History of the Vietnamese Language

Vietnamese, formerly known as Annamese is the official language of Vietnam. The Vietnamese language is spoken by roughly 59 million people worldwide. Additionally, it is also spoken by a number of people overseas. Many of the ethnic minorities as well as neighboring countries like Thailand, Cambodia and Laos use Vietnamese as their second language. Besides, it is the sixth most spoken language in Australia.

Vietnamese was identified more than 150 years ago and belongs to the Mon-Khmer branch of the Austro-Asiatic language family that includes the language Khmer (spoken in Cambodia) as well as several regional and tribal languages such as Munda and Khasi.

The linguistic history of Vietnam has been influenced to a great extent, primarily because of its diverse political history. When Vietnam was under the Chinese rule, Vietnamese was written using custom-made Chinese characters as majority of the vocabulary was borrowed from Chinese. 60-70% of the Vietnamese lexicon stems from Chinese and some of the compound words were Sino Vietnamese - the ones that are a combination of local Vietnamese and Chinese.

Vietnamese language also has a significant amount of French influence as a result of the French colonization from 1884 to 1946. During this period, French superseded Chinese in administration and French was officially taught in Vietnam. Vietnamese started being recognized as the official language after the independence from France and later on became the language of instruction in schools and universities and for official business. However, there are many elderly Vietnamese who still speak French as their second language.

For a millennium, Vietnamese was spoken by the people of Vietnam but unfortunately the written language failed to gain the status of an official administrative language until the 20th century. The Vietnamese writing system that is being used today is a modified version of the Latin alphabet with extra diacritics.

Vietnamese is spoken in three dialects; Hanoi in Northern Vietnamese, Hue in Southern Vietnamese and Ho Chi Minh in Southern Vietnamese. Of them the Northern dialect is the most prestigious and a standard one. They vary in terms of pronunciation and, to some extent, vocabulary. These dialect differences, however, do not obstruct the lucidity among the speakers.

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