A Question of Tone The Mythological Barrier between Westerners and the Vietnamese Language and Culture

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David Lempert


Language, itself, as a source of communication, can also be a form of establishing an identity and setting barriers to communication. This article presents one example of such barriers in a major national language; that of the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese language is one of the markers of identity that Vietnamese often claim as the distinguishing feature of their culture, particularly its use of tone. As an assimilative culture changing rapidly with absorption into the global, urban economy, the Vietnamese language is now one of the only fixed identity markers of the Vietnamese. This may be why the Vietnamese now seek to establish it as a symbol and a barrier. This piece, by an American anthropologist, critically examines the Vietnamese perception of their language and its role among other identity markers in creating boundaries between Vietnamese and outsiders. 

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