2

The Case with Mandarin

I’m quite familiar with Chinese Pinyin, and I know it has some irregularities with how it represents it phonemes:

  1. The use of <y>/<w>/<yu> when <i>/<u>/<ü> are part of a syllable with a null initial
  2. The elimination of the diaeresis when <ü> is preceded by <q>/<j>/<x>
  3. Representing the /jəu/ coda with <you>/-<iu> but /jau/ with <yao>/-<iao>
  4. Representing the /wəi/ coda with <wei>/-<ui> but /wai/ with <wai>/-<uai>
  5. Representing the /uə/ coda as just <o> after <p>/<b>/<f>/<m>, but <uo> elsewhere

(Rules 3 and 4 are, surprisingly, among some of the most regular of irregulars since there are a few more rules that follow the pattern of dropping the letter representing /ə/.)


What About Vietnamese?

What are some irregular ways Vietnamese represents its phonemes? My understanding of Vietnamese phonotactics is limited, and the spelling rules seem to carry a lot of baggage from Latin, Portuguese, and Italian.

Some of what I figured out from Wikipedia’s pages on Vietnamese phonology and the alphabet:

  1. /k/ is represented by <c>/<k>/<q> with <k> appearing before <i>/<y>/<e>/<ê>, <qu> representing /kw/, and <c> in all other cases.
  2. /ɣ/ is represented by <g>/<gh> with <gh> appearing before <i>/<e>/<ê>, and <g> in all other cases.
  3. <ă> is represented by just <a> before an offglide (<y>/<u>) or palatal consonant coda (<ch>/<nh>).
  4. When not followed by a coda, <iê>/<yê> is written <ia>/<ya>.
  5. When not followed by a coda, <ươ> is written <ưa>.
  6. When not followed by a coda, <uô> is written <ua>.
  7. Tone marks over the <i> in the initial sequence <gi> distinguishes <gi>+<a> from <gi>+<ia>. When the syllable has no tones, it’s ambiguous!

Are there any more rules?

  • @sumelic Good catch! I had Classical Greek with the aspirated/voiceless/voiced series floating around in my head for some reason. Funny that Vietnamese had the same thing and many of them weakened to fricatives like in modern Greek. – Kevin Li Jun 15 '17 at 18:09
  • 1
    Vietnamese orthography is virtually unchanged since the Dictionarium of Alexandre de Rhodes in the 17th century. Your points 1 and 2 are carry-overs from Portuguese orthography. Points 3, 4, 5, 6 presumably reflect sound shifts in (Hanoi) Vietnamese since the 17th century. Point 7 is merely an inconsistency in the system. – fdb Jun 16 '17 at 8:02
  • @fdb Looking at the pattern, I believe that <a> in cases 4–6 represent a sort of “catch-all”/“meh” vowel or schwa. I haven’t looked too deeply into Vietnamese phonology yet, but it could be the case that the underlying phoneme is actually a schwa with different phonetic realizations in different contexts. In case 3, <y> and <u> contrast with <i> and <o> after <a>, so it seems the <i> and <o> serves a double purpose of marking the preceding <a> as long (<a>) rather than short (<ă>). As for <gi>, it’s become apparent to me that it actually represented /gi/ historically. – Kevin Li Jun 17 '17 at 21:04
1

After much reading, I figured that I pretty much answered my question in the question itself. There is one more rule, however!

Vietnamese velar codas undergo labialization after back vowels (<o>/<ô>/<u>):

Original form   → Labio-velarized form
1. xong /sɔŋ˧/  → [sɔŋm˧]
2. trong /cɔŋ˧/ → [cɔŋm˧]
3. múc /muk˧˥/  → [mukp˧˥]
4. công /koŋ˧/  → [koŋm˧]

Table 5.6: Examples of the labio-velarization rule

This does not apply to /uə/ (<uô>):

suông /suoŋ˧/ "flow smoothly", not affected by the Labio-velarization rule

In words where labialization is not desired for <o>/<ô>, the vowel is doubled:

  • The vowel /ɔ/ is written oo before c or ng (since o in that position represents /aw/): /ʔɔk/ = oóc 'organ (musical)'; /kiŋ kɔŋ/ = kính coong. This generally only occurs in recent loanwords or when representing dialectal pronunciation.
  • Similarly, the vowel /o/ is written ôô before c or ng: /ʔoŋ/ = ôông (Nghệ An/Hà Tĩnh variant of ông /ʔəwŋ/). But unlike oo being frequently used in onomatopoeia, transcriptions from other languages and words "borrowed" from Nghệ An/Hà Tĩnh dialects (such as voọc), ôô seems to be used solely to convey the feel of the Nghệ An/Hà Tĩnh accents. In transcriptions, ô is preferred (e.g. các-tông 'cardboard', ắc-coóc-đê-ông 'accordion').

And here are the rules I mentioned before:

  1. /k/ is represented by <c>/<k>/<q> with <k> appearing before <i>/<y>/<e>/<ê>, <qu> representing /kw/, and <c> in all other cases.
  2. /ɣ/ is represented by <g>/<gh> with <gh> appearing before <i>/<e>/<ê>, and <g> in all other cases.
  3. <ă> is represented by just <a> before an offglide (<y>/<u>) or palatal consonant coda (<ch>/<nh>).
  4. When not followed by a coda, <iê>/<yê> is written <ia>/<ya>.
  5. When not followed by a coda, <ươ> is written <ưa>.
  6. When not followed by a coda, <uô> is written <ua>.
  7. Tone marks over the <i> in the initial sequence <gi> distinguishes <gi>+<a> from <gi>+<ia>. When the syllable has no tones, it’s ambiguous!

Sources

  1. Emerich, Giang Huong, "The Vietnamese Vowel System" (2012). Publicly Accessible Penn Dissertations. 632. http://repository.upenn.edu/edissertations/632
  2. André-Georges Haudricourt. The origin of the peculiarities of the Vietnamese alphabet. Mon-Khmer Studies, 2010, 39, pp.89-104. <halshs-00918824v2>
  3. Vietnamese alphabet. (2017, May 28). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 01:05, June 18, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Vietnamese_alphabet&oldid=782718424
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