Hoàng Tử Bé, in Vietnamese.

Vietnamese, the official language of Vietnam, is a member of the Austroasiatic language family, which also includes languages like Khmer (Cambodian) and Mon. It is spoken by over 90 million people in Vietnam and Vietnamese diaspora communities worldwide, making it the most widely spoken Austroasiatic language.

Vietnamese has undergone significant linguistic changes influenced by historical, cultural, and colonial interactions. Historically written in Chữ Nôm, a script that adapted Chinese characters to represent Vietnamese speech, it transitioned to the Latin alphabet (Chữ Quốc ngữ) in the 17th century due to the work of Catholic missionaries. This alphabet, with some modifications and the addition of diacritics to represent tones and certain vowel and consonant sounds, is used today.

Vietnamese is known for its tonal system, where the tone or pitch contour used when pronouncing a syllable can change the meaning of a word. It has six tones in the standard Northern dialect: level, high rising, low falling, low rising, high rising glottalized, and low falling glottalized. The language’s phonology features a relatively simple set of consonant sounds and a rich set of vowel sounds, including diphthongs and triphthongs.

Vietnamese grammar is characterised by its analytic structure, with a heavy reliance on word order and auxiliary words to indicate grammatical relationships. It uses a subject-verb-object (SVO) word order. Vietnamese does not use inflections to convey tense or aspect, nor to agree with subjects or objects. Instead, it uses a variety of particles and context to express these grammatical categories.

Vietnamese vocabulary reflects the country’s long history of Chinese influence, including a significant number of Sino-Vietnamese loanwords. However, the core vocabulary is distinctly Vietnamese, and there are also borrowings from French and English, particularly for concepts and objects introduced through colonialism and globalisation.

Vietnamese is spoken in several dialects, with the three main regional varieties being the Northern (centred around Hanoi), Central (centred around Huế), and Southern (centred around Ho Chi Minh City) dialects. These dialects mainly differ in their pronunciation of certain vowels, consonants, and tones, but speakers of different dialects can generally understand each other.

Today, Vietnamese is not only the medium of everyday communication in Vietnam but also the language of administration, education, and media. It plays a crucial role in preserving the national identity and cultural heritage of the Vietnamese people.

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