NVL102 – Vowels

Vowels

Pronunciation

The correspondence between the orthography and pronunciation is somewhat complicated. In some cases, the same letter may represent several different sounds, and different letters may represent the same sound. This may be because the orthography was designed centuries ago and the spoken language has changed, or because the inventors were trying to spell the sounds of several dialects at once.

The letters y and i are mostly equivalent, and there is no rule that says when to use one or the other, except in diphthongs like ay and uy (i.e. tay (hand) is read /tɐi/ while tai (ear) is read /taːi/). There have been attempts since the early 20th century to standardize the orthography by replacing all the vowel uses of y with i, the latest being a decision from the Vietnamese Ministry of Education in 1984. These efforts seem to have had limited effect, in part because some people bristled at the thought of names such as Nguyễn becoming Nguiễn and Thúy (a common female name) becoming Thúi (stinky), even though the standardization does not apply to diphthongs and triphthongs and allowed exceptions to proper names. Currently, the spelling that uses i exclusively is found only in scientific publications and textbooks. Most people and the popular media continue to use the spelling that they are most accustomed to.

Spelling

Sound

Spelling

Sound

a

 /aː/, /æ/ in some dialects, /ɐ/ before “u” and “y“, /ə/ in “ia” /iə/

o

 /ɔ/, /ɐw/ before “ng” and “c“; /w/

ă

 /ɐ/

ô

 /o/, /ɜw/ before “ng” and “c” except “uông” and “uôc

â

 /ə/

ơ

 /əː/

e

 /ɛ/

u

 /u/, /w/

ê

 /e/, /ə/ after iê

ư

 /ɨ/

i

 /i/ before “a” and “ê

y

 /i/ before “ê

Spelling

Monophthongs

The table below matches Vietnamese vowels (written in the IPA) and their respective orthographic symbols used in the writing system.

Sound

Spelling

Sound

Spelling

/i/

i, y

/e/

ê

/ɛ/

e

/ɨ/

ư

/əː/

ơ

/ə/

â

/aː/

a

/ɐ/

ă

/u/

u

/o/

ô

/ɔ/

o

   

Notes:

The vowel /i/ is:

  • usually written i: /si/ = (A suffix indicating profession, similar to the English suffix -er).
  • sometimes written y after h, k, l, m, s, t, v: /mi/ = Mỹ‘America’.
    • It is always written y when:
  1. preceded by an orthographic vowel: /xuiən/ = khuyên ‘to advise’;
  2. at the beginning of a word derived from Chinese (written as i otherwise): /iəw/ = yêu ‘to love’.

Note that i and y are also used to write /i/.

Diphthongs and triphthongs

Sound

Spelling

Sound

Spelling

Diphthongs

/uj/

ui

/iw/

iu

/oj/

ôi

/ew/

êu

/ɔj/

oi

/ɛo/

eo

/əːj/

ơi    

/əj/

ây, ê in ‹ênh› /əjŋ/ and ‹êch› /əjk/

/əw/

âu, ô in ‹ông› /əwŋ/ and ‹ôc› /əwk/

/aːj/

ai

/aːw/

ao

/ɐj/

ay, a in ‹anh› /ɐjŋ/ and ‹ach› /ɐjk/

/ɐw/

au, o in ‹onɡ› /ɐwŋ/ and ‹oc› /ɐwk/

/ɨj/

ưi

/ɨw/ northern usually /iw/

ưu

/iə/

ia, ya, iê, yê

/uə/

ua

/ɨə/

ưa

/ɨəː/

ươ

/uo/

/uiː/

uy

Triphthongs

/iəw/

iêu, yêu

/uoj/

uôi

/ɨəːj/

ươi

/ɨəːw/

ươu

Notes:

The diphthong /iə/ is written:

  1. ia in open syllables: /miə/ = mía ‘sugar cane’ (note: open syllables end with a vowel; closed syllables end with a consonant);
  2. before a consonant: /miəŋ/ = miếng ‘piece’;

The i changes to y at the beginning of words or after an orthographic vowel:

  • ya: /xuiə/ = khuya ‘late at night’
  • : /xuiən/ = khuyên ‘to advise’; /iən/ = yên ‘calm’.

The diphthong /uə/ and /uo/ is written:

  1. ua in open syllables: /muə/ = mua ‘to buy’;
  2. before a consonant: /muon/ = muôn ‘ten thousand’.

The diphthong /ɨə/ and /ɨɜː/ is written:

  1. ưa in open syllables: /mɨə/ = mưa ‘to rain’;
  2. ươ before consonants: /mɨəːŋ/ = mương ‘irrigation canal’.

(Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnamese_alphabet)

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