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Did the French Colonisation of Vietnam effect the language

Did the 18th Century French Colonisation of Vietnam effect / influence its language?

August 13, 2016



With a population that used French as administrative language before 1945, French definitely had an impact on modern Vietnamese. For instance, lots of Vietnamese words nowadays are of French origin: va li (valise), bò (buerre), ri-đô (rideau), búp bê (poupée), cà vạt (cravate), xà bông (savon), xiếc (cirque)....


There are many more. That can be explained that before the French, we did not have those objects in our country. When the French brought them to Vietnam, we had not had the words for them, or had not known what are they and how are they called, apparently we started to call them by the French words. I would know some words came from French but don't know what they exactly are, for example: ghi đông, gác ba ga, pê đan (pedal - this one is from English haha), xích măng tơ, cát sét, etcetera ^^


You mean bơ* :) The impact was largely in a few hundred words as the grammar of Vietnamese remains intact.


Yes. Our written language was more like Chinese. Then a french missionary used the french alphabets to write down our sounds. He added a couple of accents. So in a way Vietnamese should be the easiest language to learn because it's written exactly as it sounds. All you have to learn is the sound of individual letters and from there you can figure out how to pronounce every word.


Thanks the French for that. I would never be able to remember Chinese characters T___T


A writing system is not the spoken form. The French imparted a few hundred "words" of which only a few dozen are used colloquially. The romanisation of Vietnamese started in the 1600s well before the French actually colonised Vietnam by the way (in the mid to late 1800s). The writing system of Vietnamese acts as a bridge between dialects and there is no living dialect that pronounces words exactly as they are recorded. Also I'm confused as to why you think just because a language supposedly is written how it sounds is to be "the easiest language" to hypothetically learn. That completely discounts all other factors like grammar, for instance.


I highly recommend "Colonialism and Language Policy in Viet Nam" by John DeFrancis (1977). University libraries should have it. DeFrancis was a highly knowledgeable sinologist, and, though he was far from fluent in Vietnamese, had his interest sufficiently piqued by the history of external influences on the language to write a whole book on the subject! And very good it is too, especially for references.


oh, thanks! I am not at Uni yet, but I hope they'd be a PDF online :)


I doubt it unfortunately. These mid-twentieth century books often haven't been scanned, being too new for the usual haunts like archive.org or Google Books.


While I think of it, a very nice recent book is 'Từ ngoại lai trong tiếng Việt' by GS. Nguyễn Văn Khang (2013). It contains a 72-page chapter on 'Từ mượn tiếng Pháp trong tiếng Việt' ('French loanwords in Vietnamese'). The coverage goes beyond the usually cited words to spelling variants of more obscure words and phrases:

jaquette: giắc-két / giá-két / jắc-ket

je m'en fous: mo-phú / măng-phú / moong-phú

It also has extensive information on what happens to specific French graphemes, phonemes, and phoneme clusters in Vietnamese:

gr: giữ nguyên hoặc chuyển thành c, r, gh hoặc thêm ơ ở giữa. Cụ thể:

  • Chuyển thành c. Ví dụ: grenadine: ca-la-đi-nơ.
  • Bỏ r giữ g. Ví dụ: gratuit: ga-tuýt, gramme: gam.
  • Bỏ g chuyển thành r. Ví dụ: grippé: ríp-phê.
  • Bỏ r chuyển thành gh. Ví dụ. grille: ghi. […]

Vietnamese natives may object that some or most of these items are not commonly used. However, the point was not to list commonly used vocabulary, but rather to give an idea of the lesser-known yet extensive ways in which French vocabulary was or is at least theoretically available to Vietnamese speakers.

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