Vietic languages

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Mainland Southeast Asia
Linguistic classification: Austroasiatic
  • Vietic
Glottolog: viet1250[1]

The Vietic languages are a branch of the Austroasiatic language family. The branch was once referred to by the terms Việt–Mường, Annamese–Muong, and Vietnamuong; the term Vietic was proposed by Hayes (1992),[2] who proposed to redefine Việt–Mường as referring to a sub-branch of Vietic containing only Vietnamese and Mường.

Many of the Vietic languages have tonal or phonational systems intermediate between that of Viet–Muong and other branches of Austroasiatic that have not had significant Chinese or Tai influence.

Vietnamese, today, has had significant Chinese influence especially in vocabulary and tonal system. Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary accounts for about 30–60% of Vietnamese vocabulary, not including calques from China. Vietnamese was linguistically influenced primarily by Chinese.


Based on linguistic diversity, the most probable homeland of the Vietic languages appears to have been located in modern-day Bolikhamsai Province and Khammouane Province in Laos as well as parts of Nghệ An Province and Quảng Bình Province in Vietnam. The time depth of the Vietic branch dates back at least 2,000 years.[3]

Vietnamese was identified as an Austroasiatic language in the mid-nineteenth century, and there is now strong evidence for this classification. Today, Vietnamese is a monosyllabic tonal language like Cantonese and has lost many Proto-Austroasiatic phonological and morphological features. Vietnamese has also large stocks of borrowed Chinese and Tai vocabulary. However, there continues to be resistance to the idea that Vietnamese could be more closely related to Khmer than to Chinese or the Tai languages. Nevertheless, the vast majority of scholars consider these typological similarities to be due to language contact rather than common inheritance.

The ancestor of the Vietnamese language is traditionally assumed to have been originally based around the Red River area in what is now northern Vietnam. However, Chamberlain argues that the Red River Delta region was originally Tai-speaking and became Vietnamese-speaking only between the seventh and ninth centuries AD, as a result of immigration from the south, i. e., modern Central Vietnam, where the highly distinctive and conservative North-Central Vietnamese dialects are spoken today. Therefore, the region of origin of Vietnamese (and the earlier Viet–Muong) was well south of the Red River.[3]

Like the ethnonym Lao, the name Yue/Việt originally referred to Tai–Kadai-speaking groups. In northern Vietnam, these later adopted Viet–Muong[3] and further north Chinese, where the designation Yue Chinese preserves the ethnonym. (Both in Vietnam and southern China, however, many Tai–Kadai languages remain in use.) This explains the fact that the same ethnonym Yue ~ Việt (whence Vietic) is associated with groups that speak Tai–Kadai, Austroasiatic and Chinese languages, which are typologically similar and share significant amounts of lexicon, but have different origins.


Vietic speakers reside in and around the Nakai–Nam Theun Conservation Area of Laos and north-central Vietnam (Chamberlain 1998). Many of these speakers are referred to as Mường, Nhà Làng, and Nguồn. Chamberlain (1998) lists current locations in Laos for the following Vietic peoples.[4] An overview based on first-hand fieldwork has been proposed by Michel Ferlus.[5]

  • Nguồn: Ban Pak Phanang, Boualapha District, Khammouane; others in Vietnam
  • Liha, Phong (Cham), and Toum: Khamkeut District; probably originally from the northern Nghe An - Khamkeut border area
  • Ahoe: originally lived in Na Tane Subdistrict of Nakai District, and Ban Na Va village in Khamkeut District; taken to Hinboun District during the war, and then later resettled in Nakai Tay (39 households) and in Sop Hia (20 households) on the Nakai Plateau.
  • Thaveung (Ahao and Ahlao dialects): several villages near Lak Xao; probably originally from the Na Heuang area
  • Cheut: Ban Na Phao and Tha Sang, Boualapha District; others probably also in Pha Song, Vang Nyao, Takaa; originally from Hin Nam No and Vietnam
  • Atel: Tha Meuang on the Nam Sot (primarily Malang people); originally from the Houay Kanil area
  • Thémarou: Vang Chang on the Nam Theun; Ban Soek near the Nam Noy
  • Makang: Na Kadok, Khamkeut District (primarily Saek people); originally from the Upper Sot area
  • Malang: Tha Meuang on the Nam Sot
  • "Salang": Ban Xe Neua, Boualapha District
  • Atop: Na Thone, Khamkeut District (primarily Tai Theng people); originally from the Upper Sot area
  • Mlengbrou: near the Nam One; later relocated to the Gnommarath side of the Ak Mountain, and now living in Ban Sang, Gnommarath District (primarily Yooy people)
  • Kri: Ban Maka

In Vietnam, some Vietic hill-tribe peoples, including the Arem, Rục, Maliêng, and Mày (Cươi), were resettled at Cu Nhái (located either in western Quảng Bình Province or in the southwest of Hương Khê District in Hà Tĩnh Province). The Sách are also found in Vietnam.

The following table lists the lifestyles of various Vietic-speaking ethnic groups. Unlike the neighboring Tai ethnic groups, many Vietic groups are not paddy agriculturalists.

Cultural typology of Vietic-speaking ethnic groups[3]
Lifestyle Vietic group
Small-group foraging nomads Atel, Thémarou, Mlengbrou, (Cheut?)
Originally collectors and traders who have become emergent swidden sedentists Arao, Maleng, Malang, Makang, Tơe, Ahoe, Phóng
Swidden cultivators who move every 2–3 years among pre-existing village sites Kri
Combined swidden and paddy sedentists Ahao, Ahlao, Liha, Phong (Cham), Toum


The discovery that Vietnamese was a Mon–Khmer language, and that its tones were a regular reflection of non-tonal features in the rest of the family, is considered a milestone in the development of historical linguistics. The Vietic languages reflect every stage in this development.[5][6]

  • Arem: This language lacks the breathy phonation common to most Vietic languages, but does have glottalized final consonants.
  • Cuôi: Hung in Laos, and Thô in Vietnam
  • Aheu (Thavung): This language makes a four-way distinction between clear and breathy phonation combined with glottalized final consonants. This is very similar to the situation in the Pearic languages in which, however, the glottalization is in the vowel.
  • Ruc, Sach, May, and Chưt: A dialect cluster; the register system is the four-way contrast of Aheu augmented with pitch.
  • Maleng (Bo, Pakatan): Tones as in Ruc-Sach.
  • Pong, Hung, Tum, Khong-Kheng
  • Việt–Mường: Vietnamese and Mường. These two dialect chains share 75% of their basic vocabulary, and have similar systems of 5–6 contour tones. These are regular reflexes of other Vietic languages: The three low and three high tones correspond to voiced and voiceless initial consonants in the ancestral language; these then split depending on the original final consonants: Level tones correspond to open syllables or final nasal consonants; high rising and low falling tones correspond to final stops, which have since disappeared; dipping tones to final fricatives, which have also disappeared; and glottalized tones to final glottalized consonants, which have deglottalized.


The following classification of the Vietic languages is from Chamberlain (2003:422), as quoted in Sidwell (2009:145). Unlike past classifications, there as a sixth "South" branch that includes Kri, a newly described language.

Further reading[edit]

  • Barker, M. E. (1977). Articles on Proto-Viet–Muong. Vietnam publications microfiche series, no. VP70-62. Huntington Beach, Calif: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
  • Trần Trí Dõi (2007). Giáo trình lịch sử tiếng Việt (sơ thảo). Hà Nội: Nhà xuất bản đại học quốc gia Hà Nội.


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Vietic". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ Hayes, La Vaughn H. 1992. Vietic and Việt-Mường: a new subgrouping in Mon-Khmer. Mon-Khmer Studies 21. 211–228.
  3. ^ a b c d Chamberlain, J.R. 1998, "The origin of Sek: implications for Tai and Vietnamese history", in The International Conference on Tai Studies, ed. S. Burusphat, Bangkok, Thailand, pp. 97-128. Institute of Language and Culture for Rural Development, Mahidol University.
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b Ferlus, Michel. 1996. Langues et peuples viet-muong. Mon-Khmer Studies 26. 7–28.
  6. ^ The following information is taken from Paul Sidwell's lecture series on the Mon–Khmer languages.[1]
  7. ^ Phan, John D. 2012. "Mường is not a subgroup: Phonological evidence for a paraphyletic taxon in the Viet-Muong sub-family." Mon-Khmer Studies 40:1-18.
  • Chamberlain, J.R. 2003. Eco-Spatial History: a nomad myth from the Annamites and its relevance for biodiversity conservation. In X. Jianchu and S. Mikesell, eds. Landscapes of Diversity: Proceedings of the III MMSEA Conference, 25–28 August 2002. Lijiand, P. R. China: Center for Biodiversity and Indigenous Knowledge. pp. 421–436.
  • Sidwell, Paul (2009). Classifying the Austroasiatic languages: history and state of the art. LINCOM studies in Asian linguistics, 76. Munich: Lincom Europa.
  • SEAlang Project: Mon–Khmer languages. The Vietic Branch
  • Sidwell (2003)
  • Endangered Languages of Mainland Southeast Asia