24 Nov 2012, 9:33pm
Vietnamese language:

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  • Vietnamese personal pronoun

    This issue is belonging to the field of linguistics and pedagogies, but it has a close relationship with traditional custom. It’s very simple but we all have mistake. Sometime, just because of a few mistakes in vocative, we made a big prejudice.

    Personal pronoun has three persons: speaker, hearer, and people or things are mentioned. If we make a normal translation from English to Vietnamese, we just have six words: “tôi, bạn, nó, họ, chúng tôi, các bạn”.


    Bố mẹ cháu bảo cháu đưa bà cháu sang thăm hai cụ – they asked me to take her to meet you.

    When you retranslate this English sentence, it become: họ bảo tôi đưa nó qua gặp các bạn.

    Different with English, which just simply use: “I” and “you”; in Vietnamese, there are so many ways: tôi, anh, chị, nó, chúng tôi, các cậu, các bạn, chúng mày, chúng tao, chị ấy, anh ấy, họ, con, cháu, tớ, anh, chị, em, bố, mẹ, bác, ông, mình, ta … the difficulty and complexity are: Vietnamese personal pronoun also has emotional nuance, They can expressing: love, angry, respect, hate, despise, formal, informal, familiar…

    vaol datnuoctoi Vietnamese personal pronoun

    Moreover, Vietnamese vocative has a clear hierarchy: a child talk to an old man, he has to use “thưa, bẩm”, but there is no vice versa here. When talking to children, parents can call them “thằng Giáp, con ất”, but children can’t call their parents by name.

    Personal pronoun is also used depending on the relatives or the stranges of the relationship.

    In a close friendship, they use “mày, tao”. If they call each other by “quý anh” or “ông”, it’s a ridicule. And with a stranger, using “mày, tao” is so impolite, sometime it make the other angry.

    “cụ già” and “lão già” have the same meaning, They talk about an old man, but when we say “cụ già đó” (respect), it is very difficult with “lão già đó”. In some cases, “lão” is not quite old; it’s a familiar way to call somebody, such as “cái lão nhà tôi” = my husband.

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