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Lesson Transcript


Michael: What languages are similar to Vietnamese?
Nguyet: And are they mutually intelligible?
Michael: At VietnamesePod101.com, we hear these questions often. Imagine the following situation: Ben Lee accidentally overheard some people speaking. He is confused because what he heard sounds familiar, but he doesn't fully understand it. He asks a friend, Nguyet Ngo,
"Is this Vietnamese?"
Ben Lee: Đây là tiếng Việt à?
Ben Lee: Đây là tiếng Việt à?
Nguyệt Ngô: Không, đó là tiếng Mường.
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Ben Lee: Đây là tiếng Việt à?
Michael: "Is this Vietnamese?"
Nguyệt Ngô: Không, đó là tiếng Mường.
Michael: "No, it's Muong."

Lesson focus

Michael: The words Ben Lee heard are from the language called
Nguyet: Mường.
Michael: It is a group of dialects used by an ethnic group of people in Vietnam by the same name. The language is closely related to Vietnamese since they belong to the same family of the Austroasiatic language. This is why Ben Lee thought the words he heard were familiar. Muong is primarily spoken in northern Vietnam, particularly the mountainous regions of
Nguyet: Hòa Bình, Thanh Hóa, Vĩnh Phúc, Yên Bái, Sơn La,
Michael: and
Nguyet: Ninh Bình.
Michael: Here's another question we often hear at VietnamesePod101.com: Does knowing Vietnamese make it easier to learn similar languages, such as Muong? The answer is yes, at least to some extent. You see, at least 70% of the Muong dialects, or,
Nguyet: phương ngữ,
Michael: are shared with Vietnamese. This means that both languages are quite similar in terms of phonology, or
Nguyet: âm vị học.
Michael: As a matter of fact, Muong uses all six tones of the Vietnamese language, though one tone,
Nguyet: nặng,
Michael: which is the heavy tone, is used only in two provinces,
Nguyet: Phú Thọ
Michael: and
Nguyet: Thanh Hóa.
Michael: And, in
Nguyet: Hòa Bình
Michael: Province, it is merged with the sharp tone, which is the
Nguyet: sắc
Michael: tone.
Michael: There's an ongoing debate as to whether the Vietnamese language is closely related to the
Nguyet: tiếng Trung Quốc,
Michael: or Chinese language. This is not a surprise since between 40%–70% of the words used in Vietnamese were borrowed from Chinese. This has come about because present-day Vietnam was under Chinese rule for a millennium. The first Vietnamese words were also written the way the Chinese would be, with one character for the meaning and another character for pronunciation.
Vietnamese grammar also shares similarities with Chinese grammar. Between Cantonese and Mandarin, however, perhaps the closest to Vietnamese, at least in terms of the number of tones, is Cantonese. Cantonese has six tones like Vietnamese, and Mandarin only has four. Moreover, Vietnamese pronunciation, or
Nguyet: Phát âm,
Michael: is more similar to Cantonese than to Mandarin. It's also important to understand that Chinese belongs to the family of Sino-Tibetan languages, while Vietnamese, as we already know, belongs to the Austroasiatic family. So, while knowing Vietnamese might help you in your study of Chinese and vice versa, it still makes sense to study and master both languages separately.


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Nguyet: Tạm biệt!
Michael: See you soon!

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