Vietnamese is the official language and is spoken everywhere except in some mountain villages. Earlier, the Vietnamese language used Chinese characters, however in the 17th century French missionaries introduced the Latin characters. Vietnamese knows different tones of each syllables much like the Chinese (falling, rising etc). These tones differ often only minimally, and for untrained listerners it will be difficult to hear any difference. There are different combinations of rising, falling, and glottalized (= sudden closure of the vocal cords) pronunciation, and depending on the tone, each syllable has a quite different meaning. Because the Latin alphabet does not know these tones, some special characters were introduced specifically for the Vietnamese language.
There are 6 ways to pronounce a syllable, so there are 6 different icons in Vietnamese. The 6 tones are marked as follows (using the example of the letter "a"):
- a: neutral
- à: falling
- ả: falling and rising
- ã: rising and glottalized
- á: rising
- ạ: falling and glottalized
In Vietnamese there are also significantly more vowels than in Western languages. These differ often only imperceptibly for Western ears. As the Latin language only knows five vowels, the missionaries had to put up also here special character, based on the French "accents"
- a: bright "a"
- ă: darker 'a', slightly further back
- â: According to between "a" and "o"
- e: light "e"
- ê: darker sound between "e" and "a"
- i: light "i"
- o: between "o" and "a"
- ô: as our "o"
- ơ: between "a" and "o" (very similar to â)
- u: as our u
- ư: between "a" and "u", spoken far to the rear
Through the combination of the various “tones” and vocals with accents, the Vietnamese language also has double accented characters such as „ở“ in "phở" (noodle soup) or „ẳ“ in "thẳng" (straight ahead).
Vietnamese words have always only one syllable. Compound words are basically taken from several syllables, of which each has their own meaning. Hanoi is a compound word from "Hà" (River) and "Noi", Saigon "Sài" (forest) and "Gòn" (cotton). The language therefore has no discernible melody.
Here are some useful phrases:
- Hi - xin chào ("sin tschao")
- Goodbye - tạm biệt ("tam biet")
- Thank you - cám ơn ("cam ang")
- I'm sorry - xin lỗi ("sinn loi")
- Good - khoẻ („koee“)
- Very tasty - ngon quá ("ngong quaa")
- No - không ("chomm")
- My name is Marcus - tôi tên là Marcus ("toi tenn laa Marcus”)