I have about 50 minutes before we have to leave to catch the Opera (not sure what it will actually be, but sounds fun), so I'm going to use this time to talk a bit about Tiếng Việt: Vietnamese. This post is a cultural analysis, so just click the that category to see future posts like this one (I don't have any now, but surely I will write more). Okay, here we go...
Vietnamese is HARD
So, Grant, why is Vietnamese so difficult?
That is a great question my curious subconscious! Let me trace back some of the history of this language to shed some light on its complexity.
According to our good friend, Wikipedia, "Vietnamese was primarily influenced by Chinese, which came to predominate politically in the 2nd century BC. After Vietnam achieved independence in the 10th century, the ruling class adopted Literary Chinese as the medium of government, scholarship and literature. With the dominance of Chinese came radical importation of Chinese vocabulary and grammatical influence. Much of the Vietnamese lexicon in all realms consists of Sino-Vietnamese words. When France invaded Vietnam in the late 19th century, French gradually replaced Chinese as the official language in education and government."
Great! Thanks for being such a reliable source Wikipedia! What this basically means is that Vietnamese, a historically script-based language such as Chinese or Japanese, where single pictographic characters represent entire words, adopted the Western roman alphabet when the croissant people came to town. During the French occupation of Indochina, each traditional word morphed into a Roman form. Additionally, the traditional tonal language (in which "ma" differs from "ma" based on the way you say it) had to be alphabetized. Due to a finite set of vowels which could not possibly produce all of the sounds of the Sino-Vietnamese language, six tones were developed to encapsulate the pre-existing sounds.
The french accomplished many great feats.
Grammatically, Tiếng Việt isn't too complicated. In fact, it's way easier than English, Spanish, or, indeed, French. You usually don't need to use different tenses, conjugating is super straight forward, and the counting system is like Chinese where 42 is just a combination of the words for 4 + 10 + 2. The only super tricky thing is pronouns. People here never just say "hello" or chào. You must succeed chào by whatever pronoun the person you are addressing fits into. There are pronouns for someone younger than you, a new friend, your best friend, someone slightly older than you (both male and female), someone your parents' age (male and female), and someone your grandparents age (male and female). This is tricky initially, but I'm starting to get the hang of it.
Yet, regardless of my qualms with modern Vietnamese, my background as a mandarin student has me geeking out hard over some of the similarities. For instance, the Chinese word for China, 中国 = the Vietnamese word: Trung Quốc, which is pronounced almost exactly the same. That's some pretty cool stuff.
Of course, all of my frustrations with the language are a result of my futile attempts to communicate with the Vietnamese population. I know that as I spend more time here and pick up on the mechanics of speech and the art of listening, I will grow to appreciate Vietnamese for what it is: a symbol of Vietnam's elaborate history and culture, impacted greatly by regional and western influences.
Also, just an update on what is going on. Tomorrow is completely free. I think we are planning on going to Chinatown. Uber here has an option for motorbikes, so I'll probably take that to District 5 and get some Dim Sum. We leave on Saturday for Hue, then take a bus to Quang Tri. I can't wait to meet our Vietnamese roommates and get started working with the community partners. Also, along the lines of this post, I was reminded this week how hard learning a foreign language is, and I'll be sure to keep that in mind whilst teaching for the next month and 1/2. I'm also going to add a newsletter to the blog so you'll get an email whenever I post and don't have to keep checking (you're welcome Beth). Now, please enjoy this video of Andrew, Jihong, and Katrina on a swing set with toddlers.