Associate Professor of Linguistics, Dr Trịnh Cẩm Lam, head of Department of Linguistics of the University of Social Sciences and Humanities (under the Hà Nội National University) shares with Đoan Trang and Quỳnh Hoa about the need to preserve Hà Nội dialect in integration period.
Associate Professor of Linguistics, Dr Trịnh Cẩm Lam. Photo ussh.vnu.edu.vn
Inner Sanctum: What are the differences in the Vietnamese language among regions?
A typical part of the Vietnamese language is the accents in different regions, also known as dialects. Despite the fact pronunciation differs, writing remains the same. This creates great diversity in the Vietnamese language.
Vietnamese is basically divided into three mutually intelligible dialects: North, Central and South.
The dialect in the North (or Hà Nội dialect) is considered the national script due to its long history of development. It is spoken in Hà Nội and provinces from northern Việt Nam to Thanh Hóa Province. The Central dialect refers to that spoken between Nghệ An Province and Đà Nẵng. The dialect in the South is spoken from Đà Nẵng down through the rest of the country.
There are differences among small regions in terms of dialect by reason of geographical locations and cultural features. The differences in dialects are mostly reflected in sounds and vocabulary.
The dialects differ in the use of tone. The Hà Nội dialect uses full six tones (including level, acute accent, grave accent, hook, tilde and dot below), while the Central and the South have only five tones, and regions in the Central region have only four tones. The Central and Southern speakers don’t discern clearly between the hook and tilde. They almost use the hook instead of the tilde.
There are also a huge number of local words used in different regions that add a richness to the Vietnamese language.
Inner Sanctum: What is the beauty of the Hà Nội dialect in general and the Hà Nội women's dialect in particular?
The Hà Nội dialect, especially the traditional Hà Nội women's dialect, is very formal, soft, sweet and accurately pronounced. They speak like they are singing.
It is considered to be the standard of the Vietnamese.
Traditional Hà Nội ladies are known for their elegant behaviour. Two Girls and a Child, by Tô Ngọc Vân. Photo english.cinet.vn
Inner Sanctum: What do you think about people from the old Hà Nội?
I think it’s a combination of good genetics and upbringing.
About genetics, Hà Nội is the capital of Việt Nam and has been the capital of the country for more than 1,000 years. This is where people nationwide gathered. The ancestors of Hanoians inherited diverse genes which can produce good combinations.
And about upbringing, I think this is what sets Hanoians apart. Upbringing gives a person charisma which makes them appear more attractive than they actually are. Traditional Hà Nội women are known for their elegant behaviour. They are polite, discreet and dexterous. Maybe some are not so beautiful, but they are always graceful and delicate. They speak with soft tones and gentle words, and never use vulgar language.
From a young age, they are taught etiquette like formal expressions, how to behave towards others, and how to greet elders. Hanoian society is very hierarchical.
Men are also taught from a young age to be ambitious and responsible. They are a little bit reserved but manly and money minded.
Inner Sanctum: What do you think the difference is between the present Hà Nội dialect and the old one which is considered the pride of the traditional Hanoians or Tràng An people?
The Hà Nội dialect has changed gradually over time. We can see clear change, a big difference if we compare the present Hà Nội dialect to the old one before the 20th century.
The old one is softer, more polite, formal and tonal. The present one is more diversified. It adopts a number of local words from different regions throughout the country.
For example, the word “This” means “này” in the Hà Nội dialect, “ni / nì” in the Central dialect, and “nầy” in the Southern dialect. Or “That” means “ấy” in the Hà Nội dialect, “nớ / tê” in the Central dialect, and “đó” in the Southern dialect.
However, integration also makes it peculiar, complex and difficult to understand and learn for both native and foreign speakers.
Furthermore, today dialect is being constantly updated through the introduction of new scientific and technical vocabulary.
Inner Sanctum: What should we do to preserve the purity and beauty of the traditional Hà Nội dialect in the face of integration and high speed development?
In my opinion, the first thing we should think about is defining the importance and significant role of the traditional Hà Nội dialect among others in the country with legislation and linguistic policies.
Secondly, mapping out plans and investment projects to study the beauty and also the limits of the dialect is needed.
And finally, popularising it throughout all levels of education, including higher education, for all official and non-official communication, in the media, and in publishing, is something we should not ignore. VNS