Vietnamese is spoken mainly along the coastal plains, river deltas, and adjacent highlands of the eastern portion of the Indo-Chinese Peninsula. The 59 million people who speak Vietnamese (Grimes 1992) live mainly in Vietnam and the adjacent countries of Southeast Asia. Vietnamese is the official language of Vietnam. As a result of economic and cultural development, particularly in the north, Vietnamese is also widely used as a second language by many of the mountain-dwelling ethnic minorities and in neighboring countries like Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand, where significant Vietnamese populations exist.
A significant number of Vietnamese speakers live overseas, notably in the United States (600,000), France (10,000), and, to a lesser extent, in Canada, Australia, Senegal, and Cote d’Ivoire (Grimes 1992).
Vietnamese is one of approximately 150 languages belonging to the Austro Asiatic family of languages. The question of Vietnamese’s classification is still being debated (Earle 1975). One of the three branches of the Austro Asiatic family is Viet-Muong (or Annam-Muong), to which Vietnamese and its sister language Muong (spoken in the Midlands) belong.