Vietnamese is an ancient language that is one of the best examples of modern language evolution.
Vietnamese is one of the most-spoken and most-important languages in the world, with 75 million native speakers living in Vietnam and abroad. It’s easily the largest and most important of the Austroasiatic Languages, and it’s also a language that has a history and culture going back far enough in an unbroken line to provide some amazing insights into how language evolves and changes over the course of time. Many languages offer this, of course, but Vietnamese continues to be a dynamic and changing language to this day, which allows for some interesting opportunities for linguists and interested language translation professionals to observe in real-time how a major language shifts.
Vietnam also represents an old and stories culture that has seen plenty of strife while also building and protecting a vibrant, interesting culture that has spread all over the world in the form of language, food, and the arts. But what makes Vietnamese truly special is simple: its ability to change.
Loan Words and Borrowings
Vietnamese is one of the most flexible languages on the planet, eagerly and easily borrowing from other languages and cultures it comes into contact with.
As with many cultures that have spent thousands of years near China, the Vietnamese language has borrowed heavily from Chinese vocabulary. For a long time, Vietnamese actually used Chinese characters for its writing system (today it uses a heavily modified version of the Latin alphabet). Linguists estimate that as much as 60% of the Vietnamese vocabulary might be traced back to Chinese in one way or another, especially when it comes to technical and scientific terms. Since Vietnamese exhibits meaning change with a shift in tone, an easy test for the provenance of a word is to change the tone. If the meaning changes, it’s like Vietnamese in origin. If not, it’s likely Chinese.
Vietnamese also borrows heavily from French, which ruled the country for a period of time in the 19th and 20th Centuries. This kind of heavy borrowing from different cultures makes translation services in Vietnamese an adventure!
In the modern day, Vietnamese continues to be a fascinating study in language evolution. After lengthy periods of separation and unique development, North and South Vietnamese had developed many distinct characteristics marking them as two dialects of the same language. Over the course of the last fifty years, increased movement between North and South Vietnam has brought these two versions closer and closer together, and may eventually result in a single, combined Vietnamese again (although there are a number of regional dialects as well that persist no matter what the overall evolution is.
Between the borrowings and the active seismic activity of the language, Vietnamese offers a unique opportunity to watch a language change and grow right before our eyes.
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