Sat, May 29, 2010 - Page 16 News List

[ SOCIETY ] What’s that ‘pho’?

French loan words in Vietnam hark back to the colonial days


MaryJo Pham, a senior at Tufts University in Boston who was born in Vietnam and came to the US as a young girl, said she has been informally collecting French loan words used in Vietnam over the years.

“Piscine is still in use for ‘swimming pool,’” she said in an e-mail.

“And cyclo, or ‘xich lo’ in Vietnamese, is what we call a bicycle-drawn rickshaw.”

“Yogurt — yaourt in French — is called da ua in Vietnamese. Ice cream is called ca rem from the French word creme.”

A clothes zipper is called a phec mo tua in Vietnamese, from the French word fermeture, Pham said. A woman’s bra is called su chien from the French word soutien, she added.

“You can see how some French loan words influenced the actual transliteration of words — for motorscooters, women’s bras, coffee, frozen yogurt, baguette sandwiches — things that were and are indispensable to daily life in Vietnam,” Pham said. “‘Bo for butter, from the French buerre, is still definitely in use in Vietnam. And phim for movies, film, cinema, yes.”


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