Tây Bồi

Tây Bồi, is a term used for a type of verbal communication which consists of French words mixed with Vietnamese words spoken by non French-educated Vietnamese, usually those who worked as servants in French households or milieux. Literally, it means "French (Tây) [of- or spoken by] male servants (Bồi)". During the French colonization period, French people had male household servants, due probably to the fact that no Vietnamese would ever think of letting their daughters/sisters/wives work for foreigners. The term is used by Vietnamese themselves to indicate that the French language spoken is very poor, incorrect, and ungrammatical.

Tây Bồi is perhaps the Vietnamese equivalent of the term "Français petit nègre" ("little negro French", literally) which refers to the same rudimentary broken French spoken by uneducated natives or hired help or servants in French African colonies.

"Bồi" is the phonetized word for the English word "boy", borrowed from British colonial culture. In the American South, the word was also used to refer to male servants, and is still used today in a pejorative or joking way.

One should note that the French government/colonizers or protectors opened French public schools [from pre-kindergarten through the Baccalaureat II] to take care of their compatriots/expatriates' children's education. The staff was all French. Vietnamese children were admitted also, if they could pass an entrance examination, tailored to their age and grade level. The Vietnamese elite class spoke French well, and those with French Baccalaureat diplomas could attend French universities in France and in its colonies. Today, in Vietnam, standard (Picard) French is taught in some schools as a second language.

Tây Bồi is remarkably close to the stereotypical "broken" French spoken by foreign characters, such as in comics.


Tây Bồi Standard French Literal English English
Moi faim J'ai faim Me hunger I am hungry
Moi tasse Ma tasse Me cup My cup
Lui avoir permission repos Il a la permission de se reposer He have permission rest [noun] He has permission to rest
Demain moi retour campagne Demain, je retourne à la campagne Tomorrow me return [noun] countryside Tomorrow, I return to the countryside
Vous pas argent moi stop travail Si vous ne me payez pas, j'arrêterai de travailler You no money me stop work If you don't pay me, I'll stop working
Monsieur content aller danser Monsieur est content d'aller danser Mister happy to go to dance The gentleman is happy to go dance
Lui la frapper Il la frappe He her to hit He hits her
Bon pas aller Bon, n'y vas pas Good, not to go Good, don't go
Pas travail Je ne travaillerai pas Not work [noun] I won't work
Assez, pas connaître Assez, je n'en sais rien Enough, not to know Enough, I don't know
Moi compris toi parler J'ai compris ce que tu as dit Me understood you to speak I've understood what you've said
(Bickerton 1995: 163)

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