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Learning Vietnamese: The Alphabet and Phonetics

Friday, December 30, 2011, 11:33 GMT+7

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.

Southern accent

Northern accent

The vowel system in the Vietnamese language

Vietnamese vowels are presented in the following chart:

Vietnamese phonetics

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/:

small table 1 

 The length of ơ & â - /ɤ/:

Vietnamese table

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.

/iɤ/

__iê (with a final sound) __ia (no final sound)
biết bia
tiền tía
khuyên (*) khuya

(*) The letter ‘i’ in ‘iê’, ‘ia’ is written as ‘y’ when ‘iê’, ‘ia’ are placed after the tight rounded labialization – /w/ written as ‘u’.

/ɯɤ/

__ươ (with a final sound) __ưa (no final sound)
mượn mưa
được đưa

 /uɤ/

__uô (with a final sound) __ua (no final sound)
muốn mua
cuối của

Initial consonants

• 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, tr

• 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

Notes:

- 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, gh

- The consonant /ŋ/ is written as ng or ngh:

ng (with the remaining vowels) ngh (when followed by i/y, ê, e)
nga, ngồi, ng nghĩ, nghề, nghe

The final sounds

• Nasal consonants: m, n, nh, ng – m, con, canh, trang

• Plosive consonants: p, t, ch, c – họp, ớt, sách, bác

• Semi-vowels /w/ & /i/: o/u & i/ysao, 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.

mark table

northern accent table

southern accent table

• 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).

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