Hi SAPL Readers! Blogger Danny Bloom was kind enough to share his article about how certain Vietnamese words have been derived. It’s interesting that a great deal actually come from France (not really), but check it out! I learned a great deal about Vietnamese words I never thought had French roots at all.
According to legends handed down to the current city fathers of Hanoi today, it was in 1010 that a king by the name of Ly Thai Tho claimed to have seen a dragon rising up from a nearby river, and he decided to call his temporary settlement along the banks of that river Thang Long: “rising dragon.” Hanoi itself gets its name from the Vietnamese word “hanoi,” which means ”a bend in the river’.’ Welcome to the name game in southeast Asia!
Loan Words Galore!
Before Americans got involved in a long and protacted war in Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s, the French had been heavily involved in the country for over 300 years. From 1853 to 1954, France ran Vietnam as an overseas colony. As a result, as one can imagine, Vietnam’s French colonial past has left its mark on the country’s language. The Vietnamese word for cheese, ”pho mat”, comes from the French word ”fromage,” and cake is called “ga to”, from the French word “gateau.”
During a recent research expedition via keyboard and Internet, this reporter came across over 50 “loan words” from French still used in Vietnam today, in addiiton to pho mat and ga to. To understand what follows, it helps to know a little French, but even if you never studied French in school and you don’t know bonjour from bonsoir, take a look at what some erudiate word sleuths have unearthed.
- Liver pate is called “pa” in Vietnam today. Pate chaud, according to foodie with a website Andrea Nguyen, is called “pa so.”
- “Ba” — father — comes from the French word “papa.”
- “Va li” comes from the the French word for suitcase — valise.
- “Bo” (beurre), and “ri-do” (rideau, drapes, curtain), I learned from Andrea Q. Nguyen today, too.
- “Bia” comes from the French word for beer, “biere.”
- A doll is called a “bup-be” in Vietnam, from the French word “poupee” for puppet.
- What to call a necktie on that senior civil servant giving a press conference on Hanoi TV? It’s a “ca vat” — from the French word “cravate.”
- “Doc to” is on loan from the French word “docteur” which is not far from our English version: doctor.
- “Phac to” comes from “facteur,” the French word for mailman. You need to understand French a little bit to really get the fun involved here, but even if you don’t, c’est la vie. Amusez-vous bien!
- “Phim” means “movie” and comes from the French word “film”.
- A “pha” is a headlight on your car or motorscooter, from the French word “phare”.
- Motorscooters and motorcycles are themselves are called “moto” — from “motorcyclette”.
- Did I make a mistake? In French, they call it a “faute”. In Vietnam today, people say “phot”.
- “Bit-tet” is of course from the French term “biftek” — beefsteak, or just plain steak. Oishii!
- Coffee is called “ca phe” from the French word “cafe”.
- Wine is called “vang” (le vin). Soap is called “xa bong” (savon).
- A circus is called “xiec” (from the French word “cirque”).
I never knew any of this. I have never been to Vietnam. But being an armchair traveller is fun, too, and I can dream, n’est-ce pas?
Much of my research came from the work of Dr Milton Barber (via New York Times “On Language” columnist Ben Zimmer’s wonderful hat tip direction!), whose “The Phonological Adaptation of French Loan Words in Vietnamese” was my main resource here. He wrote that in 1963 during America’s military operations in Vietnam.
I didn’t go to Vietnam. But I did go to France. For a year. I dropped out of college to go travelling for a year in France, mostly drinking coffee in sidewalk cafe in Paris all day and going to the movies at night at the Cinemateque Francais. Those were the days. A year in paradise, oo-la-la! Oui, oui. It was cold and raining every day!
Now I have several Vietnamese friends in Taiwan where I dwell in a computer-less cave with no WiFi. These women have married Taiwanese men and number in the tens of thousands in Taiwan now. More then 90 percent of new foreign brides in Taiwan are from Vietnam. So every day, I practice some of these French loan words with my Vietnamese neighbors and their children, and sip ”ca phe” while eating some good delicious ”pho”. Noodles. Lamen.
Welcome to the Global Tower of Babel, where we are one people, one race, many genepools, billions of souls. I love it.
You can view Danny’s blog at: Here
[ See Andrea's great blogs here: http://www.vietworldkitchen.com/ and http://www.asiandumplingtips.com/ ]
Are there any words in your native tongues with European (or non-asian) roots?
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