The Vietnamese language (tiếng Việt) is a member of the Viet-Muong subgroup of the Austroasiatic language family. It is the sole national and official language of Vietnamese, spoken by approximately 96 million people, as well as significant minorities in neighboring Cambodia and Laos, and large immigrant communities overseas in places such as Australia, Canada, France, and the United States. In terms of native speakers, Vietnamese ranks as approximately the 16th most widely spoken language in the world.
In the United States, there are approximately 1.5 million speakers of Vietnamese, making it the fifth most widely spoken language in the United States. The states with the largest populations of Vietnamese speakers include California, Texas, Virginia, and Florida. Most Vietnamese immigrant communities were established by Vietnamese refugees following the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, making it a relatively new immigrant population in the United States.
The Vietnamese language includes five major regional varieties (dialects), which include Northern, North-Central, Mid-Central, South-Central, and Southern varieties. Each of these major dialect groups is largely mutually intelligible. The differences between the dialects mainly include variations in pronunciation (sound systems), vocabulary, and grammar. The North-Central regional dialect is typically more difficult for speakers of other dialects to understand, while the Northern regional dialect tends to be the most linguistically conservative of the regions.
Like Chinese, Vietnamese is a tonal language. The Northern varieties of Vietnamese include six tones, while the other regional varieties generally include five tones. Vietnamese is an analytic language, meaning that it conveys relationships between the words in a sentence by way of “helper” words and word order rather than the use of inflection.
Vietnamese is an analytic language, wherein “helper” words and word order are used to convey the relationship between words in a sentence rather than through the use of inflections. Words are not marked for case, gender, number or tense (and, therefore, has no finite/non-finite distinction), and generally follows the subject-verb-object (SVO) word order which can be modified to be topic-prominent. As with other languages in the region, Vietnamese also utilizes a complex noun classifier and measure word system, with as many as 200 classifiers.
As with many other languages in the region, the Chinese language has had a significant influence on Vietnamese. For example, much of the lexicon related to technical topics such as science and politics has been derived from Chinese, comprising approximately one-third of the Vietnamese lexicon. Vietnamese has also incorporated a large number of loanwords from French as a result of the French colonial period in French Indochina and more recently has incorporated many English loanwords.
Until the late 19th century, the Vietnamese language also borrowed the Chinese writing system, with all formal writing, government matters, academic scholarship, and literature being written in Classical Chinese. At the beginning of the 20th century, a Latin-based script developed by Jesuit missionary in the 17th century began to be more widely promulgated, as it was believed that a simpler writing system would help to promote education and literacy. The Vietnamese alphabet (chữ Quốc ngữ), originally largely derived from the Portuguese, includes 29 letters, as well as digraphs and nine accent marks to create additional sounds and indicate the tone of each word.
FUN FACTS: As a result of strong commercial ties with the former Czechoslovakia and a large number of Vietnamese immigrants, Vietnamese is a recognized minority language in the Czech Republic. And, although the numbers have reduced significantly over the last several decades, there are still roughly 150,000 native-level speakers of French in Vietnamese, primarily among the elderly population who were educated in French during the colonial administration.
At Piedmont Global Language Solutions (PGLS), we offer document translation, interpretation, localization, and other language services in Vietnamese. Whether you need to translate public information notices into Vietnamese, need a Vietnamese interpreter for a court hearing, or want to localize your website into Vietnamese to market your products or services in Vietnam, PGLS is here to help with all of your Vietnamese language needs.