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SOAS Language Centre

Vietnamese at SOAS Language Centre

With over 80 million, Vietnamese has the greatest number of speakers of any language of continental Southeast Asia. Indeed, with the exception of Indonesian, it is the most widely spoken of all Southeast Asian languages. There are significant Vietnamese communities in the countries neighbouring Vietnam and also further afield, such as Russia, Germany, France, Canada and the UK. Vietnamese is the seventh most spoken language in the USA.

Vietnamese historically borrowed heavily from Chinese and, more recently, from French as a result of the French colonization of Indochina. It is as a result of French influence that a customized form of the Roman script was implemented for Vietnamese, replacing the traditional use of Chinese script. Very few Vietnamese are still able to read their language in Chinese script and there appears to be no discernible trend in terms of its revival.

Vietnamese is a tonal language like the majority of the languages of continental Southeast Asia (Thai, Lao, Burmese) but unlike Khmer to which it is related - albeit with which it is mutually unintelligible. Whilst there are a number of dialects in Vietnam, the movement of people across the country since unification in 1976 has served to blur the distinctions between dialect areas, with many speakers from the north migrating to the economically more prosperous south.