- 1 Consonants
- 2 Vowels
- 3 Tone
- 4 Syllables and phonotactics
- 5 Notes
- 6 References
- 7 Bibliography
- 8 External links
The 21 consonants of the Hanoian variety:
- 1 Thompson posits a glottal stop phoneme in a more abstract analysis of Hanoi Vietnamese that would eliminate the phonemes /ɓ, ɗ, v/ by involving sequences of glottal stop + consonant (ʔC). Specifically, he proposes:
- /p/ → [p]
- /ʔp/ → [ʔɓ]
- /t/ → [t]
- /ʔt/ → [ʔɗ]
- /w/ → [v]
- /ʔw/ → [ʔw]
- This analysis also simplifies the syllable description so that all syllables have obligatory onsets.
- /w/ is labial-velar and always preceded by a consonant or glottal stop (/ʔ/) (though [ʔ] does not occur before [w] in the southern varieties)
- /p/ occurs syllable-initially only in borrowed vocabulary, and even so in a few words it is converted into /ɓ/ (as in sâm banh, derived from French champagne); however, most Vietnamese people, especially those who are from the central and south proportion of the country, find difficulty in articulating it, and they usually replace it with /ɓ/. /p/ in native Vietnamese words occurs only at the end of a syllable.
- The glottalized stops are preglottalized and voiced: [ʔɓ, ʔɗ] (i.e., the glottis is always closed before the oral closure). This glottal closure is often not released before the release of the oral closure, resulting in the characteristic implosive pronunciation. However, sometimes the glottal closure is released prior to the oral release in which case the stops are pronounced [ʔb, ʔd]. Therefore, the primary characteristic is preglottalization with implosion being secondary.
- Among the coronals:
- /c, ɲ/ are phonetically palatoalveolar [ṯ, ṉ] (i.e. the blade of the tongue makes contact behind the alveolar ridge).
- /c/ is often slightly affricated [t͡ɕ], but it is unaspirated. (Note that the English affricate is aspirated [t͡ʃʰ] and usually apical, unlike Vietnamese). This affrication, however, is not obligatory.
- 2 /ɹ/ exists only in loan words.
Analysis of final ch, nh
The pronunciation of syllable-final ch and nh in Hanoi Vietnamese has had different analyses. One analysis, that of Thompson (1965) has them as being phonemes /c, ɲ/, where /c/ contrasts with both syllable-final t /t/ and c /k/ and /ɲ/ contrasts with syllable-final n /n/ and ng /ŋ/. Final /c, ɲ/ is, then, identified with syllable-initial /c, ɲ/.
Another analysis has final ch and nh as representing predictable allophonic variants of the velar phonemes /k/ and /ŋ/ that occur after upper front vowels /i/ (orthographic i) and /e/ (orthographic ê).
Arguments for the second analysis include the limited distribution of final [c] and [ɲ], the gap in the distribution of [k] and [ŋ], which do not occur after [i] and [e], and the patterning of [k]~[c] and [ŋ]~[ɲ] in certain reduplicated words. Additionally, final [c] is not usually articulated as far forward as the initial [c]: [c] and [ɲ] are pre-velar [k̟, ŋ̟]. The preceding upper front vowels are co-articulated as well, resulting in centralized or relaxed variants:
/ik/ → ich [ïk̟] or [ɪk̟] /iŋ/ → inh [ïŋ̟] or [ɪŋ̟] /ek/ → êch [ëk̟] /eŋ/ → ênh [ëŋ̟]
Finally, this analysis interprets orthographic ach and anh as having a vowel nucleus with a front component. One interpretation considers the orthographic a in these sequences as underlyingly a diphthong /aj/ with a high front off-glide (thus equating it with orthographic ay) — in other words, /ac/ becomes [ajk] and /aɲ/ becomes [ajŋ]. Another interpretation of the orthographic a is that it is underlyingly the vowel /ɛ/, which becomes phonetically open and diphthongized: /ɛk/ → [ai̯k̟], /ɛŋ/ → [ai̯ŋ̟].
The first analysis closely follows the surface pronunciation of a slightly different Hanoi dialect than the second. In this dialect, the /a/ in /ac/ and /aɲ/ is not diphthongized but is actually articulated more forward, approaching a front vowel [æ]. This results in a three-way contrast between the rimes ăn [æ̈n] vs. anh [æ̈ŋ̟] vs. ăng [æ̈ŋ]. For this reason, a separate phonemic /ɲ/ is posited.
Êch and ênh is the orthographic ê in these sequences as underlyingly a diphthong /əj/ with a mid central off-glide (thus equating it with orthographic ây) — in other words, /ec/ becomes [əjk̟] and /eɲ/ becomes [əjŋ̟].
ăn 'to eat' /an/ → [ʔan] uỷ 'to delegate' /wi/ → [ʔwi]
- When stops /p, t, k/ occur at the end of words, they have no audible release due to accompanying glottal closure: [p̚ʔ, t̚ʔ, k̚ʔ]:
đáp 'to reply' /ɗaːp/ → [ʔɗaːp̚ʔ] mát 'cool' /maːt/ → [maːt̚ʔ] khác 'different' /xaːk/ → [xaːk̚ʔ]
- When the velar consonants /k, ŋ/ follow /u, w/, they are articulated with a simultaneous bilabial closure [k͡p̚, ŋ͡m] (i.e. doubly articulated) or are strongly labialized [kʷ̚, ŋʷ].
đục 'muddy' /ɗuk/ → [ʔɗuk͡p̚ʔ] độc 'poison' /ɗəwk/ → [ʔɗəwk͡p̚ʔ] ung 'cancer' /uŋ/ → [ʔuŋ͡m] ong 'bee' /awŋ/ → [ʔawŋ͡m]
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
The 22 consonants of the Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) dialect (Saigon dialect):
The Saigonese Vietnamese variety is essentially the same as the Hanoi with the following exceptions:
- /v/ is generally pronounced [j] in informal speech, but the speakers generally pronounce [v] when they read a text. It is always pronounced [v] in loan words (va li, ti vi etc.), even in informal speech. There is [vj, bj, βj] that is also present among other speakers. These pronunciations are remnants of a merger and sound change involving /v/ in southern speech (but /v/ is always present in the northern and central regions).
- Some speakers don't distinguish /s/ and /ʂ/.
- Some speakers don't distinguish /c/ and /tʂ/.
- Some speakers pronounce d as [j], and gi as [z], many speakers pronounce both as [j].
- Hanoian /x/ is pronounced [kʰ] in Saigonese.
- Saigonese /l/ is generally slightly more palatalized than the Hanoian variety: [lʲ].
- In southern speech, the phoneme /r/ has a number of variant pronunciations that depend on the speaker. More than one pronunciation may even be found within a single speaker. It may occur as a retroflex fricative [ʐ], an alveolar approximant [ɹ], a flap [ɾ], a trill [r], or a fricative flap/trill [ɾ̝, r̝]. This sound is generally represented in Vietnamese linguistics by the letter ⟨r⟩.
- Among the coronals:
- /tʰ/ can be dental: [t̪ʰ].
- /t, ɗ, s, n, l/ can be alveolar: [t͇, ɗ͇, s͇, n͇, l͇].
- /t, tʰ, ɗ, s, n/ can be apical: [t̺, t̺ʰ, ɗ̺, s̺, n̺] .
- /l, c, ɲ/ can be laminal: [l̻ʲ, c̻, ɲ̻].
- Unlike in Hanoian, the glide /w/ in Saigonese when at the beginning of a syllable is not preceded by a glottal stop, oanh is pronounced [wan˧].
Regional consonant variation
In Hanoian Vietnamese, d, gi and r are all pronounced [z], while x and s are both pronounced [s]. The table below summarizes these sound correspondences:
Syllable onsets Hanoi Saigon Example word Hanoi Saigon [v] [j] vợ "wife" [vɤ˨˩ˀ] [vʌɤ̯˨˧], [jʌɤ̯˨˧] [z] da "skin" [zaː˧] [jaː˧] [ʐ], [ɹ] ra "to go out" [zaː˧] [ʐaː˧], [ɹaː˧] [c], [tɕ] [c] chẻ "split" [cɛ˧˩], [tɕɛ˧˩] [cɛ˩˥], [tɕɛ˩˥] [tʂ] trẻ "young" [cɛ˧˩], [tɕɛ˧˩] [tʂɛ˩˥], [cɛ˩˥] [s] [s] xinh "beautiful" [sɪŋ˧] [sɪ̈n˧] [ʂ], [s] sinh "born" [sɪŋ˧] [ʂɪ̈n˧], [sɪ̈n˧]
There are also sound mergers involving syllable-final consonants among the different regional varieties. These correspondences differ from the initial consonant correspondences discussed above. In Saigonese Vietnamese, /k, ŋ/ and /t, n/ are not distinguished, they are both pronounced [k, ŋ], except when the coronals occur after the higher front vocalics /i, e, j/, in this case Saigon /t, n/ remain the same as Hanoian /t, n/. Additionally, -ch and -nh are pronounced [t, n] in Saigon:
Syllable codas Hanoi Saigon Example word Hanoi Saigon [t] [k] mắt "eye" [mat] [mak] [k] mắc "expensive" [mak] [mak] [n] [ŋ] răn "warn" [zan] [ɹaŋ] [ŋ] răng "tooth" [zaŋ] [ɹaŋ] [t] after [i, e, j] [t] chết "to die" [cet], [tɕet] [cɜːt], [tɕɜːt] [k] after [i, e, j] chếch "askance" [cəjk], [tɕəjk] [cɜːt], [tɕɜːt] [n] after [i, e, j] [n] xin "to ask" [sin] [sɪ̈n] [ŋ] after [i, e] xinh "beautiful" [siŋ] [sɪ̈n]
As can be seen above, vowels also vary among different regions.
Many old Vietnamese rhymes ending with velar consonants have been diphthongized in the Hanoian accent. ong [ɔːŋ], oc [ɔːk], ông [oːŋ] and ôc [oːk] is now mainly heard in the Nghệ An and Hà Tĩnh accents, and have been respectively changed into [awŋ], [awk], [əwŋ] and [əwk] in most Northern varieties. Similarly, ênh [eːŋ] and êch [eːk] is only retained in a few South Central Coast accents, and have been changed into [əjŋ] and [əjk]. It should be noted that [ɔːŋ], [ɔːk], [oːŋ] and [oːk] in Saigonese are only variant pronunciations of the Northern on, ot, ôn and ôt (as mentioned above with the examples of mắt and mắc); also, [ɔːŋ], [ɔːk] are not native to Hanoians as they only appears in a limited loan vocabulary (e.g voọc "langur" from the Nghệ An/Hà Tĩnh dialects; oóc-gan "organ", ba-toong "walking cane" from the French organ, baton).
Front Central Back Close /i/ ‹i, y› /ɨ/ ‹ư› /u/ ‹u› Close-mid /e/ ‹ê› /o/ ‹ô› Open-mid /ɛ/ ‹e› /ɤ/ ‹ơ› /ɔ/ ‹o› Open /a/ ‹a›
- All vowels are unrounded except for the three back rounded vowels: /u, o, ɔ/.
- /ə̆/ and /ă/ are pronounced short — shorter than the other vowels.
- /ə̆/ and /ɤ/: The short ‹â› and long ‹ơ› may differ in both height and length, but the difference in length is most likely the primary distinction.
- /ɨ/: Many descriptions, such as Thompson, Nguyễn (1970), Nguyễn (1997), consider this vowel to be close back unrounded: [ɯ]. However, Han's instrumental analysis indicates that it is more central than back. Brunelle (2003) and Phạm (2006) also transcribe this vowel as central.
- The vowel /i, u, ɨ/ becomes [ɪ, ʊ, ɪ̈] before /k, ŋ/, and is usually followed by a slight glide: lịch /lik˩/ → [lɪjk˩], chúc /cuk˧˥/ → [cʊwk˧˥], thức /tʰɨk˧˥/ → [tʰʊ̜k˧˥] etc.
- In Southern Vietnamese, the /i/ and /e/ are centralized before /t/ and /n/: bên /ɓen/ → [ɓɜːn], xin /sin/ → [sɪ̈n] etc.
- In Southern Vietnamese, the high and upper-mid vowels /i, ɨ, u, e, əː, o/ are diphthongized in open syllables: [ɪi̯, ʊɨ̯, ʊu̯, ɛe̯, ʌɤ̯, ɔo̯]:
chị 'elder sister' /ci/ → [cɪi̯] quê 'countryside' /kwe/ → [(k)wɛe̯] tư 'fourth' /tɨ/ → [tʊɨ̯] mơ 'to dream' /məː/ → [mʌɤ̯] thu 'autumn' /tʰu/ → [tʰʊu̯] cô 'paternal aunt' /ko/ → [kɔo̯]
Diphthongs and triphthongs
In addition to monophthongs, Vietnamese has many diphthongs and triphthongs. Most of these consist of a vowel followed by /j/ or /w/. Below is a chart listing the diphthongs & triphthongs of general northern speech.
/ə/ Diphthongs /j/ Diphthongs/
/iə/ /əːj/ /iw/ /ɨə/ /əj/ /ew/ /uə/ /aːj/ /ɛw/ /aj/ /əːw/ /ɨj/ /əw/ /uj/ /aːw/ /oj/ /aw/ /ɔj/ /ɨw/ /ɨəj/ /iəw/ /uəj/ /ɨəw/
- /j/ never follows front vowels /i, e, ɛ/.
- /w/ never follows rounded vowels /u, o, ɔ/.
Regional vowel variation
- Thompson (1965) says that in Hanoi, words spelled with ưu and ươu are pronounced /iw, iəw/, respectively, whereas other dialects in the Tonkin delta pronounce them as /ɨw/ and /ɨəw/. Hanoi speakers that do pronounce these words with /ɨw/ and /ɨəw/ are using only a spelling pronunciation.
- Thompson (1965) also notes that in Hanoi the diphthongs, iê /iə/, ươ /ɨə/, uô /uə/, may be pronounced [ie̯, ɨə̯, uo̯], respectively (as the spelling suggests), but before /k, ŋ/ and in open syllables these are always pronounced [iə, ɨə, uə].
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Vietnamese vowels are all pronounced with an inherent tone. Tones differ in
- contour melody
- phonation (with or without accompanying constricted vocal cords)
Unlike many Native American, African, and Chinese languages, Vietnamese tones do not rely solely on pitch contour. Vietnamese often uses instead a register complex (which is a combination of phonation type, pitch, length, vowel quality, etc.). So perhaps a better description would be that Vietnamese is a register language and not a "pure" tonal language.
In Vietnamese orthography, tone is indicated by diacritics written above or below the vowel.
There is much variation among speakers concerning how tone is realized phonetically. There are differences between varieties of Vietnamese spoken in the major geographic areas (i.e. northern, central, southern) and smaller differences within the major areas (e.g. Hanoi vs. other northern varieties). In addition, there seems to be variation among individuals. More research is needed to determine the remaining details of tone realization and the variation among speakers.
The six tones in the Hanoi and other northern varieties are:
Tone name Tone ID Description Chao Tone Contour Diacritic Example ngang "level" A1 mid level ˧ (33) (no mark) ba 'three' huyền "hanging" A2 low falling (breathy) ˨˩ (21) or (31) ` bà 'lady' sắc "sharp" B1 mid rising, tense ˧˥ (35) ´ bá 'governor' nặng "heavy" B2 mid falling, glottalized, short ˧ˀ˨ʔ (3ˀ2ʔ) or ˧ˀ˩ʔ (3ˀ1ʔ) ̣ bạ 'at random' hỏi "asking" C1 mid falling(-rising), harsh ˧˩˧ (313) or (323) or (31) ̉ bả 'poison' ngã "tumbling" C2 mid rising, glottalized ˧ˀ˥ (3ˀ5) or (4ˀ5) ˜ bã 'residue'
- The ngang tone is level at around the mid level (33) and is produced with modal voice phonation (i.e. with "normal" phonation). Alexandre de Rhodes (1651) describes this as "level"; Nguyễn (1997) describes it as "high (or mid) level".
- The huyền tone starts low-mid and falls (21). Some Hanoi speakers start at a somewhat higher point (31). It is sometimes accompanied by breathy voice (or lax) phonation in some speakers, but this is lacking in other speakers: bà = [ʔɓɐ̤ː˨˩] or [ʔɓaː˨˩]. Alexandre de Rhodes (1651) describes this as "grave-lowering"; Nguyễn (1997) describes it as "low falling".
- The hỏi tone starts a mid level and falls. It starts with modal voice phonation, which moves increasingly toward tense voice with accompanying harsh voice (although the harsh voice seems to vary according to speaker). In Hanoi, the tone is mid falling (31). In other northern speakers, the tone is mid falling and then rises back to the mid level (313 or 323). This characteristic gives this tone its traditional description as "dipping". However, the falling-rising contour is most obvious in citation forms or when syllable-final; in other positions and when in fast speech, the rising contour is negligible. The hỏi also is relatively short compared with the other tones, but not as short as the nặng tone. Alexandre de Rhodes (1651) describes this as "smooth-rising"; Nguyễn (1997) describes it as "dipping-rising".
- The ngã tone is mid rising (35). Many speakers begin the vowel with modal voice, followed by strong creaky voice starting toward the middle of the vowel, which is then lessening as the end of the syllable is approached. Some speakers with more dramatic glottalization have a glottal stop closure in the middle of the vowel (i.e. as [VʔV]). In Hanoi Vietnamese, the tone starts at a higher pitch (45) than other northern speakers. Alexandre de Rhodes (1651) describes this as "chesty-raised"; Nguyễn (1997) describes it as "creaking-rising".
- The sắc tone starts as mid and then rises (35) in much the same way as the ngã tone. It is accompanied by tense voice phonation throughout the duration of the vowel. In some Hanoi speakers, the ngã tone is noticeably higher than the sắc tone, for example: sắc = ˧˦ (34); ngã = ˦ˀ˥ (45). Alexandre de Rhodes (1651) describes this as "acute-angry"; Nguyễn (1997) describes it as "high (or mid) rising".
- The nặng tone starts mid or low-mid and rapidly falls in pitch (32 or 21). It starts with tense voice that becomes increasing tense until the vowel ends in a glottal stop closure. This tone is noticeably shorter than the other tones. Alexandre de Rhodes (1651) describes this as "chesty-heavy"; Nguyễn (1997) describes it as "constricted".
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The Southern variety is similar through all tones, but it's only the nặng tone is different, the nặng tone is pronounced [˨˧]. Many of those speaking Southern dialects will omit using the ngã tone and replace it with the hỏi tone.
North-central and Central varieties
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North-central and Central Vietnamese varieties are fairly similar with respect to tone although within the North-central dialect region there is considerable internal variation.
It is sometimes said (by people from other provinces) that people from Nghệ An pronounce every tone as a nặng tone.
An older analysis assumes eight tones rather than six. This follows the lead of traditional Chinese phonology. In Middle Chinese, normal syllables allowed for three tonal distinctions, but syllables ending with /p/, /t/ or /k/ had no tonal distinctions. Rather, they were consistently pronounced with in a short high tone, which was called the entering tone and considered a fourth tone. Similar considerations lead to the identification of two additional tones in Vietnamese for syllables ending in /p/, /t/, /k/ or /c/. These are not phonemically distinct, however, and hence not considered as separate tones by modern linguists.
Syllables and phonotactics
According to Hannas (1997), there are 4,500 to 4,800 possible spoken syllables (depending on dialect), and the standard national orthography (Quốc Ngữ) can represent 6,200 syllables (Quốc Ngữ orthography represents more phonemic distinctions than are made by any one dialect).
The Vietnamese syllable structure follows the scheme:
- C1 = initial consonant onset
- w = bilabial on-glide /w/
- V = vowel nucleus
- G = off-glide coda (/j/ or /w/)
- C2 = final consonant coda
- T = tone.
More explicitly, the syllable types are as follows:
Syllable Example Syllable Example V wV VC wVC VC wVC CV CwV CVC CwVC CVC CwVC
Any consonant may occur in as an onset with the following exceptions:
- /p/ does not occur in native Vietnamese words
- /j/ does not occur in Hanoian, but it does occur in Saigonese and other varieties (due to sound change)
- /w/ does not occur after labial consonants /ɓ, f, v, m, w/
- /w/ does not occur after /n/ in native Vietnamese words (it occurs in uncommon Sino-Vietnamese borrowings)
- the sequences /hw, kw/ appears in Saigonese as [w], excepting spelling pronunciations
The vowel nucleus V may be any of the following 14 monophthongs or diphthongs: /i, ɨ, u, e, ɘ, o, ɛ, ɜ̆, ɔ, ă, a, iə̯, ɨə̯, uə̯/.
G: The offglide may be /j/ or /w/. Together, V and G must form one of the diphthongs or triphthongs listed in the section on Vowels. The offglide cannot be /w/ if the syllable contains a /w/ onglide, except for case of 'khuỷu (tay)' (elbow).
The optional coda C2 is restricted to labial, coronal, & velar stops /p, t, k/ and nasals /m, n, ŋ/.
Syllables are spoken with an inherent tone contour. All tone contours are possible for open syllables (syllables without consonant codas) and closed syllables with nasal codas. If the syllable is closed with labial, coronal, or velar stops /p, t, k/, only 2 contours are possible, that is the sắc and the nặng tone.
Below is a table comparing four linguists' different transcriptions of Vietnamese vowels as well as the orthographic representation. Notice that this article mostly follows Han (1966), with the exception of marking short vowels short.
comparison of orthography & vowel descriptions Orthography Wikipedia Thompson Han Nguyễn Đoàn i i iː i i i ê e eː e e e e ɛ ɛː ɛ a ɛ ư ɨ ɯː ɨ ɯ ɯ u u uː u u u ô o oː o o o o ɔ ɔː ɔ ɔ ɔ ơ ɜ ɤː ɜː əː ɤː â ɜ̆ ʌ ɜ ə ɤ a a æː ɐː ɐː aː ă a ɐ ɐ ɐ a
Thompson (1965) says that the vowels [ʌ] (orthographic â) and [ɐ] (orthographic ă) are shorter than all of the other vowels, which is shown here with the length mark [ː] added to the other vowels. His vowels above are only the basic vowel phonemes. Thompson gives a very detailed description of each vowel's various allophonic realizations.
Han (1966) uses acoustic analysis, including spectrograms and formant measuring and plotting, to describe the vowels. She states that the primary difference between orthographic ơ & â and a & ă is a difference of length (a ratio of 2:1). ơ = /ɜː/, â = /ɜ/; a = /ɐː/, ă = /ɐ/. Her formant plots also seem to show that /ɜː/ may be slightly higher than /ɜ/ in some contexts (but this would be secondary to the main difference of length).
Another thing to mention about Han's studies is that she uses a rather small number of participants and, additionally, although her participants are native speakers of the Hanoi variety, they all have lived outside of Hanoi for a significant period of their lives (i.e. in France or Ho Chi Minh City).
Nguyễn (1997) has a simpler, more symmetrical description. He says that his work is not a "complete grammar" but rather a "descriptive introduction." So, his chart above is more a phonological vowel chart rather than a phonetic one.
- Thompson (1959) and Thompson (1965)
- Although there are some words where c and ng occur after orthographic /ɛ/, these words are few and are mostly loanwords or onomatopoeia
- Han (1966)
- From Nguyễn (1997)
- Phạm (2003:93)
- For example, Nguyễn & Edmondson (1998) show a male speaker from Nam Định with lax voice and a female speaker from Hanoi with breathy voice for the huyền tone while another male speaker from Hanoi has modal voice for the huyền.
- Phạm (2003:45)
- Hannas (1997:88)
- Thompson (1965)
- Nguyễn (1997)
- Đoàn (1980)
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- Hannas, William (1997), Asia's Orthographic Dilemma, University of Hawaii Press
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