Accent? What Accent?

I’m a big fan of accents and I’m always more than slightly intrigued by how people can speak the same language in such different ways.  It’s strange to me, a wonderful kind of strange.  The truth is, however – I’ve never given much thought to the different accents of Vietnam.  Not until a couple of months ago when, at the age of 23, I went to the orthodontist to get my retainers fixed (that’s a whole other embarrassing story we won’t talk about).  Upon walking into the office, my conversation with the Vietnamese receptionist went like this:

Receptionist: “Name?”

Me: Huyen Ton Nu Ai Thu (fancy, right?)

Receptionist: “Huh”

Me: Huyen Ton Nu Ai Thu

Receptionist: *Contorts her face in a way that said “What the @#$* did you just say?”*

Me: (Deciding that maybe the middle name was too much) Thu Huyen

Receptionist: Say that again.

Me: ….

Random Stranger: No nói, Huyen Ton Nu Ai Thu.

Receptionist: Ohh!

Me: That’s what I said…

Radom Stranger: (In Vietnamese) She’s speaking with a Hue accent, no one understands her.

Me: Oh no you didn’t! (Was what I wanted to say…what I actually said was..) Thank you...

I have an accent?? This can’t be true!  As much as I admire others with it, I wasn’t ready for that kind of responsibility.  No one has ever said they couldn’t understand me before!  Then it hit me – maybe it was because I only speak Vietnamese to my family and the only reason they understand me is because they have the same indistinguishable accent!  Can anyone understand what we say??

Ok, maybe I’m being a little bit dramatic.  The truth is: after being made aware by a complete stranger of how I speak, I got curious.  Thank you World Wide Web for never leaving a question unanswered, especially you, Wikipedia – you beautiful, beautiful thing.

According to Wiki, there are three main accents in Vietnam: North, Central and South.  The differences between the South and North range from: the pronunciation of the letter “d”, to the number of tones, to how to say words ending in “nh”.   It’s said that people with Northern and Southern accents have no trouble understanding each other (unless the accent is really strong).  But (!), everyone has a hard time understanding the Central accent.

I’m not a geography buff, but I believe that Hue is in Central Vietnam.  That explains everything!  As long as I’m not a lone bird in not being understood, I’m okay.  There’s a whole region right there with me.  If you can’t understand me, maybe you can day – I mean zay, or is it yay me the different ways of speaking.

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15 Responses

  1. Xuanthu says:

    Cute and light-hearted post.

  2. Truth is there are 4 accents in Vietnam. North, Central, South…and Hue. It’s true. No one in Danang (central Vietnam) understands people with Hue accents either. People from Hue understand everyone but no one understands Hue accents. Funny, Interesting, and oh so (unfortunately) true

    • Thang Vo says:

      So true about Hue being an accent of its own. And is it true that name like “Ton Nu .. ” especially “Cong Tang Ton Nu ..” is somehow related to royalty?

    • Tri says:

      Oh man, my neighborhood here is all Hue. It’s a unique tone for sure. Each province also has their small differences in accents. Plus there’s even more accents when you factor in the “country” people of each region.

  3. Tuyen says:

    I’m surprise it took you that long to found out that other Vietnamese people can’t seem to understand the Hue accent. I pretty much don’t speak to anyone other than my family in Vietnamese because everyone else seems to have issues understanding. Though I notice people had less trouble understanding me when I visited Vietnam then they do over here in the States. Maybe it’s because they’re more use to people having different accents over there while outside of VN most people and media speaks in the Saigon accent.

  4. Kimberly Truong says:

    Vietnamese is my second language and my family is from Hue. My grandmother took care of me when I was little and taught me Vietnamese when I was older, and I don’t think Hue-people have accents. Hue is the ONLY dialect I understand. As far as I’m concerned, everyone else has the difficult-to-comprehend accents. Once my mom pointed out a speaker to me and asked if I can understand his “accent”– I listened very carefully, and told her… “He doesn’t have an accent… isn’t he just speaking Vietnamese?” She laughed along with others who were there… turns out he was speaking in the thickest Hue dialect possible. The most difficult dialects for me to understand are the northern dialects– there’s one that’s kind of high-pitched, and another where the words seem to all be stuck together. They’re not difficult to where if I listen carefully enough, I can pick out words… They’re just so different, it’s a foreign language, and I don’t even know what to listen for.

    • Thang Vo says:

      To KT:

      While I would agree with you that Hue accent is the easiest to understand because I’m a Hue person, the kids taking dictation test in my youth would disagree. For those old enough to remember: Dictation (or Chinh Ta) is where one kid reads a few paragraphs and the rest would write down what was read. Best grades are given to those who made the fewest errors accent marks and all … We all got highest marks when the reader is a northern girl with her clear pronunciation of accent marks and non-vowels. Next highest marks would be when the reader is somebody from the south who would typically change all “v” and “x” sounds to “dz” and “s” sounds (Ex: “suc dong dzi wa dzui dze” instead of “xuc dong vi qua vui ve ). And if the reader is somebody from Hue, I’m sure we’ll all get F-s except for me who would get A+

  5. Thang Vo says:

    Let’s see if I can post this joke I got from a friend here. The joke is: Người Huế là tổ tiên của người Nhật

    Trước khi đọc câu chuyện bên dưới, độc giả cần làm quen với vài câu nói
    tiếng Nhật sau đây để đối chiếu với ngôn ngữ dùng trong câu chuyện.
    Những câu nói ngắn tiêu biểu trong tiếng Nhật thường là những cụm từ kết hợp
    khoảng 4 từ:

    – Konnichiwa (cô-ni-chi-va) (Chào bạn)

    – Ogenki desu ka (ô-gen-ki-dex- ka) (Bạn có khỏe không?)

    – Hai, genki desu (hẩy – gen-ki-dex) (Dạ khỏe)

    – Anata wa? (a-na-ta-va) (Còn bạn khỏe không?)

    – Watashi-mo genki-desu (oa-ta-Si-mô gen-ki-dex) (Tôi cũng khỏe)

    – Arigatou (a-ri-ga-tô) (Cám ơn bạn)

    Có một nhà nghiên cứu nhân chủng học người Nhật đi tìm nguồn gốc tổ
    tiên của dân tộc mình. Ông ta đã đi khắp thế giới để tìm kiếm nhưng vô
    vọng. Cuối
    cùng ông trở về Châu Á và đặt chân đến Việt Nam . Ông đi tàu lửa từ ga
    Hà Nội. Vào đến ga Huế. Trên sân ga Huế, tình cờ ông được nghe 2
    người dân địa
    phương nói chuyện với nhau:

    – Mi đi ga ni?

    – Ừ, tau đi ga ni. Mi đi ga mô?

    – Ga tê. Tau đi ga tê.

    – Ga tê ga chi?

    – Ga Lăng Cô tề.

    – Răng đông như ri?

    – Ri mà đông chi!

    – Mi ra ga mô?

    – Ra ga Nam Ô.

    – Khi mô mi đi?

    – Chừ chơ khi mô.

    – Mi lo ra đi.

    – Ừ, tau đi nghe mi!

    Nhận ra cách phát âm ngôn ngữ của người dân địa phương ở đây không
    khác gì tiếng Nhật ngày nay, nhà nghiên cứu người Nhật đã mừng rỡ reo
    lên: “A! Đây
    Chính là tổ tiên của người Nhật rồi!”

  6. Lexuan Nguyen says:

    Cam on da co cau chuyen vui ga xe lua… that thu vi qua… cung luc toi cung co rat nhieu ky niem dep lien quan de xe lua Saigon-Hue va Hue-Saigon.

  7. Random says:

    I’m young and all. I can never understand hue. I try to ask my parents. They sound more “normal.” Like southern…
    You people speak without dau it’s so confusing! DX

  8. Toi Nguoi Hue says:

    I have a Hue accent too. I think Vietnamese girls (North/South) find my accent charming. They call me “that cute Hue boy”. It’s a curse to be chased by beautiful Vietnamese women for my “strange” accent. You Bac Ky and Nam Ky people must be so jealous ha ha ha.

    Gia đình tôi từ Huế.Nhiều cô gái Việt yêu / thích chàng trai từ Huế. Tại sao? Minh có một giọng rất quyến rũ.

  9. country hue girl says:

    LOL i know exactly how you feel.. i was born in the states, and my (hue) parents were always at work, so i didnt learn a lot of vietnamese when i was younger…i knew enough to get by though..throughout my life, i lived near family and cousins..one day, i moved and started working with other vietnamese…OH how i hated speaking vietnamese!! i still do…they make fun of me ALL THE TIME!!!! so i kinda stoped speaking in vietnamese 🙁 they say when i speak, it goes into one ear, and leaves out the other, and it gives them a headache because they dont understand….ugh…but when i speak slow, they say they understand a little bit…sometimes it does hurt my feelings because they will say hue is the worst language ever, because no one understands it…THAT is not nice..so annoying..but when i go back home to visit, it feels good..one of my friend that is nam, but grew up with hue friends gave me advice..he said “keep speaking that hue, i love it!!, dont let them stop you from speaking hue just because they dont want to learn something they dont understand” 🙂

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