An Introduction to Vietnamese Language

General Information
Vietnamese is the official language of Vietnam, which is located in Southeast Asia and has a population of over 85 million people (April 2009). Vietnamese belongs to the Mon-Khmer part of the Austro-Asiatic language family. There are over 70 million native speakers of Vietnamese, which includes some 3 million overseas Vietnamese (particularly in the United States) as well as about 10,000 Jing people (京族) in China’s Guangxi autonomous region.

Vietnamese has a long history that can be dated back to some 3,000 years ago. Compared to the majority of Southeast Asian languages, which are greatly influenced by Indian culture, Vietnamese is strongly influenced by Chinese vocabulary. It is estimated that more than 60 percent of modern Vietnamese words are of Chinese origin, especially Cantonese words. After the 9th century when Vietnam was under the control of the Chinese dynasties, Chinese ideograms were tailored for use in Vietnamese language.

In the early period of Vietnamese history (before 13th century), both official correspondence and documents were typically written in Classical Chinese (or Literary Chinese), whereas Vietnamese was just used as a spoken language among folks. The actual Vietnamese script, known as Chữ nôm (喃字), was not invented until the late 13th century.

Chữ nôm was devised based on Chinese ideograms but adapted to meet Vietnamese specific needs. Until the 17th and 18th century, this script was extensively used for poetry and literature. Besides Chinese, French also had a great influence on the Vietnamese language. In the 17th century, Alexandre de Rhodes, a French missionary who was the first Frenchman to visit Vietnam, created a system of Romanized writing called quốc ngữ (national language).

Initially, it was disregarded by traditional, Confucian scholars and just adopted by European missionaries. However, in the middle of the 19th century, with the Chinese influence fading in Vietnam, France invaded Vietnam and made it a colony.

As a result, this kind of handwriting system has become increasingly popular and been widely used nationwide in the 20th century. Finally, the Roman-based script quốc ngữ has become the Vietnamese writing system in use today and Vietnamese is the official administrative language of Vietnam. It is taught officially in schools as well as colleges and universities across Vietnam.

Read Also: Vietnamese Language Translation

With the increasing economic growth of Vietnam, the world is paying more and more attention to this country. As a emerging nation with a large, young and growing population, a diverse and dynamic economy, and relative political stability, Vietnam is a member of several emerging economic groups such as CIVETS (an acronym for Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa), VISTA (an acronym for Vietnam, Indonesia, South Africa, Turkey and Argentina), NEXT-11 (including Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Korea, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Turkey and Vietnam) and MAVINS (an acronym for Mexico, Australia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Nigeria, and South Africa).

With the national economic influence growing, Vietnamese language will be spoken by more and more people. Meanwhile, the world will no doubt witness an unprecedented growing demand for Vietnamese translations in the next 10 years.