Vietnamese Language Program at UHM

The Vietnamese Language

The Vietnamese language belongs to the Austroasiatic language family. As the official language of Vietnam, Vietnamese is spoken by approximately eighty million people in Vietnam and about three million expatriate Vietnamese, half of which live in the USA. There are three mutually intelligible main dialects differing in terms of pronunciation and to a certain extent in vocabulary: Hà Nội (Northern Vietnamese), Huế (Central Vietnamese), and Sài Gòn (Southern Vietnamese). The Hà Nội dialect is now often considered the standard dialect.

Vietnamese is a tonal language, where the meaning of each word depends on the tone in which it is pronounced. There are six distinct tones in the standard Northern dialect. The tones are denoted by diacritic marks placed above or under a word.

The current Roman writing system of Vietnamese known as chữ Quốc ngữ was developed by Catholic missionaries in the seventeenth century, but was not officially used until the beginning of the twentieth century.

There is no inflection in Vietnamese so nouns and verbs are not marked for things such as subject agreement and tense or number, grammatical gender, and case. Nouns are marked by special classifiers. There are classifiers that mark inanimate objects, animate objects, vehicles, books, people, and important people, for example.

Reduplication and compounding are common phenomena. In a reduplicated form, the entire word may be repeated or just a portion of it. Reduplication may indicate plural, extension, or repetition of a state or intensity. Names of birds, insects, plants, and fruits are often reduplicated, too.

Sentences in Vietnamese have subject-verb-object word order as in English. Since there is no inflection, the language depends on strict word order to convey meaning.

Example: Tôi học ở University of Hawai’i.
I study at University of Hawai’i.