The Vietnamese language is an Austro-Asiatic language, of the Mon-Khmer language branch. Originally classified solely as a Mon-Khmer language, it has been more recently discovered that the Vietnamese language is separate enough to warrant having its own language branch, which is Muong.
Before the reunification of Viet Nam in 1975, the North and South were split into relatively separate areas, and both used the Vietnamese language quite differently. However, though there are Northern and Southern dialects, there is also another dialect that has since emerged around the Hue area, halfway up the country, which has been termed Central Vietnamese.
The Northern parts of the country were originally poorer than the Southern areas, and in the years after the reunification, many Northern dialect speakers travelled to Southern Viet Nam to look for economic opportunities. Likewise, the slightly richer business people of the South would often travel to the Northern areas for vacations. In this way, the language has become slightly more homogenized, with many colloquialisms now being interchangeable.
Vietnamese is the official language of Viet Nam as well as the national language. Around 86% of Vietnamese people have the Vietnamese language as their first language. This figure would be higher, but there are many ethnic tribal minorities who live outside of the cities, who have their own very separate dialects. The majority of city dwellers will speak fluent Vietnamese.
Of the Austro-Asiatic language family, Vietnamese has the largest amount of speakers by a considerable margin. More indeed than the other languages put together, with around 73 million native speakers of Vietnamese living around the world. A good deal of these speakers, around 70 million, live in Viet Nam itself, leaving three million native Vietnamese speakers around the world, including the countries of Cambodia, Canada, China, Czech Republic, France, Laos, the Netherlands, Norway, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, the US and the UK.
In the US, there are over one million speakers of the Vietnamese language, though not all of these speakers are mother tongue speakers of the Vietnamese language. In this country it is the seventh most spoken language, with the states of Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and California all having a significant minority community of Vietnamese language speakers. Around the world there are over 80 million speakers of Vietnamese, including both those who are native speakers and those who have learned it as a second language.
Vietnamese was not adopted as an official administrative language until the 20th century, though it had been spoken by the Vietnamese people for thousands of years. Chu Nom was the Chinese-based writing system that was used, though by the 18th century it was primarily used for poetry, literature, and creative endeavors. However, on becoming independent from the French, the Vietnamese language made using the Vietnamese language for business and governmental matters actually official.
The Vietnamese language used to be written in a Chinese script, and took much influence from the Chinese language. This is not just due to Chinese rule for a part of Viet Nam’s history, but is also due to the relative ease in which border crossing both is and was possible to and from China. Viet Nam was also colonially ruled by France for a number of years, and this is where the Latin writing system has come from. Instead of using a variant of Arabic scripts as many of the nearby countries do, Viet Nam uses a Latin script that is adapted to contain additional diacritics for the six tones in the language.
There are six tones in the Vietnamese language, and these are denoted by several marks to the letters, such as a grave accent, an acute accent, a hook, a tilde, or a dot below the word. Many words use the same letters, but a different tone will convey the meaning. This means that sentences such as “Ban bạn bán bàn bẩn”, meaning “Friend Ban sells dirty tables” can be said accurately.
This can be a little confusing to speakers of a Western language, but the important thing to remember is that these marks on the letters are essentially indicative of an entirely different letter, and can completely change the meaning and sound of the word. It is important to note that in the Southern areas of Viet Nam, only five of these tones are used.
Why Learn The Vietnamese Language?
The Vietnamese tourist industry has seen a massive rise in the last few decades. Though it is not considered polite to talk about the war, the reception to foreign visitors, particularly Americans, is very positive. Due to rebuilding the country after the war, Viet Nam has a wide variety of interesting and beautiful buildings to see, with many older buildings such as temples sitting next to modern architecture. There are many festivals and special days throughout the year. Viet Nam is a wonderful country to visit, with the imperial capital of Hue, the Halong Bay caves, and the stunning coastlines just being among the many reasons to visit this country.
In terms of business, Viet Nam’s economy is also seeing an increase. An exporter of cashew nuts, black pepper and rice, as well as being a rising figure in business, the country of Viet Nam is an excellent place to set up international business relations. Learning the Vietnamese language can not only help you to have a wonderful vacation, seeing many beautiful places, but it could also give you many more options for business.