Features of the Vietnamese Language

Features of the Vietnamese Language: Origins in Chinese Yet Written in the Alphabet

September 23, 2016

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Vietnamese Language

Vietnam has a long history of suffering, first under the control of Imperial China in the pre-Christian era, followed by French colonization, Japanese military control during the Second World War and the more recent war with America. Having developed and become established in Vietnam, the Vietnamese language clearly shows influences of the various countries that have been a part of Vietnam's history. Whilst the influence of China means that the language has its origins in Chinese characters, the alphabet is used for writing. With its complex historical background, there are many advantages for Japanese people learning the Vietnamese language.

The Influence of French on Vietnamese Typography

Before the French exerted their influence on Vietnam, a unique script called "Chu Nom" was used. However, as well as being difficult to understand, over the passage of history Chu Nom has become almost extinct. The alphabet was introduced by European missionaries, and it gradually replaced Chu Nom.

There are differences from the English alphabet, one of which is that F, J, W, Z are not used. The use of unique Vietnamese tone codes is also a distinctive feature. Because the alphabet script is familiar to Japanese people, it might be more approachable compared to other scripts used in Southeast Asia, such as countries in the Indian cultural sphere like Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

Easy Grammar

One of the distinctive elements of Vietnamese that make it easy to study for Japanese people is the simple grammar. The basic word order is the same as in English. For example, saying "I have a meeting in the morning" in Vietnamese is in the same word order as in English (e.g., "I" "have" "a meeting" "in the morning". It should therefore be easy to understand for Japanese people who have studied English.

Furthermore, in Vietnamese there are none of the difficulties we experience in studying English such as changes of tense and the singular and plural forms. The tense is expressed by using an adverb that expresses time. In other words, only the word "yesterday" needs to be added to "have a meeting," and the verb itself does not change.

People who worry about tenses in foreign languages and find it hard to find the right words should be able to actively communicate by putting in order the Vietnamese words they have learnt.

Many Words that Can Be Used in Kanji

Vietnamese is a language heavily influenced by China that is derived from Chinese characters. Therefore, many words share similar pronunciations to Japanese words that come from the same Chinese characters. This means they can be memorised by converting them into Chinese characters. Here are some examples:

- Trung Quốc(Pronunciation: Chun Okku)-> China

- Hàn Quốc (Pronunciation: Han Okku)-> Korean

- quốc gia (Pronunciation: Kuokkuyaa)-> Nation

- quốc ngữ (Pronunciation: Kuokkuguu)-> Language

The alphabet can be read without worrying about tone codes, and it is possible to associate words with the corresponding Chinese characters. This may be confusing at first, but once you get used to it, it can feel like a game to help you learn Vietnamese.

Understanding the Language's Characteristics for Enhanced Efficiency in Learning

For Japanese people, although the simplicity of the grammar and vocabulary are an advantage, it might be difficult to master the six types of unique tones. When considering Vietnamese communication, learning a wide vocabulary and being conscious of context as much as possible when speaking might be a practical solution to covering up errors in tone and pronunciation. When learning foreign languages, first of all we should understand the distinctive features of the language, and try to approach it efficiently as a communication tool.

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