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Vietnamese Classifiers: Loại Từ, a list

09.21.10 | admin | In Vietnamese, grammar

In Vietnamese, like many Asian languages, nouns require classifier words to be counted.  Where in English we say “two boxes” in Vietnamese they say “hai cái hộp”, translated “two thing-classifier box”.  For “one cup of coffee” the Vietnamese is “một ly cà phê” or “one glass/classifier coffee”.  Classifiers are nearly always required, but many times a noun can also function as a classifier.  So “ly” means “glass” and “dĩa” means “dish” but “1 dĩa” is acceptable for “1 dish”.  ”Cái” is the most common and universal and can be used to classify other classifier-nouns, e.g. “cái ly”.  Cái is used for inanimate objects, “con” for animals, and “cây” for plants.

However, it gets more complicated.  For people, there are a number of classifiers, most common of them are “người” for adults, “đứa” for kids, “con” for girls, or “thằng” for boys.  But “con” and ”thằng” can also be used pejoratively.  There are a number of other classifiers that can be used pejoratively or to bestow honor.

For food, there are a number of classifiers depending on the type of thing it’s served in: “ly” or “cốc” for cup, “dĩa” or “đĩa” for dish/plate, “tô” for bowl, “xiên” for stick, “chén” for a bowl-like dish, and so on.

For a longer list of Vietnamese classifiers see Trần Ngọc Dụng’s paper on Loại Từ:
http://tinhhoavietnam.net/special/pphap/PParticles/LoaiTu.pdf

And for an interesting take on the possible controversial origins of many of today’s Vietnamese classifiers see V. U. Nguyen’s “ADMIXTURE ASPECTS OF VIETNAMESE CLASSIFIERS”.
http://alcor.concordia.ca/~tmai/classifiers.pdf

Both documents are archived here:
Loại Từ 
ADMIXTURE ASPECTS OF VIETNAMESE CLASSIFIERS

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