From Namespedia - Names Meaning and Origins
Vietnamese is the official language of Vietnam. It pertains to the Austro-Asiatic language family and has strong influences of Chinese especially Cantonese, and some of French. About 86% of Vietnam’s population consider it their mother tongue and, it has been their national and official language since 1954. The bulk of the speakers is in Vietnam and their numbers reach 82 million but the language is used in other countries such as China, USA, Cambodia, Laos and many others as well.
Number of Speakers
It is hard to be exact when it comes to the total number of Vietnamese speakers world-wide. Some studies show that there are around 13 million people that use the Vietnamese language around the world. This number does not include the speakers in Vietnam which amounts to 82 million. It is estimated that the greatest number of Vietnamese speakers outside Asia is in the USA (somewhere around 1,000,000). France is another country that has quite a few Vietnamese speakers (10,000), but there are other countries in which this language might be heard in the streets (Canada, Australia, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, etc). The rest of the speakers outside Vietnam are closer to it, in countries like Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and are of course in greater numbers.
It seems the language was born around 3000 years ago from the branch of Austro-Asiatic language family known as Mon-Khmer, to be more exact it pertains to the sub-branch of this family called Viet-Muong (or Annam-Muong). Because of the tumultuous history of Vietnam, the language suffered a great deal of influence especially from the Chinese language. It is estimated that around 60% of the Vietnamese words come from the Chinese language. This ‘invasion’ started in the 2nd century B.C. because of the political dominance of China in that period. This fact also explains why the Chinese writing system was used in early writings. Later on, during the French colonial rule the Latin alphabet took over but with some additional diacritics to emphasize tones and some letters. This process was completed at the beginning of the 20th century. The roman alphabet also simplified the learning of the language.
Tones play an important part of this language. Vietnamese has 6 tones, this is very important as only the tone can make the difference between 2 or more words that are written identically. For example the word ma means ghost if pronounced using the ngang (mid level) tone. Using the other tones can give this word the meaning of: but, cheek, tomb, horse, rice seedling using the huyền, sắc, hỏi, ngã, nặng tones.