Tones and Tone Marks
A lot of people have complained that I haven’t updated my Vietnamese pages in a long time. They’re right. As I’ve been bogged down in schoolwork or in my projects, Vietnamese has pretty much taken a back seat. I now intend to update my site with information such as the following, so that you can learn Vietnamese as I do.
[Update] I’ve added a helpful diagram of the contour of tones in Vietnamese.
Vietnamese is like many East Asian languages in that it is tonal. That is, the tone of speech used to pronounce a word has an effect on the meaning of that word. Most languages have some form of toneage or stress. For example, English distinguishes between resume and résumé, and Spanish distinguishes between qué and que.
Because the written Vietnamese language is based on Latin, it uses Latin-based accent marks to denote the sound a vowel should make when pronounced. These tone marks must be included when writing Vietnamese, and a speaker must pronounce the words with the correct tones, else risking an embarrassing change in meaning. Following is a table that I hope will help you better understand tones in Vietnamese. I will update this table with helpful images in the future:
|Name||Description||Mark||Example word||Translation of example word|
|Mid-level tone||About the middle of the normal speaking range||ta||we, us|
|Low falling tone||Starts a little lower than mid-level and falls gradually||̀||tà||flap|
|Low rising tone||Starts where low-falling starts, dips slightly, and rises again||̉||tả||(to) describe|
|High broken tone||Starts a little higher than the low tones, dips slightly, and rises to finish high||̃||tã||(to) be worn out|
|High rising tone||Starts where the low tones start and rises sharply||́||tá||(a) dozen|
|Low broken tone||Starts where low tones start and drop to the lowest level||̣||tạ||100 kg|
Source: Vietnamese: A Rough Guide Dictionary Phrasebook (1996, rev. 2000)
There you have it. Stay
tuned for the next feature article, and possibly some practice exercises in the future.