In Vietnamese language and culture, the pronouns “I” and “you” can be very confusing for English speakers. Special pronouns are used for each person, depending on their age and sex. Vietnamese refer to people in society using the same pronouns they use when referring to their family members. We don’t know when exactly it appeared in Vietnamese culture, but for thousands of years, Vietnamese people usually lived with their extended family in a small community, so when they stepped out of the family, they wanted to use pronouns that referred to people like they were family members. This aspect of Vietnamese culture and language fosters close relationships between people.The pronouns that people use when saying “I” and “you” when speaking to a person outside their family also show their respect to the person. For example, I call a male who is older than me “anh” (older brother) or a female who is older than me “chị” (older sister). However, I call an old male stranger “chú” (uncle) if his age is around 50. There are many, many more words like these.
To get someone’s attention, I just need to add the word “ơi” after saying the correct pronoun. For instance, I will say “Anh ơi” to get the attention of a male person who is older than me and his age is around my brother’s age. If I know their name, I will put their name in the middle to get their attention: Anh Hùng ơi! Chị Trang ơi! Chú Toàn ơi!
This will be a bit confusing to you, especially because all these words simply mean “I” and “you” in English. However, if can learn this, you become a part of Vietnam. The following tables describe how I refer to people around me in Vietnamese language.
|I (30 years old) call a person:||English meaning||In the following situations:|
|Anh (male)||(older) brother||If he is older than me and his age is about less than 50.|
|Chị (female)||(older) sister||If she is older than me and her age is about less than 50.|
|Em (both genders)||(Younger) Sister/ brother||If they are younger than me.|
|Cháu (both genders)||Niece or nephew||If their age is under ~10 years old.|
|Chú (male)||Uncle||If his age is around 50 to 60 years old.|
|Cô (female)||Aunt||If her age is around 50 to 60 years old.|
|Bác (both genders)||Uncle (a bit older than “cô” and “chú”)||If their age is around 60 to 70 years old.|
|Ông (Male)||Grandpa||If his age is more than 80 years old.|
|Bà (female)||Grandma||If her age is more than 80 years old.|