet. Chinese characters representing Sino-Vietnamese words are shown in green, characters borrowed for similar-sounding native Vietnamese words in purple, and invented characters in brown.
In the bilingual dictionary Nhật dụng thường đàm (1851), Chinese characters (chữ Nho) are explained in chữ Nôm.
Jean-Louis Taberd's dictionary Dictionarium anamitico-latinum (1838) represents Vietnamese (then Annamese) words in the Latin alphabet and chữ Nôm.
A sign at the Hỏa Lò Prison museum in Hanoi lists rules for visitors in both Vietnamese and English.

After ending a millennium of Chinese rule in 939, the Vietnamese state adopted Literary Chinese (called văn ngôn 文言 or Hán văn 漢文 in Vietnamese) for official purposes.[68] Up to the late 19th century (except for two brief interludes), all formal writing, including government business, scholarship and formal literature, was done in Literary Chinese, written with Chinese characters (chữ Hán).[69] Although the writing system is now mostly in chữ Quốc ngữ (Latin script), Chinese script known as chữ Hán in Vietnamese as well as chữ Nôm (together, Hán-Nôm) is still present in such activities such as Vietnamese calligraphy.

Chữ Nôm

Main article: Chữ Nôm

From around the 13th century, Vietnamese scholars used their knowledge of the Chinese script to develop the chữ Nôm (lit.'Southern characters') script to record folk literature in Vietnamese. The script used Chinese characters to represent both borrowed Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary and native words with similar pronunciation or meaning. In addition, thousands of new compound characters were created to write Vietnamese words using a variety of methods, including phono-semantic compounds.[70] For example, in the opening lines of the classic poem The Tale of Kiều,

Nôm writing reached its zenith in the 18th century when many Vietnamese writers and poets composed their works in Nôm, most notably Nguyễn Du and Hồ Xuân Hương (dubbed "the Queen of Nôm poetry"). However, it was only used for official purposes during the brief Hồ and Tây Sơn dynasties (1400–1406 and 1778–1802 respectively).[71]

A Vietnamese Catholic, Nguyễn Trường Tộ, unsuccessfully petitioned the Court suggesting the adoption of a script for Vietnamese based on Chinese characters.[72][73]

Vietnamese alphabet

Main article: Vietnamese alphabet

A romanisation of Vietnamese was codified in the 17th century by the Avignonese Jesuit missionary Alexandre de Rhodes (1591–1660), based on works of earlier Portuguese missionaries, particularly Francisco de Pina, Gaspar do Amaral and Antonio Barbosa.[74][75] It reflects a "Middle Vietnamese" dialect close to the Hanoi variety as spoken in the 17th century. Its vowels and final consonants correspond most closely to northern dialects while its initial consonants are most similar to southern dialects. (This is not unlike how English orthography is based on the Chancery Standard of Late Middle English, with many spellings retained even after the Great Vowel Shift.)

The Vietnamese alphabet contains 29 letters, supplementing the Latin alphabet with an additional consonant letter (đ) and 6 additional vowel letters (ă, â/ê/ô, ơ, ư) formed with diacritics. The Latin letters f, j, w and z are not used.[76][77] The script also represents additional phonemes using ten digraphs (ch, gh, gi, kh, ng, nh, ph, qu, th, and tr) and a single trigraph (ngh). Further diacritics are used to indicate the tone of each syllable:

Diacritic Vietnamese name and meaning
(no mark) ngang 'level'
◌̀ (grave accent) huyền 'deep'
◌́ (acute accent) sắc 'sharp'
◌̉ (hook above) hỏi 'questioning'
◌̃ (tilde) ngã 'tumbling'
◌̣ (dot below) nặng 'heavy'

Thus, it is possible for diacritics to be stacked e.g. ể, combining letter with diacritic, ê, with diacritic for tone, ẻ, to make ể.

Despite the missionaries' creation of the alphabetic script, chữ Nôm remained the dominant script in Vietnamese Catholic literature for more than 200 years.[78] Starting from the late 19th century, the Vietnamese alphabet (chữ Quốc ngữ or 'national language script') gradually expanded from its initial usage in Christian writing to become more popular among the general public.

The romanised script became predominant over the course of the early 20th century, when education became widespread and a simpler writing system was found to be more expedient for teaching and communication with the general population. The French colonial administration sought to eliminate Chinese writing, Confucianism, and other Chinese influences from Vietnam.[73] French superseded Literary Chinese in administration. Vietnamese written with the alphabet became required for all public documents in 1910 by issue of a decree by the French Résident Supérieur of the protectorate of Tonkin. In turn, Vietnamese reformists and nationalists themselves encouraged and popularized the use of chữ Quốc ngữ. By the middle of the 20th century, most writing was done in chữ Quốc ngữ, which became the official script on independence.

Nevertheless, chữ Hán was still in use during the French colonial period and as late as World War II was still featured on banknotes,[79][80] but fell out of official and mainstream use shortly thereafter. The education reform by North Vietnam in 1950 eliminated the use of chữ Hán and chữ Nôm.[81] Today, only a few scholars and some extremely elderly people are able to read chữ Nôm or use it in Vietnamese calligraphy. Priests of the Jing minority in China (descendants of 16th-century migrants from Vietnam) use songbooks and scriptures written in chữ Nôm in their ceremonies.[82]

Computer support

Main article: Vietnamese language and computers

The Unicode character set contains all Vietnamese characters and the Vietnamese currency symbol. On systems that do not support Unicode, many 8-bit Vietnamese code pages are available such as Vietnamese Standard Code for Information Interchange (VSCII) or Windows-1258. Where ASCII must be used, Vietnamese letters are often typed using the VIQR convention, though this is largely unnecessary with the increasing ubiquity of Unicode. There are many software tools that help type Roman-script Vietnamese on English keyboards, such as WinVNKey and Unikey on Windows, or MacVNKey on Macintosh, with popular methods of encoding Vietnamese using Telex, VNI or VIQR input methods all included. Telex input method is often set as the default for many devices. Besides third-party software tools, operating systems such as Windows or macOS can also be installed with Vietnamese and Vietnamese keyboard, e.g. Vietnamese Telex in Microsoft Windows.

Dates and numbers writing formats

Vietnamese speak date in the format "day month year". Each month's name is just the ordinal of that month appended after the word tháng, which means "month". Traditional Vietnamese, however, assigns other names to some months; these names are mostly used in the lunar calendar and in poetry.

English month name Vietnamese month name
Normal Traditional
January Tháng một (1) Tháng giêng
February Tháng hai (2)
March Tháng ba (3)
April Tháng tư (4)
May Tháng năm (5)
June Tháng sáu (6)
July Tháng bảy (7)
August Tháng tám (8)
September Tháng chín (9)
October Tháng mười (10)
November Tháng mười một (11)
December Tháng mười hai (12) Tháng chạp

When written in the short form, "DD/MM/YYYY" is preferred.


The Vietnamese prefer writing numbers with a comma as the decimal separator in lieu of dots, and either spaces or dots to group the digits. An example is 1 629,15 (one thousand six hundred twenty-nine point fifteen). Because a comma is used as the decimal separator, a semicolon is used to separate two numbers instead.


Main article: Vietnamese literature

The Tale of Kiều is an epic narrative poem by the celebrated poet Nguyễn Du, (), which is often considered the most significant work of Vietnamese literature. It was originally written in chữ Nôm (titled Đoạn Trường Tân Thanh 斷腸) and is widely taught in Vietnam (in chữ Quốc ngữ transliteration).

Language variation

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The Vietnamese language has several mutually intelligible regional varieties:[i]

Dialect region Localities
Northern Vietnamese dialects Northern Vietnam
Thanh Hóa dialect Thanh Hoá
Central Vietnamese dialects Nghệ An, Hà Tĩnh, Quảng Bình, Quảng Trị
Huế dialect Thừa Thiên Huế
Southern Vietnamese dialects South Central Coast, Central Highlands and Southern Vietnam

Vietnamese has traditionally been divided into three dialect regions: North (45%), Central (10%), and South (45%). Michel Ferlus and Nguyễn Tài Cẩn found that there was a separate North-Central dialect for Vietnamese as well. The term Haut-Annam refers to dialects spoken from the northern Nghệ An Province to the southern (former) Thừa Thiên Province that preserve archaic features (like consonant clusters and undiphthongized vowels) that have been lost in other modern dialects.

The dialect regions differ mostly in their sound systems (see below) but also in vocabulary (including basic and non-basic vocabulary) and grammar.[j] The North-Central and the Central regional varieties, which have a significant number 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 because of its relatively late settlement by Vietnamese-speakers (around the end of the 15th century). The North-Central region is particularly conservative since 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, but 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 although their pronunciation fits the written language the most closely; that is typically because of various words in their vocabulary that are unfamiliar to other speakers (see the example vocabulary table below).

The large movements of people between North and South since the mid-20th century has resulted in a sizable number of Southern residents speaking in the Northern accent/dialect and, to a greater extent, Northern residents speaking in the Southern accent/dialect. After the Geneva Accords of 1954, which called for the temporary division of the country, about a million northerners (mainly from Hanoi, Haiphong, and the surrounding Red River Delta areas) moved south (mainly to Saigon and heavily to Biên Hòa and Vũng Tàu and the surrounding areas) as part of Operation Passage to Freedom. About 180,000 moved in the reverse direction (Tập kết ra Bắc, literally "go to the North".)

After the Fall of Saigon in 1975, Northern and North-Central speakers from the densely-populated Red River Delta and the traditionally-poorer provinces of Nghệ An, Hà Tĩnh, and Quảng Bình have continued to move south to look for better economic opportunities allowed by the new government's New Economic Zones, a program that lasted from 1975 to 1985.[83] The first half of the program (1975–1980) resulted in 1.3 million people sent to the New Economic Zones (NEZs), most of which were relocated to the southern half of the country in previously uninhabited areas, and 550,000 of them were Northerners.[83] The second half (1981–1985) saw almost 1 million Northerners relocated to the New Economic Zones.[83] Government and military personnel from Northern and North-Central Vietnam are also posted to various locations throughout the country that were often away from their home regions. More recently, the growth of the free market system has resulted in increased interregional movement and relations between distant parts of Vietnam through business and travel. The movements have also resulted in some blending of dialects and more significantly have made the Northern dialect more easily understood in the South and vice versa. Most Southerners, when singing modern/old popular Vietnamese songs or addressing the public, do so in the standardized accent if possible, which uses the Northern pronunciation. That is true in both Vietnam and overseas Vietnamese communities.

Modern Standard Vietnamese is based on the Hanoi dialect. Nevertheless, the major dialects are still predominant in their respective areas and have also evolved over time with influences from other areas. Historically, accents have been distinguished by how each region pronounces the letters d ([z] in the Northern dialect and [j] in the Central and Southern dialect) and r ([z] in the Northern dialect and [r] in the Central and Southern dialects). Thus, the Central and the Southern dialects can be said to have retained a pronunciation closer to Vietnamese orthography and resemble how Middle Vietnamese sounded, in contrast to the modern Northern (Hanoi) dialect, which has since undergone pronunciation shifts.


Regional variation in vocabulary[84]
Northern Central Southern English gloss
vâng dạ dạ "yes"
này ni, "this"
thế này, như này như ri, a ri như vầy "thus, this way"
đấy nớ, đó "that"
thế, thế ấy, thế đấy rứa, rứa tê vậy, vậy đó "thus, so, that way"
kia, kìa , tề đó "that yonder"
đâu đâu "where"
nào mồ nào "which"
tại sao răng tại sao "why"
thế nào, như nào răng, mần răng làm sao "how"
tôi, tui tui tui "I, me (polite)"
tao tau tao "I, me (informal, familiar)"
chúng tao, bọn tao, chúng tôi, bọn tôi choa, bọn choa tụi tao, tụi tui, bọn tui "we, us (but not you, colloquial, familiar)"
mày mi mày "you (informal, familiar)"
chúng mày, bọn mày bây, bọn bây tụi mầy, tụi bây, bọn mày "you guys (informal, familiar)"
hắn, hấn "he/she/it (informal, familiar)"
chúng nó, bọn nó bọn nớ tụi nó "they/them (informal, familiar)"
ông ấy ông nớ ổng "he/him, that gentleman, sir"
bà ấy bà nớ bả "she/her, that lady, madam"
anh ấy anh nớ ảnh "he/him, that young man (of equal status)"
ruộng nương ruộng, rẫy "field"
bát đọi chén "rice bowl"
muôi, môi môi "ladle"
đầu trốc đầu "head"
ô tô ô tô xe hơi (ô tô) "car"
thìa thìa muỗng "spoon"
bố bọ ba "father"

Although regional variations developed over time, most of those words can be used interchangeably and be understood well, albeit with more or less frequency then others or with slightly different but often discernible word choices and pronunciations. Some accents may mix, with words such dạ vâng combining dạ and vâng, being created.


The syllable-initial ch and tr digraphs are pronounced distinctly in the North-Central, Central, and Southern varieties but are merged in Northern varieties, which pronounce them the same way). Many North-Central varieties preserve three distinct pronunciations for d, gi, and r, but the Northern varieties have a three-way merger, and the Central and the Southern varieties have a merger of d and gi but keep r distinct. At the end of syllables, the palatals ch and nh have merged with the alveolars t and n, which, in turn, have also partially merged with velars c and ng in the Central and the Southern varieties.

Regional consonant correspondences
Syllable position Orthography Northern North-central Central Southern
syllable-initial x [s] [s]
s [ʂ] [s, ʂ][k]
ch [t͡ɕ] [c]
tr [ʈ] [c, ʈ][k]
r [z] [r]
d Varies [j]
gi Varies
v [v] [v, j][l]
syllable-final t [t] [k]
c [k]
after i, ê
[t] [t]
ch [k̟]
after u, ô
[t] [kp]
after u, ô, o
n [n] [ŋ]
ng [ŋ]
after i, ê
[n] [n]
nh [ŋ̟]
after u, ô
[n] [ŋm]
after u, ô, o

In addition to the regional variation described above, there is a merger of l and n in certain rural varieties in the North:[85]

l, n variation
Orthography "Mainstream" varieties Rural varieties
n [n] [l]
l [l]

Variation between l and n can be found even in mainstream Vietnamese in certain words. For example, the numeral "five" appears as năm by itself and in compound numerals like năm mươi "fifty", but it appears as lăm in mười lăm "fifteen" (see Vietnamese grammar#Cardinal). In some northern varieties, the numeral appears with an initial nh instead of l: hai mươi nhăm "twenty-five", instead of the mainstream hai mươi lăm.[m]

There is also a merger of r and g in certain rural varieties in the South:

r, g variation
Orthography "Mainstream" varieties Rural varieties
r [r] [ɣ]
g [ɣ]

The consonant clusters that were originally present in Middle Vietnamese (in the 17th century) have been lost in almost all modern Vietnamese varieties although they have been retained in other closely related Vietic languages. However, some speech communities have preserved some of these archaic clusters: "sky" is blời with a cluster in Hảo Nho (Yên Mô, Ninh Bình Province) but trời in Southern Vietnamese and giời in Hanoi Vietnamese (initial single consonants /ʈ/, /z/, respectively).


Although there are six tones in Vietnamese, some tones may slightly[clarification needed] merge but are still highly distinguishable from the context of the speech.[clarification needed] The hỏi and ngã tones are distinct in North and some North-Central varieties (although often with different pitch contours) but have somewhat[clarification needed] merged in the Central, Southern, and some North-Central varieties (also with different pitch contours). Some North-Central varieties (such as Hà Tĩnh Vietnamese) have a slight[clarification needed] merger of the ngã and nặng tones but keep the hỏi tone distinct. Still, other North-Central varieties have a three-way merger of hỏi, ngã, and nặng and so have a four-tone system. In addition, there are several phonetic differences (mostly in pitch contour and phonation type) in the tones among the dialects.

Regional tone correspondences
Tone Northern North-central Central Southern
 Vinh  Thanh
Hà Tĩnh
ngang ˧ 33 ˧˥ 35 ˧˥ 35 ˧˥ 35, ˧˥˧ 353 ˧˥ 35 ˧ 33
huyền ˨˩̤ 21̤ ˧ 33 ˧ 33 ˧ 33 ˧ 33 ˨˩ 21
sắc ˧˥ 35 ˩ 11 ˩ 11, ˩˧̰ 13̰ ˩˧̰ 13̰ ˩˧̰ 13̰ ˧˥ 35
hỏi ˧˩˧̰ 31̰3 ˧˩ 31 ˧˩ 31 ˧˩̰ʔ 31̰ʔ ˧˩˨ 312 ˨˩˦ 214
ngã ˧ʔ˥ 3ʔ5 ˩˧̰ 13̰ ˨̰ 22̰
nặng ˨˩̰ʔ 21̰ʔ ˨ 22 ˨̰ 22̰ ˨̰ 22̰ ˨˩˨ 212

The table above shows the pitch contour of each tone using Chao tone number notation in which 1 represents the lowest pitch, and 5 the highest; glottalization (creaky, stiff, harsh) is indicated with the ⟨◌̰⟩ symbol; murmured voice with ⟨◌̤⟩; glottal stop with ⟨ʔ⟩; sub-dialectal variants are separated with commas. (See also the tone section below.)

Word play

A basic form of word play in Vietnamese involves disyllabic words in which the last syllable forms the first syllable of the next word in the chain. This game involves two members versing each other until the opponent is unable to think of another word. For instance:

Hậu trường (backstage) Trường học (School) Học tập (Study) Tập trung (Concentrate)
Trung tâm (Centre) Tâm lí (Mentality) Lí do (Reason) Etc., until someone cannot form the next word or gives up.

Another language game known as nói lái is used by Vietnamese speakers.[86] Nói lái involves switching, adding or removing the tones in a pair of words and may also involve switching the order of words or the first consonant and the rime of each word. Some examples:

Original phrase Phrase after nói lái transformation Structural change
đái dầm "(child) pee" dấm đài (literal translation "vinegar stage") word order and tone switch
chửa hoang "pregnancy out of wedlock" hoảng chưa "scared yet?" word order and tone switch
bầy tôi "all the king's subjects" bồi tây "west waiter" initial consonant, rime, and tone switch
bí mật "secrets" bật mí "reveal" initial consonant and rime switch
Tây Ban Nha "Spain (España)" Tây Bán Nhà (literal translation "Westerner selling home", mainly used to mock Spain national football team[87]) initial consonant, rime, and tone switch
Bồ Đào Nha "Portugal" Nhà Đào Bô (literal translation "Toilet-digging Home", mainly used to mock Portugal national football team) word order and tone switch

The resulting transformed phrase often has a different meaning but sometimes may just be a nonsensical word pair. Nói lái can be used to obscure the original meaning and thus soften the discussion of a socially sensitive issue, as with dấm đài and hoảng chưa (above), or when implied (and not overtly spoken), to deliver a hidden subtextual message, as with bồi tây.[n] Naturally, nói lái can be used for a humorous effect.[88]

Another word game somewhat reminiscent of pig latin is played by children. Here a nonsense syllable (chosen by the child) is prefixed onto a target word's syllables, then their initial consonants and rimes are switched with the tone of the original word remaining on the new switched rime.

Nonsense syllable Target word Intermediate form with prefixed syllable Resulting "secret" word
la phở "beef or chicken noodle soup" la phở lơ phả
la ăn "to eat" la ăn lăn a
la hoàn cảnh "situation" la hoàn la cảnh loan hà lanh cả
chim hoàn cảnh "situation" chim hoàn chim cảnh choan hìm chanh kỉm

This language game is often used as a "secret" or "coded" language useful for obscuring messages from adult comprehension.

See also


  1. ^ Citizens belonging to minorities, which traditionally and on long-term basis live within the territory of the Czech Republic, enjoy the right to use their language in communication with authorities and in front of the courts of law (for the list of recognized minorities see National Minorities Policy of the Government of the Czech Republic, Belarusian and Vietnamese since 4 July 2013, see Česko má nové oficiální národnostní menšiny. Vietnamce a Bělorusy). The article 25 of the Czech Charter of Fundamental Rights and Basic Freedoms ensures right of the national and ethnic minorities for education and communication with authorities in their own language. Act No. 500/2004 Coll. (The Administrative Rule) in its paragraph 16 (4) (Procedural Language) ensures, that a citizen of the Czech Republic, who belongs to a national or an ethnic minority, which traditionally and on long-term basis lives within the territory of the Czech Republic, have right to address an administrative agency and proceed before it in the language of the minority. In the case that the administrative agency doesn't have an employee with knowledge of the language, the agency is bound to obtain a translator at the agency's own expense. According to Act No. 273/2001 (About The Rights of Members of Minorities) paragraph 9 (The right to use language of a national minority in dealing with authorities and in front of the courts of law) the same applies for the members of national minorities also in front of the courts of law.
  2. ^ There are different descriptions of Hanoi vowels. Another common description is that of (Thompson 1991):
    Front Central Back
    unrounded rounded
    Centering ia~iê [iə̯] ưa~ươ [ɯə̯] ua~uô [uə̯]
    Close i [i] ư [ɯ] u [u]
    Close-mid ê [e] ơ [ɤ] ô [o]
    Open-mid e [ɛ] ă [ɐ] â [ʌ] o [ɔ]
    Open a [a]

    This description distinguishes four degrees of vowel height and a rounding contrast (rounded vs. unrounded) between back vowels. The relative shortness of ă and â would then be a secondary feature. Thompson describes the vowel ă [ɐ] as being slightly higher (upper low) than a [a].

  3. ^ In Vietnamese, diphthongs are âm đôi.
  4. ^ The closing diphthongs and triphthongs as described by Thompson can be compared with the description above:
      /w/ offglide /j/ offglide
    Centering iêu [iə̯w] ươu [ɯə̯w] ươi [ɯə̯j] uôi [uə̯j]
    Close iu [iw] ưu [ɯw] ưi [ɯj] ui [uj]
    Close-mid êu [ew]
    âu [ʌw]
    ơi [ɤj]
    ây [ʌj]
    ôi [oj]
    Open-mid eo [ɛw] oi [ɔj]
    Open   ao [aw]
    au [ɐw]
    ai [aj]
    ay [ɐj]
  5. ^ The lack of diphthong consisting of a ơ + back offglide (i.e., [əːw]) is an apparent gap.
  6. ^ Tone is called thanh điệu or thanh in Vietnamese. Tonal language in Vietnamese translates to ngôn ngữ âm sắc.
  7. ^ The name of each tone has the corresponding tonal diacritic on the vowel.
  8. ^ Comparison note: As such its grammar relies on word order and sentence structure rather than morphology (in which word changes through inflection). Whereas European languages tend to use morphology to express tense, Vietnamese uses grammatical particles or syntactic constructions.
  9. ^ Sources on Vietnamese variation include: Alves (forthcoming), Alves & Nguyễn (2007), Emeneau (1947), Hoàng (1989), Honda (2006), Nguyễn, Đ.-H. (1995), Pham (2005), Thompson (1991[1965]), Vũ (1982), Vương (1981).
  10. ^ Some differences in grammatical words are noted in Vietnamese grammar: Demonstratives, Vietnamese grammar: Pronouns.
  11. ^ a b In southern dialects, ch and tr are increasingly being merged as [c]. Similarly, x and s are increasingly being merged as [s].
  12. ^ In the southern dialects, v is increasingly pronounced [v] among educated speakers. Less educated speakers use [j] more consistently throughout their speech.
  13. ^ Gregerson (1981) notes that the variation was present in de Rhodes's time in some initial consonant clusters: mlẽ ~ mnhẽ "reason" (cf. modern Vietnamese lẽ "reason").
  14. ^ Nguyễn 1997, p. 29 gives the following context: "... a collaborator under the French administration was presented with a congratulatory panel featuring the two Chinese characters quần thần. This Sino-Vietnamese expression could be defined as bầy tôi meaning 'all the king's subjects'. But those two syllables, when undergoing commutation of rhyme and tone, would generate bồi tây meaning 'servant in a French household'."


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