[skip to content]

Department of the Languages and Cultures of South East Asia

Languages of South East Asia at SOAS: Vietnamese

Vietnam claims an unbroken history of at least four thousand years, and has maintained intact a distinctive linguistic and cultural identity as a nation to the present day despite a millennium of Chinese rule until the early part of the 10th century AD. After this time, Vietnamese language and culture developed independently. In the 17th century, Christian missionaries devised a romanised script which eventually displaced the older character-based writing completely. With the arrival of French colonial rule in the 19th century, the Vietnamese encountered Western civilisation for the first time; an encounter which added yet another dimension to Vietnamese civilisation and literature. The wars which ravaged Vietnam after 1940 produced an immense wealth of prose, poetry and song, as yet virtually undiscovered by the outside world. The script uses Latin letters embellished with accents and other additional symbols to indicate the rich variety of vowels and the language’s six contrasting tones.

If you would like to learn Indonesian contact Dr Dana Healy (dh4@soas.ac.uk) Department of the Languages and Cultures of South East Asia)

Vietnamese language and literature

With the ending of Chinese rule in the early part of the 10th century AD, Vietnamese culture developed independently. While literary forms based on Chinese models survived, and continued to be much practiced and admired, indigenous forms were added, making the literature of Vietnam one of the richest in the region. In the 17th century, Christian missionaries devised a romanised script which eventually displaced the older character-based writing completely. With the arrival of French colonial rule in the 19th century, the Vietnamese encountered Western civilisation for the first time; an encounter which added yet another dimension to Vietnamese civilisation and literature. The wars which ravaged Vietnam after 1940 produced an immense wealth of prose, poetry and song, as yet virtually undiscovered by the outside world.

Modern language and literature are the primary subjects of study in degrees involving Vietnamese. In line with the teaching of most languages in the Department, the first year of the course offers a grounding in the modern language, with opportunity for practice in both speaking, reading and writing; language classes are supplemented by more general background lectures on historical and cultural aspects of the country. In the second year, students continue their study of the language from more advanced materials and begin to study various modern literary texts in prose and poetry.

To find out more, try some of these books:
  • The tale of Kieu by Nguyen Du (translated and annotated by Huynh Sanh Thong): 1983, New Haven, Yale UP.
  • Vietnam: where East and West meet by Do Van Minh: 1968, Rome, Quattro Venti.
  • The heritage of Vietnamese poetry by Huynh Sanh Thong: 1979, New Haven, Yale UP.

... or ring up and arrange to come and talk to us.