This question is directed at people who can speak Vietnamese: I’ve been thinking about this language mystery a lot and haven’t found a good answer for it. You guys might think that this mystery is such a nonsense but as a language lover I can’t help wondering about it. Here’s the question:
I think Vietnamese is a gender-biased language with the preference of the masculine over the feminine. Men usually get to be mentioned first: ông bà, bố mẹ, thầy cô, anh chị em, etc.
But: what about cô chú ? Why is “cô” in front of “chú” ? What makes “cô chú” special?
I’m perfectly aware that there is no right answer for this but there might be some convincing theories out there. Show me your answer/theory by leaving a comment on this page or sending an email to ht.onair AT gmail DOT com. The deadline is 30/09/2012. Solve this mystery and get a free dinner with me. In fact, I will come to your city and invite you to dinner in a restaurant of your choice!
I look forward to receiving your answer. Here are some reasons why you should have dinner with me:
- I’m pretty good at dialogues
- I’m a good walking companion
- Give me a chance to get to know you and your city
- I’m good at keeping secrets
- I will pay for your dinner!
Update (01.03.2012) – Misou suggested this:
You forgot “vợ chồng”, which I think is more prominent than “cô chú”.
As far as your question goes, I think it has something to do with the tune/melody of the phrase rather than order of importance. Like many styles of poetry (e.g. “thơ lục bát”) that follow the “luật bằng trắc”, the rising and lowering tones dictate the order of words so frequently-used phrases can roll off the tongue more smoothly.
Thank you very much for this answer. You are right, ‘vo chong’ is definitely more common.I am not totally convinced by the melody theory though. I thought about it too before starting this ‘contest’ but as I repeatedly read the words out loud I kind of felt that things could be the other way around too. For example: ong ba seems to be more melodious but let’s say what would have happened if we had chosen’ ba ong’ from the very beginning. People might get used to it and it would be somewhat melodious too, don’t you think?For me it is more of a ‘the chicken or the egg’ dilemma. You know what I mean? Anyway, thanks again for the answer! It made me very happy. I will let you know if there are new theories out there until August/September (deadline has been extended).
Updated 14.05.2013 – Đức suggested this. He replied on 30/09/2012 but somehow I haven’t been able to post it. I am really sorry for that.
I am not sure if I missed the deadline for this mystery challenge on your blog. I found this interesting since I did not even question that myself before. Speaking of which, I think it has something to do with Matriarchy in Vietnam dated back to the first century A.D. (or even before that). Back then, the women played the central roles in the society, not the men. This could be clearly seen during the time of “Hai Bà Trưng” and “Bà Triệu“. A lot of historians raised the same question asking that why those heroines were allowed to lead the army and fight against the invaders. That was (really most likely) because Vietnam was a matriarchal society. Nowadays, we still can find some traces of Matriarchy in our speaking language. Let’s say, “Cái” (means “Mẹ/Mother”) also means “chính yếu, quan trọng nhất, crucial, important, etc.” for example “đường cái” (main road), “nhà cái” (banker, in gambling), etc.
Only when the Han Dynasty invaded and conquered Vietnam, the whole system flipped. Women no longer had the main role in the society, instead, men took the place, following the way we say “cha mẹ, ông bà, thầy cô, etc.” “Cô chú, dì dượng, mẹ cha, etc.” still existed probably because it was just the way the people had been used for a really long time. It’s hard to change, I guess. Speaking of which, I also thought that during the invasion of the Han Dynasty, we probably didn’t use “cô chú, dì dượng” much so that they were left intact. Maybe, just maybe.
I am not total convinced with my answer yet but this is the closest I could get. I am looking forward to the discussion with you on this. This is a really interesting question. Thank you for that.
Thank you for answering that question. Your theory sounds pretty good. What we need now are some sources that show us that “during the invasion of the Han Dynasty, we probably didn’t use “cô chú, dì dượng” much.” I agree with you on the matriarchial aspect of Vietnam before the Chinese came.