co-rep is a Vietnamese word from French word for crepe

Phô Mai vs Fromage: Vietnamese Words with French Origins

“Pho mát” (foh-mai; up-tone) or “phô mai” (flat-tone) cheese

Travelers to Vietnam will see “phô mai” everywhere in Vietnam. The word is a Vietization of the French word for cheese: fromage.

If this seems strange, well, there are several interesting lessons in the “pho mát vs fromage” phenomenon that can help you learn the Vietnamese language. In particular, the R-omission and end-consonant-elision can help you physically align your tongue with what Vietnamese people consider natural and normal.

Drop R Sounds

First, consider how the French r in “fromage” has been dropped (albeit, it was barely present in French anyway). The Vietnamese basically hate the sound “r” and either drop it, or replace it with a “z” sound (read more about the lazy r-as-zee here).

This R-apocalypse happens to all the foriegn words that are adapted into the Vietnamese language, such as “cream” (which becomes “kem” in Vietnamese) and “yogurt” (which is colloquially called “ya ua”).

End-Consonant Elisions in Vietnamese

“Would you like some ‘eye’?”

The French language, like Vietnamese, is famous for its silent “t” at the end of words. Vietnamese does this as well: consonants at the end of words are rare and optional. If present, they are basically spoken as some vague indistinct noise-sound.

For example, “ice” loses the sss sound at the end of the word and is pronounced “eye” (hence, this answers the question about why Vietnamese waiters are offering you some “eye” with your coca-cola). Likewise, the “-mage” at the end of fromage is pronounced in Vietnamese.

Most Vietnamese-native words follow the same principle of elision. It is especially true for imported foreign words. Basically, just ignore the end-consonants of words, like an even lazier Frenchman.

List of French Words that have been Vietized

Here is a big fun list of words are French in origin. Say them aloud, repeatedly, and your tongue will slowly gravitate to a natural Vietnamese accent.

  • fromage (phô mai): cheese
  • bière (bia): beer
  • café (cà phê): coffee
  • jambon (giăm bông): ham
  • balcon (ban công): balcony
  • ballot (ba lô): backpack, napsack
  • béton (bê tông): ciment
  • chou-fleur (súp lơ): cauli flower
  • chou-rave (su hào): kohlrabi
  • clé (cờ lê): wrench
  • compas (com pa): compass
  • complet (com lê): suit
  • cravate (cà vạt, ca-ra-vát): tie
  • cresson (cải xoong): watercress
  • crème (kem, cà rem): ice cream
  • feu (phở): the famous beef-broth noodle dish (read more)

Pho Mát Versus Phô Mai

Both spellings and pronuciations are comon in Vietnam. You can say: phô mai, pho mai, pho mát, or phô mát. Phô mai is probably the most common.

Why are there so many spellings and tonal-variations to cheese? Recall that cheese is a distinctly Western food, which came to Vietnam during of French colonialism. And because everyone loves cheese, the Vietized-word became integrated into many local dialects before their was a modern, official Vietnamese dictionary.

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