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The Vietnamese alphabet (quốc ngữ or "national language") is the current writing system for the national language of Vietnam. It is based on the Latin alphabet, with some digraphs and the addition of nine special marks or diacritics — four of them to create additional sounds, and the other five to indicate the tone of each word. The many diacritics, often two on the same letter, makes written Vietnamese easily recognizable.
The Vietnamese alphabet has the following 37 letters (29 single and 8 digraphs), in collating order:
- A/a, Ă/ă, Â/â, B/b, C/c, Ch/ch, D/d, Đ/đ,
E/e, Ê/ê, G/g, Gi/gi, H/h, I/i, K/k, Kh/kh,
L/l, M/m, N/n, Ng/ng, Nh/nh, O/o, Ô/ô,
Ơ/ơ, P/p, Ph/ph, Q/q, R/r, S/s, T/t, Th/th,
Tr/tr, U/u, Ư/ư, V/v, X/x, Y/y
In order to avoid confusion with the "gi" digraph, the letter "g" and the digraph "ng" are written "gh" and "ngh", respectively, when they appear before "i"; and also (for historical reasons) before "e" or "ê". The letters J, W and Z are also used in foreign loan words.
There are six distinct tones; the first one ("level tone") is not marked, and the other five are indicated by diacritics applied to the main vowel of the syllable:
|Falling glottalized||Dot below||Ạ/ạ||Ặ/ặ||Ậ/ậ||Ẹ/ẹ||Ệ/ệ||Ị/ị||Ọ/ọ||Ộ/ộ||Ợ/ợ||Ụ/ụ||Ự/ự||Ỵ/ỵ|
The lowercase letter "i" should retain its dot even when accented. (However, this detail is often lost in computers and on the Internet, due to the obscurity of Vietnamese specialty fonts and limitations of encoding systems.)
In lexical ordering, differences in letters are treated as primary, differences in tone markings as secondary, and differences in case as tertiary differences. Ordering according to primary and secondary differences proceeds syllable by syllable. According to this principle, a dictionary lists "tuân thủ" before "tuần chay" because the secondary difference in the first syllable takes precedence over the primary difference in the second.
The Vietnamese language was first written down, from the 13th century onwards, using variant Chinese characters (chữ nôm 字喃), each of them representing one word. The system was similar to the script used for writing Chinese (chữ nho), but using characters developed in Vietnam.
As early as 1527, Portuguese Christian missionaries in Vietnam began using the Latin alphabet to transcribe the Vietnamese language for teaching and evangelization purposes. These informal efforts led eventually to the development of the present Vietnamese alphabet, largely by the work of French Jesuit Alexandre de Rhodes, who worked in the country between 1624 and 1644. Building on previous Portuguese-Vietnamese dictionaries by Gaspar D'Amaral and Duarte da Costa , Rhodes wrote a Vietnamese-Portuguese-Latin dictionary, which was printed in Rome in 1651, using his spelling system.
In spite of this development, chữ nôm and chữ nho remained in use until the early 20th century, when the French colonial administration made Rhodes's alphabet official. By the late 20th century, quốc ngữ is universially used to write Vietnamese.
Vietnamese fonts and encodings
The universal character set Unicode does not have a separate segment for the Vietnamese alphabet; the required characters are scattered throughout the Basic Latin, Latin-1 Supplement, Latin Extended-A, Latin Extended-B, and Latin Extended Additional segments. An ASCII-based writing convention, Vietnamese Quoted Readable, and several byte-based encodings including TCVN3, VNI, and VISCII were widely used before Unicode became popular. Most new documents now exclusively use Unicode.
- VIQR, a standard 7-bit writing convention of the Vietnamese alphabet.
- VISCII, a standard 8-bit encoding of the Vietnamese alphabet.
- Vietnamese language
- Vietnamese phonology
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