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Vietic

The Vietic family consists of Vietnamese (the national language


of Vietnam), and a number minority languages in northern and
central Vietnam, and in the Lao border regions. It is also known,
especially in French scholarship, as Viet-Muong, but this more
properly designates a sub-group of Vietic.
While Vietnamese was identified as an MK language more than
150 years ago, and there is now a solid body of work
demonstrating its historical affinities, many people still resist the
notion, believing that its origins lie closer to Thai and/or Chinese.
The problem is that Vietnamese emerged as a national language
under circumstances of foreign domination - in 208 BC Han China
made the small Mon-Khmer kingdom then located in the Red
River Delta a tribute state, and later in 111 BC invaded, creating
the province of "Viet Nam" or "Southern Province". Chinese
occupation lasted until 939 AD, and during this thousand+ years
the Vietnamese culture was thoroughly sinosised. Also, there
were many migrations of Tai people from southern China into the
Indo-chinese peninsula, and many Tai minorities still live in
Northern Vietnam. These influences resulted in thousands of
foreign words being borrowed into Vietnamese, and especially in
written or high style language words of foreign origin can
dominate. Also, Vietnamese has become a monosyllabic tonal
language, superficially increasing its resemblance to Chinese and
Tai, but as we shall see below, these phonological developments
are largely explained as the outcomes of internal changes similar developments occurred in closely related Vietic languages
that have been affected less by outside forces.
From the perspective of comparative reconstruction Vietnamese
is extremely problematic, and not particularly useful - the other
Vietic languages are more phonologically and lexically
conservative and thus more important for our purposes. On the
other hand, Vietnamese has taken in many borrowings since
ancient times, and thase can be very important for the
reconstruction of Old- and Archaic Chinese. It is important to
clearly separate the linguistic importance of Vietnamese from its
political importance, something that may be professionally difficult.
On balance Vietnamese is simply one member of an internally
diverse family, the bulk of which have become marginalised by
accident of history.

The Vietic grouping


can be divided into
perhaps 7 coordinate
branches, although
the family needs still
needs to be properly
worked out.
Considerable
fieldwork also still
needs to be done,
and new languages
may yet be
discovered:

Viet-Muong
a) Vietnamese
(various
dialects)
b) Muong
(various
dialects)

Maleng (~
Malieng,

Map of Vietic Languages

Pakatan, Bo)

Arem

Ruc, Sach,
May, Chut

Pong, Hung,
Tum, KhongKheng

Cui or Th

Ahloa, Ahoa
(Thavung)

A significant literature
discussing the
comparative
reconstruction of
Vietic now exists,
e.g.: Barker &
Barker(1970),
Thompson (1976),
Sokolovskaya (1978),
Ferlus (1974, 1975,
1982, 1991, 1996,
1997, 1998). This
work reveals a
variety of
phonological features
and developments
among Vietic
languages that
correspond to the
hypothetical
intermediate stages
Vietnamese must
have gone through
on its way to
becoming a 6 tone
language.

Viet-Muong - in addition to about 80 million first and second


language speakers of Vietnamese, there about 500,000 mainly hill
peoples speaking 30+ dialects of Muong (Muong). Muong is
extremely close to Vietnamese: they share about 75% of basic
vocabulary, and Muong dialects have 5 and 6 tone systems that
are underlyingly the same as Vietnamese. Muong also has many
Tai and Chinese loans, but lacks the more extensive lenitions of
initial clusters so emblematic of Vietnamese. This indicates that
Vietnamese and Muong form a sub-group that separated during
the first Millennium while under Chinese rule. According to Parkin
(1991) Muong is from the Tai word for a territorial division.
Thavung is a village name that has become commonly used to
refer to the Ahloa and Ahoa dialects (and even some non-Vietic
languages) spoken in the Lao-Viet border lands and isolated
communities in Laos and even Thailand. Thavung is a register
language, contrasting clear versus breathy phonation. However,
the system is asymmetrical - underlyingly there are twice as many
clear vowels as breathy vowels. Breathyness developed after
voiced initials, although it was blocked by various initial clusters.
Thavung also shows post-glottalised final continuants, e.g. final
nasals and resonants can end with or without a glottal restriction.
The combination of register and postglottalisation produces a 4way distinction that is conventionally notated accordingly (like
tones):
1 - clear phonation, no
final glottal

2 - breathy phonation, no
final glottal

3 - clear phonation with 4 - breathy phonation with


final glottal
final glottal
Sach, Ruc, May and Chut are closely related dilects that
straddle the Lao-Viet border. According to Nguyn Van Loi (1993)
populations on the Vietnam side are: Scach 615, Ruc 125, May
715 and Chut 300+; the Ethnologue lists Sach and Ruc in Laos at
1230 and 500 respectively. Some good linguistic sources are now
available, e.g. Ngyn Van Loi (1993), Nguyn Ph-Phong et al
(1988). The languages have similar phonological systems to
Thavung, but the registers are associated with pitch differences,
so they are further down the path to tonality. The register/tone
system of Ruc is described as follows:
1 - clear phonation, 2 - breathy phonation, contour 22
contour 55
and 53
3 - clear phonation,

4 - clear phonation, glottal

contour 34

restriction, contours 434 and 31

Maleng dialects are spoken in the same general region as Sach


etc. Nguyn Van Loi (1993) gives the population in Vietnam as
320, Parkin (1991) states about 800 in Laos. The language has
the 4 tone system of Sach/Ruc but with some minor pitch
differences. Importantly Maleng preserves the distinction between
finals *-l and *-r that has been lost in the rest of the family.
Arem is apparently the most conservative Vietic language. The
tiny Arem community living in the Viet-Lao border lands has 75
members according to Nguyn Van Loi (1993), and their
language is urgently in need of a full description. Fortunately we
have useful materials from Ferlus' field notes and the joint
Vietnamese-Soviet expeditions of the late 1970s (note that the
name Arem, is also applied to a Maleng dialect). Phonetically
Arem lacks register, but does have postglottalistion, and
preserves the articulation of imploded stops.

The Development of Vietnamese Tones from Register


The existence of post-glottalistion across Vietic is very significant
for the comparative reconstruction, and helps provide one key to
the long-standing problem of explaining the development of
Vietnamese tones.
Vietnamese is normally described as a 6 tone language, and on
this basis it is often compared typologically to Chinese Min
dialects and/or Tai languages. However, the 6 Vietnamese tones
are really 3 tones distributed across 2 registers, the latter being
the typical MK registers associated with voiced vs. voiceless
initials. This relation is concealed to some extent in Vietnamese
because of the reorganisation of the consonant system which saw
many voiceless initials became voiced, and implosives (which
behave like voiceless stops) became voiced nasals.
The explanation of the origin of Vietnamese tones was famously
established by Haudricourt (1952, 1954) on the basis of
comparison with Khmu, a northern MK language that preserves
final stops and fricatives lost in Vietnamese. The basic pattern is
as follows: firstly a register distinction developed based upon
sonority of initials, giving rise to what we now call the 'high' an
'low' series. The low series have depressed fundamental
frequency, giving distinctively lower tone contours. Subsequently
those tone contours split under the influence of finals:

originally open syllables and those with final *nasals have


basically flat pitch contours

syllables with final *stops diverged further, with the high


series rising in pitch, the low series falling in pitch

syllables with final *-h and *-s developed falling-rising


contours

Also, those low series syllables that had a final stop or fricative
developed a glottal restriction, realised as a glottal hiatus mid way
through the phonation of the vowel. This feature is rather
unstable, and has tended to be subsequently lost, or cause
merger with high series tones in various dialects. The full 6 tone
system is diagrammed below, with names according to the
Vietnamese tradition, approximate pitch contours, and some
illustrative etymologies (from Ferlus' reconstruction):

References and further reading

Barker, M. E. 1968. Vietnamese and Muong tone correspondences.


Studies in comparative Austroasiatic linguistics, N. Zide (ed.), The
Hague, Mouton.

Barker, M. E. & M. A. Barker 1970. Proto-Vietnamuong (Annamuong)


final consonants and vowels. Lingua 24.3:268-285.

Barker, M. E. & M. A. Barker 1976. Muong-Vietnamese-English


Dictionary. Summer Institute of Linguistics (microfiche).

Diffloth, Grard. 1989. Proto-Austroasiatic Creaky Voice. Mon-Khmer


Studies 15:139-154.

Ferlus, Michel. 1979. Lexique thavung-franais. Cahiers de


Linguistique, Asie Orientale 5:71-94.

Ferlus, Michel. 1982. Spirantisation des obstruantes mdiales et


formation du systm consonantique du vietnamien. Cahiers de
Linguistique, Asie Orientale 11.1:83-106.

Ferlus, Michel. 1991. Vocalisme du Proto-Viet-Muong. Paper circulated


at the Twenty-fourth ICS-TL&L. Chiang Mai University, Oct. 10-11,
1991.

Ferlus, Michel. 1996. Langues et peuples viet-muong. Mon-Khmer


Studies, 26:7-28.

Ferlus, Michel. 1997. Problmes de la formation du systm vocalique


du vietnamien. Cahiers de Linguistique, Asie Orientale, 26.1.

Ferlus, Michel. 1998. Les systmes de tons dans les langues vietmuong. Diachronica 15:1.1-27.

Gregerson, Kenneth. 1969. A study of Middle-Vietnamese phonology.


Bulletin de la Socit des Etudes Indochinoises, 44.2:121-93.

Haudricourt, Andr-Georges. 1952. L'origine mn-khmr des tons en


vitnamien. Journal Asiatique 240:264-265.

Haudricourt, Andr-Georges. 1953. La place du vitnamien dans les


langues austroasiatiques. Bulletin de la Socit de Linguistique de
Paris 49.1:122-128.

Haudricourt, Andr-Georges. 1954. De l'origine des tons en


vitnamien. Journal Asiatique 242:69-82.

Nguyn Ph Phong, Trn Tr Doi, Michel Ferlus. 1998. Lexique


vietnamien-ruc-franais. Paris, Sudestasie.

Nguyn Van Loi. 1993. Ting Ruc. Ha Noi, Nha Xut Ban Khoa Hoc
Xa Hi.

Sokolovskaja, N.K. 1978. Materialy k sravnitel'no-timologicheskomu


slovar'u v'etmyongskix jazykov. Issledovanija po fonologii i grammatike
vostochnyx jazykov, Moskva, Nauka, pp126-80.

Sokolovskaja, N.K., and Nguyn Van Ti, 1987. Iazyk Myong:


Materialy sovetsko-v'etnamskoi lingvisticheskoi ekspeditsii 1979 goda.
Moskva, Nauka.

Thompson, Laurence C. 1976. Proto-Viet-Muong Phonology. In Jenner


et al. (eds.) Austroasiatic Studies. (1976b), pp 1113-1204.

Thompson, Laurence C. 1987. A Vietnamese Reference Grammar.


Mon-Khmer Studies 13-14.