Starting as an oral language, originating from the massive Austroasiatic language family, which boasts 13 branches and 168 distinct languages, and bearing the specifics of its origin: large array of consonant clusters and an inflected morphology; the Vietnamese language was later strongly influenced during the 1000 years of Chinese rule and naturally, lost most of its original specifics.
Yes, it is a separate language, but it does not have a separate writing system. The first writing system in Vietnam, introduced by the Chinese Han Dynasty in the late 2nd century BC, was simply standard Chinese characters. However, as these proved inadequate in truly capturing the Vietnamese language, a new, hybridised writing system, involving a mix of Chinese and local characters and vocabulary, called chữ nôm, literally meaning ‘Southern Characters,’ was developed circa 1200 AD.
As China’s cultural influence in Vietnam gave way to France and Portugal, so did the language. Building on the initial work of Portuguese missionaries, French Jesuit missionary Alexandre de Rhodes was the first to codify a Romanised version of the Vietnamese language in the 17th century. Now called chữ quốc ngữ, or ‘National Script,’ this form of writing entirely replaced chữ nôm in the 20th century, since it was easier to learn.
The modern Vietnamese language still indicates the historical tights with the Chinese language, with circa 50% of Vietnamese words originating in Chinese. Naturally, over different time periods, the language borrowed different vocabularies depending on the topic. For example, topics like science, politics, religion, and medicine are heavily influenced by Chinese; food, fashion, and infrastructure, are influenced by French; and modern technology, no linguistic surprise here, are mostly influenced by English.
And while today Vietnamese is the official language of Vietnam and the native tongue of 86% of the population, the country is also home to 54 recognised ethnic groups with their own distinct language. So, while Vietnamese is almost universally understood, some language differences and variations may depend on where in Vietnam you are.
Aside from Vietnam, Vietnamese is also an official language in…. the Czech Republic. Though it may now sound rather odd, the formerly communist Czechoslovakia had strong economic ties with communist Vietnam. Learning to use Czechoslovakian machinery and technology required a considerable amount of immigration to Europe, and many immigrants, apparently, decided to stay.
Not in a particular relation to the Czechoslovakian machinery and technology, the last decades saw Vietnam appearing as an attractive investment destination: with expanding gross domestic product, huge increase in foreign direct investments, and Ho Chi Minh City among the best start-up hubs. Yet, there are numerous barriers to doing business in the country, with the Vietnamese language topping the list.
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