The official language of Vietnam is Vietnamese, a member of the Austro-Asiatic language family. Linguists usually consider Vietnamese to be a distinct language group, although it has some similarities to Chinese and other languages spoken in Southeast Asia. Like Chinese, Vietnamese is a tonal language, but its syntax is closer to Khmer, the official language of Cambodia. Other languages spoken in Vietnam are Chinese, Khmer, Cham, and various tribal languages spoken by peoples living in the mountains.
When China conquered the Red River Delta in the 2nd century bc, Chinese was adopted as the official language. Eventually a separate script based on Chinese characters and known as chu nôm (southern characters) came to be used unofficially for the written form of Vietnamese.
In order to translate works of scripture, Catholic missionaries devised a form of written Vietnamese using the Latin (Roman) alphabet in the 17th century. This system, known today as quoc ngu (national language), was the first to indicate tones through the use of accent marks. In 1910 quoc ngu officially replaced Chinese characters as a means of writing Vietnamese, and in 1954 the governments of both North and South Vietnam adopted it as their national script.
Vietnam contains a rich mixture of religions, reflecting the influence of many cultures. Early Vietnamese culture included three major belief systems: Mahayana Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism (Taoism). Indian and Chinese monks brought Buddhism to Vietnam early in the 1st millennium ad, and Confucianism and Daoism (Taoism) were both introduced after the Chinese conquest.
After the restoration of Vietnamese independence in the 10th century, the royal court initially gave official support to all three belief systems. Eventually, however, the court recognized only Confucianism, which is more a set of social ethics than a religious faith. Buddhism and Daoism continued to be popular among the mass of the population. Today, the majority of Vietnamese are at least nominally Mahayana Buddhists. Of this number, only a minority are serious adherents.
Roman Catholicism, which French missionaries introduced in the 17th century, is a major religion, claiming almost as many followers as Daoism. Other religions include such recently established sects as Hoa Hao (a variant of Buddhism practiced in the Mekong Delta) and Cao Dai, which blends various Asian and Western religious beliefs. Theravada Buddhism is practiced by the Khmer minority. Some tribal peoples practice spirit worship. Freedom of worship is guaranteed by the constitution, but the Communist government suppresses religious organizations and activities that it considers threatening to national security. "Vietnam" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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