The Most Dangerous Language

3. The Most Dangerous Language

  • The Vietnamese sound system is very rich — close to seven thousand syllables including the six tones (eight, according to another theory). Vietnamese, especially the Hanoi dialect, is replete with glottal stops. See the chart of nearly 7000 syllables (with tones) that we compiled at our institute. Yes, almost 7000 syllables!!
  • When some people speak they sound like they are constantly gagging on one “glottal stop” after another, almost as if they are on the verge of choking! One day I came up against a phrase that gets first prize for “the most dangerous word to pronounce.” It’s written cưới ngựa and means “to ride a horse.” Here are members of the xxxx Family, where I had dinner as part of my “total immersion” course, demonstrating the art of not choking on a Vietnamese horse 🙂
  • Just listen to the first two words — cưới ngựa! — pronounced by mom, dad and daughter. Can you say it without gagging!? So I decided to nickname Vietnamese “the most dangerous language in the world,” because if you try a few of the dangerous phrases, you might gag, retch and choke! Now listen to one of my teachers, Thuy, describing how to ride a horse in “the most dangerous language,” with her version of cưới ngựa.
  • My other teacher, Van Anh, liked the joke so much that she bound my study notes into a booklet entitled “Which is the most dangerous language in the world?” I value this more than the Old Testament 🙂
  • But, after all is said and done, no, I don’t think you need to take out a life insurance policy to study this Most Dangerous Language 🙂

cưới ngựa! — the art of not choking on Vietnamese horses.

Thuy explains why Vietnamese is “most dangerous.”

My wonderful teacher Van Anh Pham

“The Dangerous Language” notebook by Van Anh Pham

3. The Most Dangerous Language

  • The Vietnamese sound system is very rich — close to seven thousand syllables including the six tones (eight, according to another theory). Vietnamese, especially the Hanoi dialect, is replete with glottal stops. See the chart of nearly 7000 syllables (with tones) that we compiled at our institute. Yes, almost 7000 syllables!!
  • When some people speak they sound like they are constantly gagging on one “glottal stop” after another, almost as if they are on the verge of choking! One day I came up against a phrase that gets first prize for “the most dangerous word to pronounce.” It’s written cưới ngựa and means “to ride a horse.” Here are members of the xxxx Family, where I had dinner as part of my “total immersion” course, demonstrating the art of not choking on a Vietnamese horse 🙂
  • Just listen to the first two words — cưới ngựa! — pronounced by mom, dad and daughter. Can you say it without gagging!? So I decided to nickname Vietnamese “the most dangerous language in the world,” because if you try a few of the dangerous phrases, you might gag, retch and choke! Now listen to one of my teachers, Thuy, describing how to ride a horse in “the most dangerous language,” with her version of cưới ngựa.
  • My other teacher, Van Anh, liked the joke so much that she bound my study notes into a booklet entitled “Which is the most dangerous language in the world?” I value this more than the Old Testament 🙂 But, after all is said and done, no, I don’t think you need to take out a life insurance policy to study this Most Dangerous Language 🙂