Vietnamese belongs to the Austroasiatic or Mon-Khmer family of languages.
Vietnamese is not related to the Chinese language.
Nonetheless approximately a third of the vocabulary in Vietnamese stems from Chinese.
Vietnamese was written in Chinese characters for hundreds of years, however a reform lead to the change to the Roman alphabet.
Today Vietnamese is written with the Roman alphabet.
The Roman alphabet was extended with a few signs to suit the Vietnamese language.
With the help of these small signs it is possible to note the tones of Vietnamese pronunciation.
The writing of the Vietnamese language in the Roman alphabet was started in the 17th Century by European missionaries and further promoted by French colonial rule.
After the independence of Vietnam the Roman alphabet was retained and then confirmed as the official script.
Vietnamese is a tonal language, in which the meanings of words depend on the pitch and pronunciation.
In total there are six different tones in the Vietnamese language, each of which is written with its own symbol.
Here are some examples to show how the meaning of words changes dramatically according to tone or pronunciation:
ma (ghost): medium, constant tone
Approximately 84 million people speak Vietnamese as their native language.
Most of these about 70 million live in the People’s Republic of Vietnam.
There are also an additional 10 million people in Vietnam who speak Vietnamese as a second language, but speak other languages like Thai, Khmer, Chinese and indigenous languages day to day.
As a result of the last two wars in Vietnam, the Indochina War (1946-54) and the Vietnam War (1964-75) and also as a result of exchanges with other communist countries millions of Vietnamese have left Vietnam and are distributed all over the world, particularly in North America, Australia and Western Europe.
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