PHONETICS AND LETTERS
The Vietnamese alphabet
A a Ă ă Â â B b C c D d
Đ đ E e Ê ê G g H h I i
K k L l M m N n O o Ô ô
Ơ ơ P p Q q R r S s T t
U u Ư ư V v X x Y y
Download the files that show how to pronouce the letters in the following links. Note that you must play the PowerPoint slide show and click on the letters to hear the sounds.
The vowel system in the Vietnamese language
Vietnamese vowels are presented in the following chart:
Vietnamese has 11 single vowels and 3 diphthongs, of which ă and â are the short vowels of /a/ and /ɤ/.
The length of a & ă - /a/:
The length of ơ & â - /ɤ/:
Each of the 3 diphthongs – /iɤ/, /ɯɤ/, /uɤ/ can be written in two different ways depending on the presence or absence of a final sound.
|__iê (with a final sound)||__ia (no final sound)|
(*) The letter ‘i’ in ‘iê’, ‘ia’ is written as ‘y’ when ‘iê’, ‘ia’ are placed after the tight rounded labialization – /w/ written as ‘u’.
|__ươ (with a final sound)||__ưa (no final sound)|
|__uô (with a final sound)||__ua (no final sound)|
• Labial: b, ph, v, m – bà, phở, vào, mì
• Dental: th, t – thu, tiền
• Alveolar: đ, d/gi, x, l, n – được, dù/ gia, xa, lớn, núi
• Alveo-palatal: s, r, tr – sao, ra, trẻ
• Palatal: ch, nh – chợ, nho
• Velar: c /k/q, kh, g/gh, ng/ngh – cá/ kia/ quà, khăn, gà/ ghế, ngữ/ nghĩ
• Glottal : h – hoa
- In northern dialect d, gi, r are pronounced /z/, whereas in the south d, gi, v are pronounced /j/, like ‘y’ in ‘you’ or ‘young’ in English.
- The consonant /k/ is written as c or k or q:
|c (with the remaining vowels)||k (when followed by i/y, ê, e)||q (when followed by the /w/ – u)|
|cá, con, của||kí, kem, kế||quà, quen, quyết|
- The consonant /g/ is written as g or gh:
g (with the remaining vowels)
|gh (when followed by i/y, ê, e)|
|gà, gỗ, gửi||ghi, ghế, ghẹ|
- The consonant /ŋ/ is written as ng or ngh:
|ng (with the remaining vowels)||ngh (when followed by i/y, ê, e)|
|nga, ngồi, ngủ||nghĩ, nghề, nghe|
The final sounds
• Nasal consonants: m, n, nh, ng – tám, con, canh, trang
• Plosive consonants: p, t, ch, c – họp, ớt, sách, bác
• Semi-vowels /w/ & /i/: o/u & i/y – sao, sau, hai, hay, xoài, xoay
The Vietnamese tones
Vietnamese is a tone language, meaning that the tone with pitch and contour (i.e. moving from one level to another) determines the meaning of a word. There are six tones in Vietnamese which are named as in the following chart. In the written form, five diacritical markings are used to indicate five of the tones whereas the high and flat tone (1) has no marking. There are six distinct tones in the standard northern dialect. In the south, there is a merging of the Ngã (5th) and Hỏi (6th) in speaking, in effect leaving five tones in the spoken form.
• The tone Ngang (1): high and flat
• The tone Huyền (2): low, falling down gradually
• The tone Sắc (3): rising up pretty sharply
• The tone Nặng (4): falling down quickly, ending in glottal stop (northern accent)/ ending by rising up a little bit (southern accent)
• The tone Ngã (5): high falling - rising as being broken
• The tone Hỏi (6): low falling - rising like the inflection you make in English at the end of a question as in “Would you like some phở?”
This material is provided by the Vietnamese Language Studies Saigon (VLS).