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#1
Old 01-02-2004, 08:46 PM
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pronouncing "pho" (Vietnamese beef noodle soup)

What's the vowel? I eat this a lot and would like to say it properly.
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#2
Old 01-02-2004, 08:50 PM
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"o" as in "foe," so far as I know.
#3
Old 01-02-2004, 09:14 PM
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Helena writes:

> What's the vowel? I eat this a lot . . .

You should try eating something other than vowels. They're not very nutritious.
#4
Old 01-02-2004, 09:23 PM
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Waiters I've asked have said something like "fuh," but odds are just as good that I didn't hear right... nowadays I just order it by number.
#5
Old 01-02-2004, 09:26 PM
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A Vietnamese friend once told me that it's pronounced "fuh", short u sound. Rhymes with bun*, oddly enough.

* another Vietnamese dish, like a salad with rice noodles and bean sprouts
#6
Old 01-02-2004, 09:36 PM
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Yep. Everything I've heard suggests its pronounced "Fuh." No hardcore sources, just a bunch of friends that eat it a lot.
#7
Old 01-02-2004, 09:53 PM
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It's "fuh" with kind of a dip and then a raise in your voice halfway through the "uh" sound.

My sister and I have been sitting here repeating "pho" to figure this out for you.
#8
Old 01-02-2004, 09:56 PM
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Oh btw, pho and bun don't really rhyme. The second word is kind of like "boong" with a raise in your voice.

I feel really silly now.
#9
Old 01-02-2004, 10:11 PM
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I worked with several Vietnamese, and I was never able to pronounce pho. (Actually, there's an accent on the o. IIRC, it's kind of like a little question mark.) It sort of sounded like "fuh" with a rising tone at the end. Sometimes it sounded as if it were two syllables. As I said, I could never get the hang of saying it. One of my (Vietnamese) friends at work used to just say "foe" (like the number fo') to be funny.

"Bun" always sounded like "boom" to me. Mmmmm... Bun bo Hue!
#10
Old 01-02-2004, 10:56 PM
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My wife is Vietnamese. I will humbly submit I can pronouce it damn near perfectly, but I'm no linguist and it's hard to get it across in text.

Basically, if you say "fur" as a Commonwealth country (except Canada) English speaker would say it (no big, rolling, North American 'r' - furrrr), you'll get by. That's the sound. Americans, pretend you're making fun of an Australian's pronunciation of 'beer' (y'know the drill: 'beeah'), and apply the same principle to the word 'fur'. No final 'r'.


Now, once you've got the sound worked out, you'll need to get the tone right. Starting from a mid-level, drop it low, then kick right back up to a point somewhere higher than where you started.

Fuah - kinda.

Sorry if this sounds complicated. It's not a difficult word, just that it's hard to explain with a keyboard.

Aah look, wherever you're from - if unsure, just say "fur". You'll probably be understood.
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#11
Old 01-02-2004, 11:04 PM
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Our local pho shop has a menu with a "how to" pronunciation guide.

It is pronounced "fuh" with a rising questioning inflection. I've been told that my Vietnamese menu-speak is quite good for a whitey Seattleite.

Heaven is found in a Pho Tai Chin Nam washed down with a glistening Cafe Sua Da.
#12
Old 01-02-2004, 11:13 PM
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Though there's a Vietnamese restaurant less than a block from my house, I once naively pronounced it 'foe'. A friend of mine, at least as white-bread as I am, looked at me incredulously: "Did you say 'foe'?" Blush, willing correction to 'fuh'.

If you look closely at the word you'll usually see a diacritical that resembles a question mark over the O. As GargoyleWB says, just say 'fuh' as though it were a question ('fuh?') and you should be fine. This has led to many 'what the fuh?' jokes at work.

By the way, the waitstaff at the restaurant don't seem to care how I pronounce it. They just bring it. It's always good.
#13
Old 01-02-2004, 11:16 PM
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You've really gotta drop the tone first, otherwise it won't be understood (well, if you're in a pho restaurant, it probably will). It's only a fraction of a second, but it does lower. Then, granted, the majority of the word is on a rising questioning inflection.
#14
Old 01-03-2004, 01:05 AM
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Thanks! I'll give it a try!

So is Vietnamese tonal? I had no idea!
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#15
Old 01-03-2004, 01:18 AM
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Here's a guide to how the little accents above and below vowels in Vietnamese. I looked around a bit to see if I could find any audio files, but I haven't stumbled upon them yet.
#16
Old 01-03-2004, 04:11 AM
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For what it's worth though, most of the non-Vietnamese customers of pho places pronounce it like "foe," so it doesn't matter what you call it as long as they understand. Pho has been getting more and more mainstream where I live the past few years. Most places will do chicken instead of beef in the soup if you want. Most of them will also it without meat. Recently I went to a pho place that's not run by Vietnamese. It's run by Salvadoreans (who also run most of the non-chain Mexican restaurants in the D.C. area).
#17
Old 01-03-2004, 06:12 AM
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At Pho An (my local one), their slogan is So Pho So Good

If you are really unsure, there's absolutely no shame at all in asking the waiter for "beef noodle soup". I've seen plenty of whitebread Aussies do just that. They still get their pho, and the restaurant still gets its money.
#18
Old 01-03-2004, 12:14 PM
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An etymology note: I recall reading that pho is a corruption of the French word feu, which is "fire". Anybody else know if this is so?
#19
Old 01-03-2004, 12:34 PM
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Vietnamese-American checking in. Vietnamese is indeed a tonal language, and TheLoadedDog's explanation is about as good as I've seen it represented textually. If you start low and end a bit higher, you can't go wrong (well, you can, but it'll be entertaining for us native-speakers anyway ).

As a side note, bun is pronounced more like "boon" with the exact same low-to-not-so-low-questioning inflection, and the "n" is mostly unvoiced. That is, you end the "oo" vowel with your tongue on the upper teeth. Think of it as the first half of an "n." Avoid, at all costs, ending it with a "nuh" sound, or else risk much merriment at your expense!
#20
Old 01-03-2004, 01:56 PM
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Someday I'm gonna open a Vietnamese restaurant and call it: What the Pho?
#21
Old 01-03-2004, 07:24 PM
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So "ph" is pronounced like "f"? It's odd that Vietnamese spelling would incorporate an odd aspect of French and English that way. Should that sound actually be the bilabial unvoiced fricative (represented by the Greek letter phi)? Or should I just shut up and assume the Vietnamese decided to fuck up their spelling along Francophone lines when they switched to the Latin alphabet?
#22
Old 01-03-2004, 07:41 PM
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I call it "yum."

I didn't know how badly I'd been mispronouncing it -- oh, I KNEW I was way off, but I didn't know how.

Still, YUM. Mmmmmmmmmmm!!!
#23
Old 01-03-2004, 07:42 PM
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Um...I don't mean that I pronounce it "yum." Ya gotta admit, though, the stuff is good.
#24
Old 01-03-2004, 09:05 PM
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Excalibre, I could be wrong, but I seem to recall reading somwhere that the Vietnamese really didn't have an alphabet of their own, so the French made on for them.

It would explain the Frankish/Anglo feel to some of the written language, but then again I could be high.
#25
Old 01-03-2004, 09:30 PM
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The written Vietnamese language was originally based on Chinese characters and was extremely difficult, so few in the country were literate. The alphabet was created by a Frenchman to what we see today and is much, much easier than the old stuff, making the written language more accessible to the people.
#26
Old 01-03-2004, 10:02 PM
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Thank you for the clarification.
#27
Old 01-06-2004, 10:11 PM
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The modern Vietnamese alphabet was indeed a recent invention under French rule - various systems based on Chinese characters were difficult and hard to adapt to the language (as Vietnamese is quite different from and unrelated to Chinese, although they may seem similar to the uninformed Westerner.) Originally it was written essentially as Chinese, much as written Japanese, several hundred years ago, was essentially a Chinese translation. The Vietnamese adapted the characters to their own uses, changing the characters' phonetic components to reflect Vietnamese pronunciation.

In this century, it was replaced with a modified version of the Latin alphabet, featuring diacritics reflecting tones as well extra vowels - also using diacritics - to accurately reflect the number of vowels in the language. (English uses the weaker kludge of simply allowing spelling and pronunciation to be utterly dissimilar.)

So I'm aware that the language is based on French. However, using "ph" routinely for a sound that's more efficiently rendered with "f" (which French, of course, uses) seems like an odd choice. I was wondering, then, if it uses it to indicate the "phi" sound (the Greek sound rendered into Latin with "ph".) "Phi", in Greek, is an unvoiced bilabial fricative - put your lips close together and blow between them, and use it as a consonant sound if you want a demonstration of it. This was simplified in Latin to the native "f" sound (as the bilabial fricatives aren't used in Latin.)

It's possible that beginning English speakers aren't taught and don't fully recognize this distinction, and so I'm wondering if any linguistic-types, or native speakers, can elaborate on whether this is simply a spectacularly poor choice by the authors of the Vietnamese alphabet or a semi-accurate transcription of a sound unfamiliar to speakers of European languages.
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