Vietnamese (tiếng Việt) is the national, official language of Vietnam. It is the native language of Vietnamese people (Kinh), and of about three million Vietnamese residing elsewhere. It also is spoken as a first or second language by many ethnic minorities of Vietnam.
It is part of the Austroasiatic language family of which it has, by far, the most speakers (several times that of the other Austroasiatic languages combined). Much of Vietnamese vocabulary has been borrowed from Chinese, and it formerly used a modified set of Chinese characters called chữ nôm given vernacular pronunciation. As a byproduct of French colonial rule, Vietnamese was influenced by the French language; the Vietnamese alphabet (quốc ngữ) in use today is a Latin alphabet with additional diacritics for tones, and certain letters.
As the national language of the major ethnic group, Vietnamese is spoken throughout Vietnam by the Vietnamese people, as well as by ethnic minorities. It also is spoken in overseas Vietnamese communities, most notably in the United States, where it has more than one million speakers and is the seventh most-spoken language (it is third in Texas, fourth in Arkansas and Louisiana, and fifth in California). It is the sixth most-spoken language in Australia.
According to the Ethnologue, Vietnamese also is spoken by substantial numbers of people in Cambodia, Canada, China, Côte d'Ivoire, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Laos, Martinique, the Netherlands, New Caledonia, Norway, the Philippines, the Russian Federation, Senegal, Taiwan, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and Vanuatu.
Vietnamese was identified more than 150 years ago as part of the Mon–Khmer branch of the Austroasiatic language family (a family that also includes Khmer, spoken in Cambodia, as well as various tribal and regional languages, such as the Munda and Khasi languages spoken in eastern India, and others in southern China). Later, Mường was found to be more closely related to Vietnamese than other Mon–Khmer languages, and a Việt-Mường sub-grouping was established. As data on more Mon–Khmer languages were acquired, other minority languages (such as Thavưng, Chứt languages, Hung, etc.) were found to share Việt-Mường characteristics, and the Việt-Mường term was renamed to Vietic. The older term Việt-Mường now refers to a lower sub-grouping (within an eastern Vietic branch) consisting of Vietnamese dialects, Mường dialects, and Nguồn (of Quảng Bình Province).