Brief Introduction of Vietnamese

Vietnamese is an Austroasiatic language spoken by about 82 million people mainly in Vietnam. There are also Vietnamese speakers in the USA, China, Cambodia, France, Australia, Laos, Canada and a number of other countries. Vietnamese has been the official language of Vietnam since the country gained independence from France in 1954.

Vietnamese was originally written with a Siniform (Chinese-like) script known as Chữ-nôm or Nôm. At first most Vietnamese literature was essentially Chinese in structure and vocabulary. Later literature developed a more Vietnamese style, but was still full of Chinese loan words. The greatest literary work in Vietnamese is Kim Van Kieu, the ‘Tale of Kieu’, a romance written by Nguyen-Du (1765-1820).

Chữ-nôm was used until the 20th century. Courses in the Chữ-nôm script were available at Ho Chi Minh University until 1993, and the script is still studied and taught at the Han-Nôm Institute in Hanoi, which has recently published a dictionary of all the nôm characters.

During the 17th century, Roman Catholic missionaries introduced a Latin-based orthography for Vietnamese, Quốc Ngữ (national language),which has been used ever since. Until the early 20th century, Quốc Ngữ was used in parallel with Chữ-nôm. Today only Quốc Ngữ is used.

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