Vietnamese - interesting facts


Vietnamese, the official language of Vietnam, is an intriguing and significant language spoken by nearly 100 million people worldwide. As a member of the Austroasiatic language family, it stands apart from the Sino-Tibetan languages like Chinese and the Tai-Kadai languages like Thai, which dominate much of East Asia. This is a testament to the rich cultural mosaic of the region, where many different language families coexist.

The language's greatest concentration of speakers resides in Vietnam, where approximately 77 million people speak it. However, a significant Vietnamese diaspora exists, particularly in the United States, where it is the fifth most spoken language. Other countries like Australia, Canada, and France also have considerable Vietnamese-speaking communities.

Vietnamese is recognized for its unique phonetic characteristics, most notably using tones to distinguish meaning between words. Similar to Mandarin Chinese, different tonal inflexions can dramatically change the meaning of a word. There are six tones in the Northern dialects, such as in Hanoi, while Southern dialects, like Ho Chi Minh City, typically utilize five. This tonal aspect can present challenges to English speakers, who are unaccustomed to such nuances in spoken language.

Its Latin-based script is further distinguishing Vietnamese from many other languages, known as Quốc Ngữ or "national language". French missionaries established this in the 17th century as an alternative to classical Chinese, used for official purposes then. The script features 29 letters, some with diacritics. This makes it one of the few Asian languages that do not use an ideographic or syllabic script, making it more approachable for speakers of Latin-based languages.

In addition to its distinctive tonality and alphabet, Vietnamese also uses a subject-verb-object word order, much like English. This offers a small comfort for English speakers learning Vietnamese, providing a sense of familiarity despite the language's other differences.

Beyond its practical uses, learning Vietnamese also opens up a rich cultural tapestry filled with history, literature, and culinary delights. Vietnam boasts a wealth of oral and written literature dating back centuries, and the language's historical evolution is a testament to the resilience and adaptability of the Vietnamese people through periods of foreign rule and influence.

A curious fact about Vietnamese is that it uses an extensive system of "classifiers" or measure words. These words are used in conjunction with nouns and often provide additional information about the noun's meaning. The use of classifiers is not common in English, making it a fascinating aspect of Vietnamese for English speakers.


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Origin and evolution of the Vietnamese language

Vietnamese, also known as Tiˈng Viˈt, is the official language of Vietnam and is spoken by more than 90 million people. It comes from the Mon-Khmer language group, which belongs to the Austro-Asiatic family. Vietnamese has evolved under the influence of neighbouring languages such as Chinese and Thai, but at the same time retains many of its original phonetic and grammatical characteristics. In the past, Chinese writing was used in Vietnam, but in the 13th century, under the influence of Confucianism, Nôm was created, a combination of Chinese and Vietnamese. In the 17th century, thanks to the French missionaries, a writing system was created based on the Latin alphabet with additional diacritics, which is now used in Vietnamese. For Poles, it may be interesting that the Vietnamese language, despite its origin, is not closely related to other Asian languages, which makes it extremely unique.

Exceptional tonality of the Vietnamese language

Vietnamese is a tonal language, meaning a word's meaning depends on the tone in which it is spoken. In Vietnamese, six tones influence the meaning of words. This can be difficult for English speakers because English does not have tones. The tonality of the Vietnamese language means that learning to pronounce and understand the spoken language can be quite a challenge for people who speak non-tonal languages, such as Polish. Therefore, for Poles, learning Vietnamese can be a fascinating experience, allowing you to understand how diverse language systems can be.

Simple grammar to make learning easier

Unlike many other languages, Vietnamese has relatively simple grammar, which can make it easier for Poles to learn the language. The lack of articles, cases or declinations makes grammatical constructions much simpler than in Polish. Words do not change by chance, which greatly simplifies learning this language. Vietnamese is an isolating language, meaning words do not change their form, and the order of words expresses grammatical relations in a sentence. 

A wealth of pronouns and courtesy forms

Vietnamese has a wealth of pronouns that reflect a culture of respect and social hierarchy. In this language, many different forms of personal pronouns take into account the age, gender and social status of the interlocutors. Using appropriate pronouns is crucial to maintaining proper courtesy and respect for the interlocutor. 


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Your Essential Vietnamese




yes vâng (vang)
no không (khom)
please làm ơn (lam uhn)
thank you cảm ơn (kam uhn)
I'm sorry xin lỗi (sin loy)
good morning chào buổi sáng (chow buoy sang)
good evening chào buổi tối (chow buoy toy)
goodbye chúc ngủ ngon (chook ngoo ngon)
good night tạm biệt (tam byet)
hi chào (chow)
how are you?  Bạn có khỏe không? (ban co kwe khom?)
well Cảm ơn, tôi khỏe (kam uhn, toy kwe)
My name is... Tên tôi là (ten toy la)
I don't understand Tôi không hiểu (toy khom hyew)



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