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#1
Old 03-08-2011, 05:16 PM
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How do native Vietnamese pronounce the surname Nguyen?

Americans who've never seen the name go into paroxysms trying to say "in-goo-yin" or "nig-yoon" (like that chick trying to pronounce "Nagheenanajar" on Office Space, heh). I've only ever heard an Anglicized version uttered by Vietnamese English-speakers before, who pronounce it simply as "win".

Is it really pronounced "win" in Vietnam, though? I would think the initial ng would make it sound a little more interesting.
#2
Old 03-08-2011, 05:32 PM
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Back in the late 1980s, there was an actor named Dustin Nguyen on 21 Jump Street. Even though his IMDB page says his surname is pronounced "win", I could swear I saw interviews with him at that time where he pronounced it more like "gwynn".

That said, I'm very curious to learn about the authentic pronunciation. The city where I grew up (Green Bay) took in many Hmong boat people after the Vietnam War, and many of them were named Nguyen. I never did learn the correct pronunciation.

Last edited by kenobi 65; 03-08-2011 at 05:32 PM.
#3
Old 03-08-2011, 05:35 PM
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We have a reporter on Global TV in Edmonton with that last name. I've never heard her pronounce her own name, but when she is introduced her name sounds to me something like "Nuyen" (i.e. the g is silent).
#4
Old 03-08-2011, 05:38 PM
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I've always heard it spoke as "new-yin"


(How it is really pronounced: North... South)

Last edited by orcenio; 03-08-2011 at 05:43 PM.
#5
Old 03-08-2011, 05:40 PM
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I used to work with a young lady by this name. It was a never-ending source of entertainment to count the various ways people tried to pronounce it. She said to just ignore the 'g' and the 'y' - e.g. Nuen. Sort of like "NuWin" but one syllable. This page has a recording of something that sounds pretty much like that and is alleged to be the authentic Vietnamese way of pronouncing it.
#6
Old 03-08-2011, 05:40 PM
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No, the "g" isn't silent. The "Ng" represents the sound usually written as "ng" in English. The problem for English-speakers is that "ng" never appears at the start of words, so it feels unnatural there. (There's a second problem, which is that the "uye" part is a vowel sound not found in English either.)
#7
Old 03-08-2011, 06:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Giles View Post
No, the "g" isn't silent. The "Ng" represents the sound usually written as "ng" in English. The problem for English-speakers is that "ng" never appears at the start of words, so it feels unnatural there.
If you're interested in this, the general term for this is 'phonotactics', which are the rules that govern how speakers of a given language are allowed to arrange phonemes. As you've seen, a very strongly-enforced rule of English phonotactics is 'the /ng/ phoneme cannot begin a syllable'. People can have a hard time even hearing strings of phonemes that violate their language's phonotactics, and are more-or-less hopeless at reproducing them.

Quote:
(There's a second problem, which is that the "uye" part is a vowel sound not found in English either.)
This is a statement about phonology, which is the inventory of sounds native speakers regard as distinct from each other (swapping one phoneme for another will change the meaning of a word) and valid for use in the language.
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#8
Old 03-08-2011, 06:09 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by orcenio View Post
I've always heard it spoke as "new-yin"


(How it is really pronounced: North... South)
Your"South" link file sounds like I remember it from when I was in South Vietnam many years ago.
#9
Old 03-08-2011, 06:11 PM
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There were a lot of Nguyen's at my high school and it was always pronounced "new-win," but said really fast so it often just sounded like "win."
#10
Old 03-08-2011, 06:12 PM
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I knew one person who pronounced it "New one" and another who pronounced it "Gwen." But both were born in the US.
#11
Old 03-08-2011, 06:18 PM
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i knew a girl who had Ng as her surname. supposed to be pronounced "wee" but... wasn't.
#12
Old 03-08-2011, 07:19 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Giles View Post
The "Ng" represents the sound usually written as "ng" in English.
Angie, the ungrateful engineer with an ongoing engagement in Inglewood, might suggest that "ng" covers more than one sound.
#13
Old 03-08-2011, 07:40 PM
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So it's not "ngu" followed by "yen"?
#14
Old 03-08-2011, 07:50 PM
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Was actress France Nuyen's name really Nguyen?
#15
Old 03-08-2011, 08:40 PM
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I had a roommate in college with that name. We once spent several minutes going back and forth: I trying to pronounce it, he correcting me.

Obviously there's a sound in there that just doesn't register easily to English-only speakers.
#16
Old 03-08-2011, 08:57 PM
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Originally Posted by Tom Tildrum View Post
Angie, the ungrateful engineer with an ongoing engagement in Inglewood, might suggest that "ng" covers more than one sound.
That doesn't contradict what I said. The sound [ŋ] is usually written "ng" in English. However, "ng" in English words can be pronounced in various other ways as well -- one of which is [ŋg], as in a few of he words you gave.

Logically, "A is mostly B" does not mean that "B is always A".
#17
Old 03-08-2011, 09:26 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tom Tildrum View Post
Angie, the ungrateful engineer with an ongoing engagement in Inglewood, might suggest that "ng" covers more than one sound.
With respect, none of those have "ng"; un-grateful, on-going, en-gage, ...


I believe the pronunciation requires pressing the tongue against the back of the palate.
#18
Old 03-08-2011, 09:26 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ignatz View Post
Was actress France Nuyen's name really Nguyen?
She's still alive and her name at birth was France Nguyen Van Nga
#19
Old 03-08-2011, 09:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pancakes3 View Post
i knew a girl who had Ng as her surname. supposed to be pronounced "wee" but... wasn't.
Heh, this is what I was going to mention, which is a syllable that is completely unpronounceable by non-Cantonese speaker. "wee" is not even close...
#20
Old 03-09-2011, 12:49 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Giles View Post
That doesn't contradict what I said. The sound [ŋ] is usually written "ng" in English. However, "ng" in English words can be pronounced in various other ways as well -- one of which is [ŋg], as in a few of he words you gave.

Logically, "A is mostly B" does not mean that "B is always A".
Sure, but when you wrote that the Ng in Nguyen represents the sound usually written as "ng" in English (emphasis added), that sounded like you were suggesting that there was only one sound written as "ng" in English, rather than at least three. And as a practical matter, it doesn't really clarify the pronunciation of Nguyen unless one knows which English pronunciation of "ng" you're referring to.

I'm just teasing with this pedantry, of course; I understood what you meant. But then, I already knew how to pronounce Nguyen.

Quote:
Originally Posted by j66 View Post
With respect, none of those have "ng"; un-grateful, on-going, en-gage, ...
I don't suppose you're in England?

Last edited by Tom Tildrum; 03-09-2011 at 12:53 AM.
#21
Old 03-09-2011, 01:40 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by j66 View Post

I believe the pronunciation requires pressing the tongue against the back of the palate.

Before going to Vietnam in 1969 I spent a year in DC trying to learn Vietnamese.

As I remember it the ng sound required rolling your tongue up in a ball and then flailing your teeth with it.


Of course it has been a long time and I never did do well with the language. Anytime I tried anything more advanced than hello you could see them going through all the various tones to try and find something that made sense.
#22
Old 03-09-2011, 06:59 AM
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ha that name is almost impossible to pronounce!
#23
Old 03-09-2011, 09:08 AM
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I say if they're going to have unpronounceable names, they have to take what they can get, lol. I know a Vietnamese girl and she pronounces it "Noo - In", rhymes with Schwinn, and that's as close as it gets. What about the name "Phuoc" or "Phuc"? When I worked for a social services agency we had a family with that name and I never did ask how that was pronounced, other than, well ...

Last edited by salinqmind; 03-09-2011 at 09:08 AM.
#24
Old 03-09-2011, 09:37 AM
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I went to school with a girl who had pretty much given up and would write her name as "Twee Wayne".
#25
Old 03-09-2011, 09:53 AM
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Next up: Names in the !Xhosa language.
#26
Old 03-09-2011, 10:09 AM
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[bad taste]
In South Africa, do the Rice Krispies mascots have the same names?
[/sorry]
#27
Old 03-09-2011, 10:31 AM
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Originally Posted by salinqmind View Post
I say if they're going to have unpronounceable names, they have to take what they can get, lol.
It seems to me this statement is incongruous with the topic of this thread, and seems a little culturally hostile. After all, the OP didn't ask "How should Americans pronounce the Vietnamese name 'Nguyen'?"

Quote:
What about the name "Phuoc" or "Phuc"? When I worked for a social services agency we had a family with that name and I never did ask how that was pronounced, other than, well ...
Well, I'm not very good with Vietnamese at all, so when I hear a Vietnamese person say "Phuc," it sounds exactly like you're afraid it's going to sound.
#28
Old 03-09-2011, 10:38 AM
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I'm in the south and I just learned to pronouce this Gwen, like what kenobi said.
#29
Old 03-09-2011, 10:43 AM
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I have a young woman named Nguyen in my legal advocacy class this semester, and she told me it's prounounced "Win."
#30
Old 03-09-2011, 11:45 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rachelellogram View Post
Is it really pronounced "win" in Vietnam, though?
Not really. Vietnamese is a tonal language (like Chinese) and the phonemes in "Nguyen" do not exist in English.

Even if an English learner listens to a native correctly pronouncing "Nguyen" a 100 times, it will be near impossible to get the inflection exactly right unless he started learning the sing-song aspect of the language as a child.

The words "win" or "when" are usable approximations for English speakers. Likewise, Spanish folks don't expect us to roll the r's and Germans allow us to pronounce "Bach" as "bok" instead of trying to eek out a non-existent "ch" sound. The pronunciation barriers work both ways -- we cut the Nguyen's some slack when they can't pronounce anything with a hard "r" sound (e.g. "world")
#31
Old 03-09-2011, 11:51 AM
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Originally Posted by pancakes3 View Post
i knew a girl who had Ng as her surname. supposed to be pronounced "wee" but... wasn't.
Someone with that name told me it was pronounced Eng. Another coworker pronounced it Noodge.
#32
Old 03-09-2011, 12:04 PM
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One of my employees is of Vietnamese descent and has that last name. I suppose its an Americanized pronunciation but he says it like "New-gin", almost like Nugent, except without the "t".
#33
Old 03-09-2011, 12:30 PM
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There's a lot of them around here, and I've heard it as both NOOwin, and nWIN. But always with the "N" sound at the start.
#34
Old 03-09-2011, 12:38 PM
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orcenio, when I listen to those files, they are hard to parse. The second especially has a strong "synthetic" reverb going on. It sounds more like a spring going sproing than a word.

Does anyone else notice this? Is it an artifact of the sound file, or actual part of the sing-song aspect mentioned?
#35
Old 03-09-2011, 12:41 PM
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Originally Posted by Irishman View Post
orcenio, when I listen to those files, they are hard to parse. The second especially has a strong "synthetic" reverb going on. It sounds more like a spring going sproing than a word.

Does anyone else notice this? Is it an artifact of the sound file, or actual part of the sing-song aspect mentioned?
Sounds exactly like nWIN to me.
#36
Old 03-09-2011, 12:44 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tdn View Post
Someone with that name told me it was pronounced Eng. Another coworker pronounced it Noodge.
I had two successive bosses in Hong Kong with the surname Ng.

For the boss I liked, it was just like saying the "ng" sound at the end of "wing", but without the "wi".

For the boss I didn't like, it was just like the noise you make when you're taking a big shit.
#37
Old 03-09-2011, 12:50 PM
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NWE-en
#38
Old 03-09-2011, 01:16 PM
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There was a young fellow named Nguyen
Whose name always caused him to gruyen.
He explained, "In Saigon
It's as common as John,
But it has all you Yanks in a spuyen!"
#39
Old 03-09-2011, 01:25 PM
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Vbfeeeqz

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#40
Old 03-09-2011, 01:39 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by orcenio View Post
"new-yin"
Quote:
Originally Posted by DCnDC View Post
"new-win," but said really fast so it often just sounded like "win."
Quote:
Originally Posted by tdn View Post
"New one" ... "Gwen."
Quote:
Originally Posted by Elendil's Heir View Post
"Win."
Quote:
Originally Posted by FoieGrasIsEvil View Post
"New-gin", almost like Nugent, except without the "t".
Quote:
Originally Posted by Leaffan View Post
NOOwin, and nWIN. But always with the "N" sound at the start.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Leaffan View Post
Sounds exactly like nWIN to me.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sitnam View Post
NWE-en
If the question is "What is the best approximation of the Vietnamese family name Nguyen for English speakers?" then these answers can be in play.

If the question is "How do native Vietnamese pronounce the surname Nguyen?" then all of these answers are irrelevant. In fact, any answer that tries to substitute English phonemes for Vietnamese ones that don't exist in English are going to be wrong.

Any correct answer must reference Vietnamese phonology -- [ŋʷjə̌ˀn]

Now, I know intellectually what it means, but I can't really pronounce it. And even if I get a native speaker of Vietnamese to say it for me, I'm not going to catch all the phonologically significant aspects of the pronunciation.

To really understand the answer to the OP's you have to engage in a study of Vietnamese phonology. Only then will you get a correct answer that you can understand.
#41
Old 03-09-2011, 01:54 PM
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Thai has an initial "ng" sound ( ง -- Ngor ngoo ) which I suppose is related to that of Vietnamese (they use same phonetic symbol). As others suggest, there are two problems: learning to pronounce the sound, and learning to hear it.

A way to learn to pronounce it is to start with an English word with "ng" in the middle, like "singer" or "bingo" and drop the initial "si" or "bi"! Pronounce such a residual syllable 20 times every morning, with a native speaker checking for correctness and you'll have it pat in a few days.

Learning to recognize it in another's speech may be more difficult: I've read that phoneme recognition is learned best only as a young child. When alerted to the presence of a pest, I still sometimes have to double-check whether it's a rat ("noo") or snake ("ngoo").
#42
Old 03-09-2011, 02:44 PM
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I've been friends and coworker with many separate Nguyen's over my life, and have asked several directly. They've replied that it is either "win" or "ngwin" as a single syllable. They've said that when they hear "engoowin" or "nuhgoowin" they usually just don't bother to correct the speaker.

*Just confirmed with a Nguyen that I sit next to*
#43
Old 03-09-2011, 03:08 PM
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@charliesheen Charlie Sheen
#Nguyenning
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#44
Old 03-09-2011, 03:11 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GargoyleWB View Post
I've been friends and coworker with many separate Nguyen's over my life, and have asked several directly.
Well, you have to understand that there's often an existing context of politeness and expediency when answering pronunciation questions. If you're the typical American who asks a native person how to pronounce it, you'll get a polite and servicable answer such as...

Quote:
They've replied that it is either "win" or "ngwin" as a single syllable.
... which is perfectly acceptable approximation to avoid repetitious back and forth tedium. It's not as if you're in a foreign language class. You're in a business office or casual setting which is fine for that.

However, if you ask them again in a very explicit way such as, "ok, now tell me how to really pronounce 'Nguyen' such that a blindfolded Vietnamese person could not detect I was an American" and you should get a different sounding answer. It would be an answer that you can't exactly type using English syllables -- you'd have to use those funny phoneme characters that acsenray posted.

The spirit of the OP was asking how native Vietnamese folks actually say it (in Vietnam). The question was not how they American-ize the pronunciation to get past those pleasantries of conversation with English speaking colleagues.

A similar example is when my friend is asked how to pronounce "Jorge." He responds with "George" (like George Washington). Well, his parents actually pronounce it "hor-hay." I sometimes call him "hor-hay" but even that is still not exactly right because his parents say the embedded "r" with native nuances that my mouth can't duplicate.
#45
Old 03-09-2011, 03:45 PM
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Originally Posted by acsenray View Post
If the question is "What is the best approximation of the Vietnamese family name Nguyen for English speakers?" then these answers can be in play.

If the question is "How do native Vietnamese pronounce the surname Nguyen?" then all of these answers are irrelevant. In fact, any answer that tries to substitute English phonemes for Vietnamese ones that don't exist in English are going to be wrong.

Any correct answer must reference Vietnamese phonology -- [ŋʷjə̌ˀn]

Now, I know intellectually what it means, but I can't really pronounce it. And even if I get a native speaker of Vietnamese to say it for me, I'm not going to catch all the phonologically significant aspects of the pronunciation.

To really understand the answer to the OP's you have to engage in a study of Vietnamese phonology. Only then will you get a correct answer that you can understand.
One of my Vietnamese electricians back in the 60s was named Nguyen Van Minh. The first name was impossible for us, so he was just called Minh, which was much easier to approximate. I did learn how to ask a few simple questions, tell time, and count to ten in Vietnamese while I was there, but I'm sure I butchered much of it.
#46
Old 03-09-2011, 04:43 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by acsenray View Post
She's still alive and her name at birth was France Nguyen Van Nga
Off topic, I love that woman's voice.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Leaffan View Post
There's a lot of them around here, and I've heard it as both NOOwin, and nWIN. But always with the "N" sound at the start.
In the 70's I helped some Vietnamese kids learn English, just by letting them hear me talk, someone else interpreted and I helped explain Americanisms. I didnt pick up any Vietnamese but their surname was Nguyen and I recall they pronounced it, nWin.
#47
Old 03-09-2011, 10:29 PM
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Funny thing is, I had little trouble learning. One of my best friends as a child was Bruce Nguyen, and I learned reasonably well. Then again, I do pretty well at accents.
#48
Old 03-09-2011, 11:42 PM
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There's also the issue of what part of Vietnam the person (or person's family) is from. There are quite distinct differences in both the pronunciation of the vowels and consonants and in the number and character of the tones of the different dialects.
#49
Old 03-10-2011, 12:39 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pancakes3 View Post
i knew a girl who had Ng as her surname. supposed to be pronounced "wee" but... wasn't.
I knew someone in school (now giving me Facebook angst), and I always pronounced it as if there was an "i" in front of the "n". I ALSO went to school with a Nguyen. I pronounced it "Nu-jen". Took watching poker to get "win"

Last edited by etv78; 03-10-2011 at 12:43 AM.
#50
Old 03-10-2011, 02:42 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by septimus View Post
A way to learn to pronounce it is to start with an English word with "ng" in the middle, like "singer" or "bingo" and drop the initial "si" or "bi"! Pronounce such a residual syllable 20 times every morning, with a native speaker checking for correctness and you'll have it pat in a few days.
Cantonese has it too. It's not that difficult to pick up really.

Off the top of my head, the Canto word for I or me is "ngoh". And the word for ant is "ngai".

Irrelevant anecdote time: I had an ant infestation. I knew that mosquito repellent was "mun pa soui" and that "mun" was mosquito, and "ngai" meant ant. So I went into a store and asked for "ngai pa soui". The woman in the shop fell around laughing then said in English "you want to buy an ant that is frightened of water?"
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