Red river, pink river in Hanoi

Ever wondered why the Red River in Ha Noi is so called?

In Vietnamese, the ‘Sông Hồng’, which creates the bend in which Ha Noi is built, translates confusingly as ‘pink river’. This apparent anomaly has occurred because the Red River originates in China where ‘hong’ means red, not pink. So at one end, the river is literally red but at the other end is literally pink.*

The influence of Chinese (Mandarin) is widely evidenced throughout the Vietnamese language in the same way that French (from the Normans) has been adopted into English. It’s estimated that some 30% of English words have their roots in French. For example, passport, restaurant, entrepreneur etc. etc. The list goes on and on.

It’s pretty much the same with Vietnamese and Mandarin evidently.

I once went to Times City to visit the aquarium there. Going down the elevator, I subconsciously decided that the signs would say ‘nhà cá’ (fish house) since Vietnamese is such a logical language. On complaining to the wife that I couldn’t see any signs for the aquarium, she pointed to a sign that said, “thủy công”. This comes from Mandarin, too, and literally means ‘water palace’.

To be honest, I preferred my rendering of aquarium into tieng Viet, but sometimes you just have to go with convention.

*  This could be complete bollocks. I am open to correction.


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