General Information About the Vietnamese Language

The Vietnamese Language (in Vietnamese: Tiếng Việt, or Tieng Viet without accent marks) has existed for millenia but only in spoken form for most of the earlier periods. The writing system used in Vietnam was classical Chinese (~9th → 13th Century), Chữ Nôm (13th → 17th) and Romanized script (17th → Present).

Geographical Distribution

The Vietnamese Language is currently used by more than 86 million Vietnamese in Vietnam and approximately 4 million Overseas Vietnamese, most notably in:

Main Features of Vietnamese

The following are the most notable characteristics of Vietnamese Language, especially when compared to English:

Vietnamese Language Dialects

There are 3 main dialects of Vietnamese Language:

Vietnamese Writing System

The Vietnamse Writing System has passed through the following 3 transformational stages so far:

Before the 13th century

The Vietnamese Language then only existed in the spoken form. The writing was classical Chinese, whose indigenous name was Chữ Nho, since Vietnam was many times under Chinese domination during the 1st to the 15th century.

From the 13th to the 17th century

Invention of Chữ Nôm, which is based largely on Chinese characters but with phonetic elements to make it more suitable to the tones of the Vietnamese Language at that current stage (in spoken form). It was also interesting that Chữ Nôm was actually unintelligible to the Chinese people. Chữ Nôm was in widespread use during this period, especially for poetry and literature with the masterpiece The Tale of Kieu, written by Nguyễn Du, which is still being taught in Vietnamese schools up until now. While receiving widespread adoption, Chữ Nôm was not the official langauge of Vietnam during this period; the official writing script was still classical Chinese.

From the 17th century to present

The collective effort of Catholic missionaries to romanize Vietnamese Language has successfully produced the Romanized writing system called Quốc Ngữ, meaning National Language. The achievement was commonly attributed to the French missionary Alexandre de Rhodes. The initial introduction of Quốc Ngữ was not very successful and the script only received more adoption in the 19th century as the French colonical government pushed the language to replace the Chinese-style Chữ Nôm. And at the beginning of the 20th century that was Quốc Ngữ made the official language by the French colonial government. Minor changes to Quốc Ngữ were made up until 1975.