The Vietnamese Australian community is one of the largest ethnic groups in Australia. The Vietnamese language of the Vietnamese community as spoken in Australia is also one of the fastest-growing language groups vis-à-vis with the Vietnamese community, and is one of the most common languages other than English spoken at home. However, only limited research has been done on the characteristics of the Vietnamese language in Australia.
This study examines the characteristics of phonetics and lexis of the Vietnamese language of the Vietnamese Australian community at a specific point in time. The objective of this study is to show the distinctive characteristics of phonetics and lexis of Vietnamese language of the Vietnamese Australian community which differ from contemporary Vietnamese in Vietnam.
In terms of phonetics, the research focuses on Vietnamese tone (There are six tones used in Vietnamese) and vowel productions, which were elicited using a picture-naming task produced by four groups of speakers in a stratified random sample:
(1) Older Vietnamese residents in Australia [n=10] who arrived in Australia as adults (the first generation);
(2) Younger Vietnamese residents in Australia [n=10] who were born or have grown up in Australia (the second generation);
(3) Older Vietnamese residents in Vietnam [n=10] matched by age with participants in group 1;
(4) Younger Vietnamese residents in Vietnam [n=10] matched by age with participants in group 2.
Data were audio-recorded on a digital audio device and instrumentally analysed using EMU software for computer-based digital phonetic analysis.
The analysis of the tone productions of the four groups of speakers includes:
(i) an auditory assessment of tone pronunciation and mispronunciation.
(ii) a qualitative transcription of tone contours.
(iii) a quantitative analysis of tone duration, Fundamental frequency (F0) range, and
tone range based on means of the tone contours.
The results of these analyses were then compared among the four groups in order to examine the differences of mispronunciation patterns of tones, tonal contour shapes, and phonetic properties of tones.
The vowel productions were analysed using vowel formants (first and second formants) to examine whether the vowels produced by the four groups of speakers were acoustically different from one another or not.
The results of the analysis show that the tones and vowels produced by the younger Vietnamese residents in Australia are more divergent from the standard control groups than that of the older Vietnamese residents in Australia. The younger Australia-based informants showed an inability to distinguish and produce the full range of Vietnamese tones. And their vowel productions showed both interference from English, and a reduced ability to recognize and produce the full range of Vietnamese vowels and their key articulatory properties. This is consistent with the results of language contact studies, where the immigrant language speakers, especially after the first generation, lose distinctions which are part of the full L1 (First language), and involve substantial under-differentiation.
The tone and vowel analysis offers both an empirically rich analysis, establishes an instrumentally validated set of results, and tests a set of methodologies which can now be applied, and adapted in future research, not only of Vietnamese but also of other tone languages in émigré communities.
In terms of lexis, this study examines the characteristics of lexis of the Vietnamese language in Australia. An extensive data-base of Vietnamese journalistic language was collected in Australia and Vietnam, and lexical usage was compared between Vietnamese in the two countries, and verified against dictionary data of the current standard Vietnamese language, as well as older dictionaries before the reunification of Vietnam.
The research focuses on:
(i) older lexical items (obsolete lexical items) which are commonly used in
Australian-published Vietnamese-language newspapers but are no longer
used in Vietnam-based Vietnamese language newspapers, and which were
examined in terms of word classes, semantic fields and linguistic levels.
(ii) English lexical items which have been borrowed in Australian-published
Vietnamese-language newspapers and are examined in terms of parts of
speech, semantic fields and type of borrowings. The results of the two
investigations above were compared with those in Vietnam-based Vietnamese
In terms of lexis, the large majority of obsolete lexical items used in Australian-published Vietnamese-language newspapers are nouns and belong to various semantic fields. In addition, the results show that the obsoletes are preserved in Australian-published Vietnamese-language newspapers on different linguistic levels: orthography and phonology, lexicon, phrase structure, and semantics. All of these have major implications for questions of the maintenance of the Vietnamese language in Australia. The Vietnamese Australian community still uses obsolete lexis in their Australian-published Vietnamese-language newspapers, similarly to other immigrant communities in Australia such as Hungarian, Croatian, Polish, Latvian and other former refugee languages.
In addition, the analysis shows that the Vietnamese language of the Vietnamese Australian communities has borrowed various English lexical items in order to fill lexical gaps and to enrich their vocabulary. English lexical items used in Australian-published Vietnamese-language newspapers belong to different parts of speech, to a wide range of semantic categories and cover different types of loanwords, loan translations, phono-semantic matching and loan blends. In general, borrowed English lexical items used in Australian-published Vietnamese-language newspapers are much more abundant and diversified than those in Vietnam-based Vietnamese language newspapers. This is consistent with the fact that the Vietnamese language of the Vietnamese Australian community has been in close contact with English for more than 30 years.
This analysis provides a substantial empirical corpus of lexical data, not only to support the current analysis, but also for future studies of Vietnamese in different émigré communities. The special focus on the maintenance of older lexical words and expressions in an émigré community which differentiated itself clearly from the homeland language, and on lexical interference from the host country language (Australian English) result in a complex pattern of lexical maintenance, innovation and differentiation.
More broadly, the present study therefore contributes to:
(i) the literature on language contacts and migrant languages in Australia: a
minority language of immigrants (the Vietnamese language of the Vietnamese
Australian community has been in contact with a dominant language of the host
country [Australian English])
(ii) knowledge of language maintenance and shift in the Vietnamese language of
the Vietnamese Australian community in Australia.
(iii) scholarship of the distinctive characteristics of Vietnamese language of the
Vietnamese Australian community – a specific Vietnamese dialect that exists
outside the homeland – in contact with Australian English; and
(iv) implications for teaching and learning Vietnamese language for younger
Vietnamese nationals residing abroad, and for foreigners learning Vietnamese.