Pronunciation  of Written Vietnamese in former RVN

Pronunciation of Written Vietnamese in former RVN

by tonytran2015 (Melbourne, Australia).

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#Vietnamese, #pronunciation, #IPA pronunciation, #alphabet,

Pronunciation of Written Vietnamese in former RVN (based on Standard Vietnamese used in the South, 1954-1975).

Part of the fun of traveling is understanding the local culture. This blog helps you know about written Vietnamese and pronunciate it to communicate with Vietnamese.

1. Background on written Vietnamese before Latin Alphabetization

First we should have some background knowledge about some of the oldest well known systems of writing.

Egyptian hieroglyphs

Figure: Hieroglyphs from KV17, the tomb of Seti I, 13th century BC (The copyright holder of the work allows anyone to use it for any purpose including unrestricted redistribution, commercial use, and modification. Author Jon Bodsworth. Original file: http://File:Hieroglyphs_from_the_tomb_of_Seti_I.jpg)

The earliest system of Hieroglyphs of the Egyptian civilization has been found from KV17, the tomb of Seti I, 13th century BC, it has existed before 3200BC. The question is whether it had spread to ancient Vietnam directly or indirectly? Indirectly means some other civilizations may have adopted it, or imitated it and that art of adaptation/imitation may have spread to the land of current Vietnam or to the land of ancient Vietnam during the long time span from at least 3200 BC to 200 BC.

Brahmic scripts

Figure: A fragment of Ashoka’s 6th pillar edict, in Brahmi, the ancestor of all Brahmic scripts (This file is licensed under Creative Commons ShareAlike 1.0 License. Source: No machine-readable author provided. Vadakkan assumed (based on copyright claims). Original file: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Asokan_brahmi_pillar_edict.jpg)

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahmi_script there is a correspondence between North Semitic and Brahmi scripts.

Ancient writing (either orinating from Egyptian writing or independently from Indus_script of Indus_Valley (from 3300 BCE to 1300 BCE )) had spread to Ancient India as Brahmi at least since 400 BC, to Bhutan, Nepal, (Brahmic_scripts), Japan (Yes, to Japan in East Asia), , , Tibet (Tibetan_script), South East Asian nations (Malayo-Polynesian_languages, Balinese_script).

Spreading of Brahmic scripts

Figure: Spread of Brahmic family of scripts from India. Figure from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahmic_scripts,(This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Language_travel_from_India.png )

From the above map of the spread of Brahmic scripts, it is logical to expect that the Vietnamese civilization dated since 2000 BC could have got its own writing system comparable to its competing neighbours. It is quite unlikely that a place for trading and bronze technology like ancient Vietnam had no writing which is pivotal for its book keeping and its records of recipes for inventions .

Vietnamese culture has indeed existed more than 4000 years ago [7].

Many Vietnamese believe that Vietnam had its own phonetic writing system known as Khoa Dau (Khoa Đẩu) notation. Many centuries of occupation by Chinese ( at about 111 BC.) had erased most of the Khoa Dau writings predating Han Chinese occupation [8-14].

2. Writing of spoken Vietnamese language after Chinese Occupation

After the Occupation by Han China in 111 BC (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_domination_of_Vietnam ), the use of Khoa Dau written language was banned by the occupier and Vietnamese had to use written Qin Chinese in official documents. The Vietnamese lost their ability to read their own Khoa Dau writing and had to invent Chữ Nôm as another way to write their own language.

Chữ Nôm is based on Chinese Qin writing (colloquially and unjustifiably(?) known as Han writing but it was previously standardized and made used across the whole Qin Empire by Emperor Qin Sih Huang Di). Chu Nom each has two parts, one for the meaning in Qin writing, another for the Qin character with closest pronunciation.

Illustrative example:
Chu Nom 𠀧 (ba “three”) is composed of the pronunciation part 巴 (Sino-Vietnamese reading: ba) and the Chinese meaning part 三 “three”.

Its use is almost like writing a fictitious new word between angled brackets in the following line

<DOG, to be read as “ch-oooo-or” at higher pitch>

for an Englishman to read the sound of the Vietnamese word <chó> meaning Dog in English.

So it is evident that to read such fictitious written language, the person has to be well versed in English. That was also the difficulty with using Chữ Nôm: The person has to be well versed in Qin language.

During the Second period of Independence from Chinese occupatiob (lasting from Vietnamese King Lê Lợi, AD 1428, to present), Vietnamese Emperor Quang Trung Hoang De decreed that all official documents had to be written in Chữ Nôm. However this requires officials to know Qin language before they can write Chu Nom in official documents!

3. Latin Alphabetization of spoken Vietnamese.

Christianity spread to Vietnam in the 16 th century, with it there arose the need for phonetization of Vietnamese for teaching Christinity.

Alexander de Rhode continued with the alphabetization of Vietnamese using Latin alphabets by Portuguese Jesuits preacher Francisco de Pina (1585-1625, of Guarda of Portugal) and popularized its use. There is a street in Saigon named in honour of Alexander de Rhode.

The alphabetization was made in the 16 th Century but it is remarkably close to the current International Phonetic Alphabets of 2015.

4. Advantage of Latin Alphabetized Vietnamese

With such alphabetization (as adopted as the Official Language of Republic of Vietnam, 1956-1975) the Standard Spoken Language of RVN has been:

a- Easy to learn and read

It is common for learners to be able to pronounce Latin alphabetized Vietnamese
in three months.

In the years of 1970’s more than 90% of South Vietnamese can pronounce that language from written Standard Vietnamese of RVN and even Westerners can read Vietnamese at first exposure.

b- Nationally non-ambiguous writing for various locally ambiguous pronunciations:

The Christian preachers had traveled to every corner of the country to record all different pronunciations of words and incorporated them into their written alphabetized language so that the written language is fully differentiated for different written words meaning different things even when only speakers in some parts of the country can differentiate them verbally while speakers in other parts of the country cannot. The resulting written language is therefore fully differentiated for words meaning different things while individuals in the country may not be able to verbally differentiate them. Consequently everyone can unambiguously understand the written language even when he cannot verbally differentiate all different written words.

Example 1:

1. <Tro> meaning “ash”, and

2. <Cho> meaning “give, donate, or let”

are pronounced differently by Southern Vietnamese but pronounced indistinguishably by Northerners in remote areas. The written language is unambiguous and gives exact meaning despite some indistinguishably spoken words by some speakers.

The written sentence “Cho tôi mua một chay nước tro” gives unambiguos meaning nationwide while its pronunciation by Northern Vietnamese might give ambiguous meaning from “Cho tôi mua một chay nước cho”.

Example 2:
1. <Tranh> meaning “fight for”, and
2. <Chanh> meaning “lemon”
are pronounced differently by Southern Vietnamese but pronounced indistinguishably by Northerners from remote areas. The written language is unambiguous and gives exact meaning despite some indistinguishably spoken words by some speakers.

The written sentence “Hai người tranh nhau trái chanh” gives unambiguous meaning nationwide while its pronunciation by Northern Vietnamese might give ambiguous meaning from “Hai người chanh nhau trái chanh”.

Example 3:
1. <Cá rô> meaning “Perch fish, (Perca fluviatilis)”,
2. <rỗ> meaning “woven rattan basket”
3. <giãy> meaning thrash
4. <rột rẹt> the rolling, rasping sound
are well pronounced by most Vietnamese but unintelligibly pronounced by Western Southerners. The written language is unambiguous and gives exact meaning despite some indistinguishably spoken words by some speakers.

The written sentence “Bắt con cá rô bỏ vô rỗ nó giãy nghe rột rẹt” gives unambiguos meaning nationwide while its pronunciation by Western South Vietnamese might give unintelligible meaning from “Bắt con cá gô bỏ vô gỗ nó gãy nghe gột ghẹt” .

c- Communicable nationwide:

The reading may be more differentiating than that of local people but they do understand it and it is considered as own language by every area in the country.

5. Standard Vietnamese sounds.

The Standard Pronunciation of Vietnamese Language in Republic of Vietnam, 1956-1975 have been made based on the hearing of the pronunciation by readers on Radio and TV broadcast programs, the lyrics from songs produced during that period and from actual conversations with many many people I met from most parts of that country.

That language had been successfully used for communication in that country.

Here are the results of my transcription which may help future people find out the actual pronunciation of people in now defunct Republic of Vietnam (1956-1975, commonly known as South Vietnam) if they ever need to restore the language.

6. My phonetic tables of Vietnamese

Figure: Table of Vietnamese consonnants. Click to enlarge.

Figure: Table of Vietnamese vowels. Click to enlarge.

The tables are made to help Westerners pronounce written Vietnamese and also to help with future reconstruction of the actual Standard Pronunciation of people in now defunct Republic of Vietnam (1956-1975, commonly known as South Vietnam) if they ever need to restore that language.

The tables of pronunciations have been established using the methods used by IPA.

Notes for using the tables of Vietnamese consonants:

1/ The table here gives the Standard Pronunciation of the defunct RVN. That language is found to be still easy to read, nationally non-ambiguous writing, and communicable nationwide. The current spoken language inside Vietnam IS CLOSE TO BUT IS NOT THE SAME. The current spoken language inside Vietnam is described in the web pages

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnamese_language ,
https://vi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%E1%BB%AF_Qu%E1%BB%91c_ng%E1%BB%AF,

There will be CONFLICTING information on the pronunciations between those two websites and this website. It is UP TO THE USER TO SELECT THE METHOD OF LEARNING PRONUNCIATION most appropriate to him.

2/ The Phonetic Transcriptions can never be identical for different speakers even from the same village! Therefore phonetizers should be satisfied that his alphabetization is acceptable when reproduction from his alphabetization is easily recognized and readily accepted by all listeners.

3/ Here I tried to use best approximate familiar IPA symbols [18]. Otherwise there will be a proliferation of IPA symbols and that would defeat the main aim of alphabetization symbols !

4/ There are three columns in this table. The first column represents the Vietnamese single or double or triple consonants, the second the corresponding IPA notation for Standard Northern pronunciation, the third the corresponding IPA notation for acceptable Standard Southern pronunciation. Radio and television announcers and speakers and singers in the former RVN adhered to this standard and were understood and appreciated nationwide.

5/ The Vietnamese <ch> is given its IPA alphabetizations as in the table.
I approximated the pronunciation for <ch> by Southerners by English “ch” as in “chat, church, chunk” in English.
The actual pronunciation by Southerners is [j] preceded by a [t] . However there is no IPA phonetic symbol such as [tj with a ligation on top]. So I have to choose the closest familiar IPA phonetic symbol which is for as “ch” in “chat, church, chunk” in English.
I do RECOMMEND foreigners to read Vietnamese <ch> as “ch” in “church” in English, such pronunciation is understood nationwide.

It is known among Vietnamese speakers that saying the word <cho> make the tongue flap from its initial position with its tip touching the back of the upper front gum to the final position with its tip resting on its lowest position behind the back of the rear of the lower front gum. On the other hand the tip of the tongue stay touching the back of the upper front gum when pronouncing “ch” in English.

6/ There are differences between <c>, <k>, and <q> in Latin Alphabetization.
<c>, and <q> are at two ends of the variation with <k> being the middle.
Natives Vietnamese words beginning with <q> have only those beginning with <qu>. However words like Qatar, Qibla do appear in Vietnamese news.

Example 1:

Pronounce “com tôm” and “Kon-Tum” and feel the positions of the point of articulation.

Pronounce “con cá, con cua” and “con két, con kiển” and feel the positions of the point of articulation.

Pronounce “cá cơm” and “cá kèo” and feel the positions of the point of articulation.

Pronounce “cua” and “qua” and feel the positions of the point of articulation.

Pronounce “cuốc” and “quốc” and feel the positions of the point of articulation.

7/- The Vietnamese consonant <d> is pronounced by Southerners as IPA [j] while by Northerners as as [z] quickly changing to [j] (If an IPA notation is made for that way of pronunciation, it would be [zj with ligation on top]) or as [dz with ligation on top].

It is noted that there have been disputes on how to accurately represent some Vietnamese spoken words like one which have been commonly written as <du> :

Some Northerners had successfully had their names registered in Vietnamese as “Dzu” rather than “Du” prior to 1975 (The laws of RVN required that people names must be Vietnamese words.). Their arguments were that Standard Vietnamese word <du> phonetically would be read by some as IPA [ju] or as IPA [zj u] while their name should always be read as IPA [dz u].

Notes for using the tables of Vietnamese vowels:

1/ The table here gives the Standard Pronunciation of the defunct RVN. That language is found to be still easy to read, nationally non-ambiguous writing, and communicable nationwide. The current spoken language inside Vietnam IS CLOSE TO BUT IS NOT THE SAME. The current spoken language inside Vietnam is described in the web pages

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnamese_language,
https://vi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%E1%BB%AF_Qu%E1%BB%91c_ng%E1%BB%AF,

There will be CONFLICTING information on the pronunciations between those two websites and this website. It is UP TO THE USER TO SELECT THE METHOD OF LEARNING PRONUNCIATION most appropriate to him.

2/ The Phonetic Transcriptions can never be identical for different speakers even from the same village! Therefore phonetizers should be satisfied that his alphabetization is acceptable when reproduction from his alphabetization is easily recognized and readily accepted by all listeners.

3/ Here I tried to use best approximate familiar IPA symbols. Otherwise there will be a proliferation of IPA symbols and that would defeat the main aim of alphabetization symbols !

4/ There are twelve principal Vietnamese vowels (sound which can be sustainably pronounced):
a, ă, â, e, ê, i, o, ô, ơ, u, ư, y
Vietnamese <y> is ALWAYS A VOWEL, it never takes the role of semi-vowel [j] unlike English “y” (in English “yes”) or French “y” (in “il y a”).

5/ They are grouped into six groups based on six Latin vowels a, e, i, o, u, y. The original phonetizers considered that (a, ă, â) are closely related and similarly for (e, ê), (o, ô), (u, ư).

6/ <i> differs from <y>: The sound for Vietnamese <y> is similar to IPA [i] or IPA [i:] but made with the point of articulation closer to the throat than for [i:].
IPA [i] is pronounced with the tip of the tongue nearly touching the gap between the upper and lower front teeth while Vietnamese <y> is pronounced with the tip of the tongue lowered and withdrawn to behind the back of the lower front gum.

Example 1:
Pronounce <i> as in IPA [i] and “y” as in “y tá” and feel the positions of the tongue and the point of articulation.

Pronounce “ĩ” as in “bĩ cực” and “ỹ” as in “mỹ” and feel the positions of the tongue tongue and the point of articulation .

Pronounce “i” as in “mì hoành thánh” and “y” as in “mỹ” and feel the positions of the tongue.

Pronounce “iến” as in “tiến” and “yến” and feel the positions of the tongue.

Pronounce “iết” as in “tiết” and “yết” as in “yết kiêu” and feel the positions of the tongue.

Pronounce “iếu” as in “hiếu” and “yếu” as in “yếu tố” and feel the positions of the tongue.

Example 2:

Pronounce “mái nhà” and “máy móc” and feel the positions of the tongue.

Pronounce “cài đặt” and “cày bừa” and feel the positions of the tongue.

Pronounce “thúi” and “thúy” and feel the positions of the tongue.

7/ Vietnamese <ô> is closer to IPA [õ] than IPA [o]. The IPA symbol for a nasal vowel is a tilde ~ over the corresponding oral vowel.
IPA [o] is like “eau” in French “beau” https://www.thoughtco.com/understanding-the-french-language-using-ipa-4080307

8/ Vietnamese <â> is closer to IPA [ʌ with a tilde] than IPA [ʌ]. The IPA symbol for a nasal vowel is a tilde ~ over the corresponding oral vowel.
IPA [ʌ] is like English “cut” https://www.antimoon.com/how/pronunc-soundsipa.htm

9/ Vietnamese <ư> is pronounced like IPA [U] but with the point of articulation moved to the back. The speaker can first pronunciate IPA [U] then move his point of articulation back to the throat to hear the sound of Vietnamese <ư>

References

[1].

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian_hieroglyphs

[2[. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahmic_scripts/

[3]. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahmi_script

[4]. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tibetan_script

[5]. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malayo-Polynesian_languages

[6]. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balinese_script

[7]. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoabinhian

[8]. https://chuvietcolacviet.vn/gocbaochi/detail/chu-viet-co-chu-cua-nen-van-minh-ruc-ro-ky-4-62.html

[9]. https://taobabe.wordpress.com/tag/ancient-language/

[10]. http://chuvietcolacviet.vn/gocbaochi/detail/giai-ma-chu-viet-co-127.html

[11] https://www.sachhiem.net/VANHOC/TVHAC/Vanhac09.php

[12]. http://chuvietcolacviet.vn/nghiencuu/detail/hanh-trinh-di-tim-chu-khoa-dau-phan-1-307.html

[13]. https://kienthuc.net.vn/di-san/su-ton-tai-cua-nen-van-minh-khoa-dau-266446.html

[14]. http://chuaxaloi.vn/tin-tuc/van-de-chu-khoa-dau/921.html

[15]. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%E1%BB%AF_N%C3%B4m

[16]. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnamese_language

[17]. https://vi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%E1%BB%AF_Qu%E1%BB%91c_ng%E1%BB%AF

[18]. https://www.internationalphoneticalphabet.org/ipa-sounds/ipa-chart-with-sounds/

[19]. https://www.antimoon.com/how/pronunc-soundsipa.htm

[20]. https://www.thoughtco.com/understanding-the-french-language-using-ipa-4080307

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2 thoughts on “Pronunciation  of Written Vietnamese in former RVN

    • It is not that bad. We all have opportunities springing up again and again and we often grab an opportunity when the benefits well exceed the effort. Thank you, Michael, for your comment and re-blogging.

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