Updated May 1, 2001

Sound System in Vietnamese (3/4)

越南話e語音系統 紹介

Oatlamoe e Giim He-thong Siau-kai


1. Introduction

2. Vietnamese phonology

    2.1 Consonants

    2.2 Vowels

    2.3 Tones

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2.2     Vowels

Comparing to Taiwanese, Vietnamese vowels are much more complicated and difficult. The Vietnamese vocalic system was divided into upper and lower vocalics (Thompson 1987:19). The upper vocalics include six vowels, /i µ u e F o/. They are formed relatively high in the mouth and characterized by a three-way position (front, back unrounded, and back rounded). Lower vocalics include five vowels, /E Ť Ś a A/. They are formed relatively low and characterized by a two-way position distinction (front, back).


Table 2. Vietnamese vowels of Hanoi dialect.

Upper vocalics

/i/     high front or central unrounded vowel. Phonetically, /i/ can be divided into lower high central, upper high front, and lower high front.

        Lower high central occurs before /c ř/.

        e.g. ich ‘be useful’

           linh ‘soldier’

        Upper high front occurs before [e A p m] in the same syllable.

        e.g. biet ‘to know’

           chia ‘to divide’

        Lower high front occurs elsewhere, i.e. before [j w t n].

       e.g. di [dij] ‘go’

           chiu [ciw] ‘endure’

/e/    Upper mid front or central unrounded vowel.

        Upper mid central occurs before final /c ř/; and after [i] before [w p m t n] in the same syllable.

        e.g. ech ‘frog’

           hieu ‘understand’

        Upper mid front occurs elsewhere, i.e. before [j w p m t n].

        e.g. de [dej] ‘put, place’

den ‘arrive’

            het ‘be used up’

/µ/   lower high back unrounded vowel.

        e.g. tu, ‘fourth’

           ngu,oi ‘person’

/F/    upper mid back unrounded vowel. For Taiwanese speakers, this vowel sounds like /«/ in Taiwanese, though they are not exactly the same.

        e.g. cho, ‘market’

           so,m ‘be early’

/u/    high back rounded vowel.

        Upper high: before [p m]

        e.g. chup ‘seize suddenly’

           chum ‘earthenware jar’

        Lower high: elsewhere.

        e.g. nui ‘mountain’

           chua ‘Buddhist temple’

/o/    upper mid back rounded vowel.

        Higher mean mid: before [j w]

        e.g. toi [toj] ‘I’

           co [kow] ‘father's sister’

        Mean mid strongly centralized: after /u/.

        e.g buon ‘be sad’

           quoc ‘country’

        Upper mid: elsewhere.

        e.g. hom ‘day’

           tot ‘good’

Lower vocalics

Three of the lower vacalics, i.e. /E Ť a/ are relatively long and appear in final position. The others, /Ś A/ are very short and do not occur finally.

/E/    lower mid front unrounded vowel.

        e.g. nghe ‘listen’

           meo ‘cat’

/Ť/    lower mid back rounded vowel.

        e.g. kho ‘difficult’

           ngon ‘tasty’

/a/    lower low front unrounded vowel. This vowel is similar to father in English or in Taiwanese.

        e.g. bai ‘lesson’

           lam ‘to act’

/Ś/    higher low central unrounded vowel.

        e.g. may ‘machine’

           an ‘to eat’

/A/    relatively low back unrounded vowel. This sound is similar to the vowel in English but.

        Lower mid back, strongly centralized: after [w, b, f, v, m], before [j].

        e.g. may ‘how many’

           phay ‘comma’

        Lower mid back: elsewhere.

        e.g. tay ‘west’

           dau ‘where’

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