Return of the killer Vietnamese


So, just switched my language tapes from the course Mom and I are reading from, to the older Foreign Service Institute ones–which have the huge advantage of actually having a (60ies pre-war) Southern accent. And I finally figured out why I had so much problems with terminal consonants (which always have Mom shake her head at me). I’d worked out a while ago that terminal consonants in the Southern accent were not pronounced as you’d expect, ie by analogy with the same consonants in non-terminal positions (which is the case in Northern accent, incidentally). However, every time I opened my mouth, I seemed to come up with a different version of fail.

So, the good point: there’s a logic. The bad point: most pronunciations appear to have very little to do with what I expect as a French/English speaker. And they depend on the vowel immediately preceding the consonant, which explains why I could never work out a consistent system (I naively expected that one consonant=>one pronunciation).

To give you a couple of examples:
-“-p” (like in “tập”: volume, tome, episode): mostly sensible, pronounced like a “p”
-“-ch” (like in “thích”: love, like): always pronounced “t”
-“-t” (like “tết”: New Year, “một”: one, “cắt”: cut) much less intuitive. If after “i” or “ê”, pronounced “t” (except for the very particular diphtong “iết”, which is pronounced sort of like “beerc”). If after “ô” or “u”, pronounced sort of halfway between “p” and “k”. If after any vowel not previously mentioned (or after the aforementioned “iế”), then pronounce it like a throaty “k”.

And then you wonder why I could never work out terminal consonants… (and I have a suspicion this is an simplification to help language learners get it more or less right…)



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