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Lesson Transcript


Michael: Does Vietnamese have honorifics?
Nguyet: And how do you speak politely in Vietnamese?
Michael: At VietnamesePod101.com, we hear these questions often. Let's imagine the following scenario: Bao Bui is trying to reach her favorite chocolate from a store shelf, but she's too short. Huong Huynh helps her.
"Here you go, daughter."
Hương Huỳnh: Của con đây, con gái.
Hương Huỳnh: Của con đây, con gái.
Bảo Bùi: Xin cảm ơn ông.
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Hương Huỳnh: Của con đây, con gái.
Michael: "Here you go, daughter."
Bảo Bùi: Xin cảm ơn ông.
Michael: "Thank you, sir."

Lesson focus

Michael: Honorifics, or,
Nguyet: kính ngữ
Michael: are titles that convey respect, courtesy, and esteem for a person based on their position or rank. In
Nguyet: Việt Nam,
Michael: honorifics are used as a way of defining the degree of relationship that two people have with one another. In Vietnamese, it is rather rude or informal to use ‘I' and ‘you' when referring to oneself or another person.
[Recall 1]
Michael: Let's take a closer look at the dialogue.
Do you remember how Huong Huynh says "Here you go, daughter."
Nguyet as Huong Huynh: Của con đây, con gái.
Michael: Here, Huong uses the word
Nguyet: con gái
Michael: or "daughter." Just like in other cultures, this word can be used by much older people to address a young girl even if that person is not their biological child or grandchild. It's safe to say that it's a term of endearment equivalent to "sweetheart" or "honey" in English. Another term used to address a younger female in Vietnamese is
Nguyet: em
Michael: This is a kinship term used to refer to anyone younger, whether male or female.
[Recall 2]
Michael: Now let's take a look at our second sentence.
Do you remember how Bao Bui says "Thank you, sir. "
Nguyet as Bao Bui: Xin cảm ơn ông.
Michael: Here, the girl uses the word,
Nguyet: ông
Michale: or "Mister," to refer to the older male. This honorific term is mainly used to refer to a man who is senior to you whether in terms of age or of social hierarchy. In Vietnam, this term is also used to address well-respected men regardless of their age.
Michael: In this lesson, you learned that Vietnamese uses honorific terms to refer to others and themselves. These terms can be used to refer to a relative or family member or someone you're not related to by blood. There are several honorific terms in Vietnamese, but let's review the two we've discussed so far. The first one is
Nguyet: em.
Michael: You can use this term when addressing someone younger whether male or female. You can use this to address family members, as well as strangers. You can even use this as a term of endearment to address a spouse or female companion. The second word is
Nguyet: ông
Michael: This one literally means "grandfather," but it is also used as a formal way to address an older male, such as an employer or any well-respected man in the community.
Michael: Let's take this time to survey other common Vietnamese honorific terms in addition to the two we've already studied. Let's start with
Nguyet: Anh.
Michael: This term literally means, "older brother," and is used to address males as a form of respect. Its female equivalent is
Nguyet: Chị,
Michael: which literally means "older sister." These two are the most socially accepted pronouns used in any social setting and should be used unless you're addressing someone who's obviously older or younger. Now, let's go to the next one, which is
Nguyet: Cô
Michael: In some dialects, this is specifically reserved to refer to the younger sister of someone's father. Generally, it's used to address a woman who's just a bit younger than one's parents, such as a female teacher or any young adult female for that matter. The male version for this is
Nguyet: Chú,
Michael: which literally means, "father's younger brother." Use this term to address a male who's a bit younger than your parents. But how do you address someone who's a little older than your parents? For this, you can use
Nguyet: Bác
Michael: And, yes, you can use this when addressing either a male or a female.
Cultural Insight/Expansion
Michael: Did you know that Vietnamese people are so polite they would often use terms that depreciate their position to elevate their audience? The word most prominently used for this is
Nguyet: tôi,
Michael: which literally means "servant." There's a formal and friendly term of the pronoun "I" in Vietnamese, and this is not one of them. It's a neutral term used to intentionally elevate the other person. A similar term would be
Nguyet: tớ,
Michael: which also means "servant." This is often used among the younger generation when referring to themselves when conversing with close friends. Meanwhile, terms used to elevate the audience include
Nguyet: quý khách
Michael: or "valued customer," as well as
Nguyet: quý vị
Michael: or "valued higher being." That's like referring to the other person as milord, a term used in 16th-Century Europe to address a noble.


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

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