Linguistic Differences of Vietnamese in America

Ever since the mass immigration from Vietnam to the United States, many Vietnamese Americans oftentimes preserved the state of their language as it existed in the late 20th century. This oftentimes resulted in subtle differences in the terminology that is commonly spoken in the United states as compared in Vietnam today. Many natives in Vietnam would consider some of the words spoken in Vietnamese-American conversation to be outdated as the language undergoes changes in structure that occur over the course of decades or even years. Languages are dynamic and this phenomenon is expected as ways of communication adapt to new eras. In America, the Vietnamese spoken doesn’t go through the same changes as it does in Vietnam because Vietnamese-American communities are isolated from each other geographically. Individuals within each community also tend to have immigrated at around the same time which also preserves the state of that language in the 1970s because they would communicate to each other using the same terminologies as before they left the country. 

Additionally, in the United States, there is a higher percentage of South Vietnamese Americans as compared to North Vietnamese Americans. It is important to note that in Vietnam, these two groups have slightly different phonetics and intonations. For example, the Vietnamese language uses Latin characters with accent marks. There exists 6 different tones that can be applied to a word however, in the South, the high broken tone and the low rising tone is sounded out the same while in the North, it is differentiated from each other which adds subtle differences in pronunciation between the two groups. This along with the fact that there also exists other groups such as Huế whose Vietnamese also has variations. Even though the groups are able to understand each other, the accents can sometimes make it challenging. The heightened concentration of Southern Vietnamese Americans results in their version of Vietnamese to be the predominate one in the United States which makes it an important distinguishing marker between the mix of Northern, Southern, and Central accents present in Vietnam.

The divergence of Vietnamese in America is also seen in the incorporation of English within the vernacular of Vietnamese. As more and more Vietnamese speakers in the United States become more fluent in English, it is more common for English words to replace other Vietnamese words. Heritage language speakers also borrow a lot of structures from English while at the same time omitting certain structures from Vietnamese. For example, the increased tendency to use words translated from English instead of the expressive terms available in Vietnamese. Classifiers in Vietnamese are also oftentimes improperly used along with the lack of usage of pronouns and reduplication. As the languages continue to diverge, it is expected to undergo changes that may make them more unique and understandable exclusively to Vietnamese Americans.

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