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Alphabet in Vietnamese language: Useful facts and pronunciation guide

21/11/2023 7.388

Embarking on the exploration of a language often begins with unraveling its alphabet, and the Vietnamese language is no exception. With its unique characters and distinct sounds, the alphabet in Vietnamese offers a fascinating journey into the heart of this rich linguistic tapestry.

Alphabet in Vietnamese

The alphabet in the Vietnamese language serves as a captivating gateway into the rich tapestry of this Southeast Asian nation's linguistic heritage. Unlike many Western languages, the Vietnamese alphabet is a script that has undergone fascinating transformations. In this guide, we will delve into the intricacies of the Vietnamese alphabet, exploring its origins and features, and providing a pronunciation guide. 

1. History of the Vietnamese alphabet

The current official alphabet in Vietnamese is the result of a fascinating journey marked by various influences, contributors, and adaptations over centuries of the history of Vietnam

  • Romanization by Alexandre de Rhodes: In the early 17th century, Alexandre de Rhodes played a pivotal role in adapting the Latin alphabet to transcribe the Vietnamese language. This Romanization, known as Quốc Ngữ, aimed to make the language accessible for the purpose of spreading Christianity. Vietnamese in Latin script provided clearer communication compared to earlier scripts like Nôm.
  • Spread of Romanized Vietnamese: Over time, the Romanized Vietnamese script gained acceptance and extended beyond religious contexts. It became a tool for education and information transmission.
  • Gia Dinh newspaper and colonial period: In 1864, the establishment of Gia Dinh newspaper marked a significant development in the use of the national language. This coincided with the period of French colonial rule in Vietnam, and the newspaper contributed to the promotion and standardization of the alphabet in Vietnamese.
  • Changes in the alphabet: The Vietnamese alphabet underwent several changes influenced by dictionaries published from the mid-17th century to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1888, a Vietnamese-French dictionary proposed alterations to certain letters to align with English and French pronunciations. However, these did not receive widespread support from Vietnamese people.
  • Evolution and adaptation: The need to accommodate phonetic shifts over time and to refine the writing system for accurate representation of the language led to significant changes in the modern alphabet in Vietnamese. The official alphabet that is used across Vietnam today is the culmination of years of evolution and adaptation efforts.
Alphabet in Vietnamese

2. How many letters are there in the Vietnamese alphabet?

The alphabet in Vietnamese consists of 29 letters. This includes 22 regular letters and 7 with diacritics, which have distinguished pronunciations.

  1. A, Ă, Â
  2. B
  3. C
  4. D, Đ
  5. E, Ê
  6. G
  7. H
  8. I
  9. K
  10. L
  11. M
  12. N
  13. O, Ô, Ơ
  14. P
  15. Q
  16. R
  17. S
  18. T
  19. U, Ư
  20. V
  21. X
  22. Y

>>> Learn more: Vietnamese names: Naming traditions and 200+ common names for boys & girls

3. How many tones are there in the Vietnamese language?

There are 6 tones in the Vietnamese language, and changes in the use of tones will bring about different words with different meanings. Keep in mind that in writing with the alphabet in Vietnamese, all the diacritics are placed above or under vowels only. Let’s use the term “ma” as an example to better demonstrate the characteristics of these tones.

  1. Mid-level (ma): This is the unmarked tone and is considered neutral. It is notated without any diacritic marks. "Ma" in this tone means "ghost."
  2. High-rising (má): Marked with an acute accent, the high-rising tone starts at a mid-level pitch and rises sharply. For instance, "má" with this tone means "mother."
  3. Low-dipping (mà): This starts mid-level and dips down low. The word "mà," marked with a grave accent, means "but."
  4. Low-rising (mả): Starting low and rising, this tone is indicated with a tilde. For example, "mả" with this tone means "tomb."
  5. High-broken (mã): Beginning at a high pitch and then breaking or dropping abruptly, this tone is marked with a hook. "Mã" with this tone means "horse."
  6. Low-falling (mạ): The low-falling tone begins with a mid-level pitch and then falls sharply. "Mạ," marked with a dot, means "rice seedling."
Alphabet in Vietnamese

>>> Discover: 6 fascinating facts about Vietnamese last names that will amaze you

4. How to pronounce the alphabet in Vietnamese?

4.1. Vowels in the Vietnamese alphabet

There are single vowels, double vowels, and triple vowels in the alphabet in Vietnamese. 

  • Single vowels: a, ă, â, e, ê, i/y, o, ô, ơ, u, ư 

You can refer to the table below to visualize the pronunciation of Vietnamese vowels: 

Vowel

English Sound

Pronunciation Example

a

α:

‘a’ in father

ă

α

‘a’ in hat

â

ɜ

‘u’ in but

e

ε

‘e’ in get

ê

e

‘a’ in mate

i

i

‘i’ in machine

y

i

‘I’ in pin

o

ɔ

‘o’ in hot

ô

o

‘oa’in boat

ơ

ɜ:

‘u’ in fur

u

ʊ

‘oo’ in boot

ư

ɨ

‘oo’ in boot

 

  • Double vowels: ai, ao, au, âu, ay, ây, êu, eo, ia, iê/yê, iu, oa, oă, oi, oe, oo, ôi, ơi, ua, uâ, uă, ưa, ue, ui, ưi, uo, uô, ươ, ưu, uơ, uy.

Have a look at this table to learn how to pronounce a few double vowels of the alphabet in Vietnamese: 

Vowel

IPA

ai

[aĭ]

ao

[ɑu̯]

au

[au̯]

âu

[əu̯]

ay

[ɛi]

ây

[ei]

eo

[ɛu̯]

ia

[iə]

[iə]

iu

[iu̯]

oa

[wɑ]

[wa]

oi

[ɔi]

oe

[wɛ]

ôi

[oi]

ơi

[ɤĭ]

ua

[uə]

[wə]

ưa

[ɯə]

[we]

ui

[uĭ]

ưi

[ɯĭ]

[uə]

ươ

[ɯə]

ưu

[ɯu̯]

[wɤ]

uy

[wi]

 

  • Triple vowels: oai, oao, uao, oeo, iêu/yêu, uôi, ươu, uyu, uyê, uya, ươi, oay, uây

Here's the pronunciation guide for some Vietnamese triple vowels: 

Vowel

IPA

oai

[wɑĭ]

iêu

[iəu̯]

uôi

[uəĭ]

ươi

[ɯəi]

uyê

[wiə]

 

These vowels can be combined with consonants and diacritics to form syllables in Vietnamese words.

The sounds of accented single vowels, double vowels, and triple vowels are pronounced longer than single vowels. When practicing the pronunciation, be sure to pay attention to the position of your tongue, teeth, and lips. 

4.2. Consonants in the Vietnamese alphabet

The alphabet in Vietnamese has single consonants and compound consonants.

  • Single consonants: b, c, d, đ, g, h, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, x
  • Compound consonants: ch, gh, gi, kh, ng, ngh, nh, th, tr, qu, ph

Consonant

English Sound

Pronunciation Example

b

ɓ

‘b’ in big

c

k

‘c’ in cat

d

z, j

‘z’ in zoo (North), ‘y’ in yes (South)

đ

ɗ

‘d’ in done

g

ɣ

‘g’ in good

h

h

‘h’ in house

k

k

‘c’ in cat

l

l

‘l’ in life

m

m

‘m’ in man

n

n

‘n’ in nice

p

p

‘p’ in pet

q

q

‘q’ in queue

r

z, ɹ

‘z’ in zoo (North), ‘r’ in ring (South)

s

s, ∫

‘s’ in sore (North), ‘s’ in sure (South)

t

t

‘t’ in stop

v

v, j

‘v’ in van (North), ‘y’ in yes (South)

x

s

‘s’ in sore

ch

t∫, c

‘ch’ in church

gh

ɣ

‘g’ in good

gi

z, j

‘z’ in zoo (North), ‘y’ in yes (South)

kh

kh, x

‘ch’ in bach

ng

ŋ

‘ng’ in singer

ngh

ŋ

‘ng’ in singer

nh

ɲ

‘ny’ in canyon

th

th

‘t’ in top

tr

t∫, ʈɽ

‘ch’ in church (North), ‘tr’ in tree (South)

qu

kw

‘qu’ in queue

ph

f

‘f’ in find

 

Alphabet in Vietnamese

To learn and pronounce the alphabet in Vietnamese accurately and effectively, it is best to learn by listening to Vietnamese alphabet songs, practicing with native speakers, or engaging in Vietnam travel experiences to immerse in the Vietnamese language environment and distinguish pronunciation differences among the three regions. You can visit Hanoi, Ha Long, Ho Chi Minh City, Phu Quoc, Nha Trang, Hoi An, etc. 

Alphabet in Vietnamese

At these destinations, you can stay at Vinpearl hotels and resorts to enjoy luxurious accommodations and amenities. From pools, spas, and gyms to restaurants and bars, Vinpearl guarantees that you have everything necessary to unwind. Their attentive staff will also ensure that your stay is nothing short of extraordinary. In addition, don’t forget to visit VinWonders, Vietnam’s top entertainment complex, for diverse entertainment options, like taking thrilling rides, watching lively shows, sampling local cuisine, etc. 

>>> Book rooms in Vinpearl Phu Quoc, Vinpearl Nha Trang, Vinpearl Resort & Golf Nam Hoi An, Vinpearl Resort & Spa Ha Long for your trip to Vietnam!

The alphabet in Vietnamese is a testament to the country's linguistic richness, cultural heritage, and the intricate beauty woven into each character. From its historical evolution to its nuanced pronunciation nuances, delving into the Vietnamese alphabet provides not only a practical guide for language learners but also a gateway to a deeper appreciation of Vietnam's diverse linguistic landscape. To enrich your understanding, consider embarking on a trip to Vietnam!

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