Hmong language

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Hmong / Miao
lus Hmoob / lug Moob / lol Hmongb / 𖬇𖬰𖬞 𖬌𖬣𖬵 / 𞄀𞄄𞄩𞄰𞄏𞄤𞄰𞄬
Native toChina, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.
Native speakers
(3.7 million cited 1995–2009)[1]
not counting Vietnam
Hmong writing: inc. Pahawh Hmong, Nyiakeng Puachue Hmong, multiple Latin standards
Language codes
ISO 639-2hmn Hmong, Mong (China, Laos)
ISO 639-3hmn – inclusive code for the Hmong/Mong/Miao (China, Laos) macrolanguage, including all the following varieties except hmf and hmv.
Individual codes:
hmf – Hmong Don (Vietnam)
hmv – Hmong Dô (Vietnam)
hnj – Mong Njua/Mong Leng (China, Laos), “Blue/Green Hmong” (United States)
mww – Hmong Daw (China, Laos), “White Hmong” (United States)
hmz – Sinicized Miao (Hmong Shua)
hrm – Horned Miao (A-Hmo, China)
sfm – Small Flowery Miao
cqd – Chuanqiandian Cluster Miao (cover term for Hmong in China)
hea – Northern Qiandong Miao
hma – Southern Mashan Miao
hmc – Central Huishui Miao
hmd – Large Flowery Miao
hme – Eastern Huishui Miao
hmg – Southwestern Guiyang Miao
hmh – Southwestern Huishui Miao
hmi – Northern Huishui Miao
hmj – Ge (Chonganjiang Miao)
hml – Luopohe Miao
hmm – Central Mashan Miao
hmp – Northern Mashan Miao
hmq – Eastern Qiandong Miao
hms – Southern Qiandong Miao
hmw – Western Mashan Miao
hmy – Southern Guiyang Miao
huj – Northern Guiyang Miao
muq – Eastern Xiangxi Miao
mmr – Western Xiangxi Miao
Hmong Mien lang.png
Map of Hmong-Mien languages, the West Hmongic language is in purple.
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Hmong / Mong (RPA: Hmoob; Pahawh: 𖬌𖬣𖬵), known as Miao in China,[3] is a dialect continuum of the West Hmongic branch of the Hmongic languages spoken by the Hmong of Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangxi, Hainan, northern Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos.[4] There are some 2.7 million speakers of varieties that are largely mutually intelligible, including over 280,000 Hmong Americans as of 2013.[5] Over half of all Hmong speakers speak the various dialects in China, where the Dananshan (大南山) dialect forms the basis of the standard language.[6] However, Hmong Daw (White) and Mong Njua (Green) are widely known only in Laos and the United States; Dananshan is more widely known in the native region of Hmong.


Mong Njua (Hmoob Ntsuab) and Hmong Daw (Hmoob Dawb) are part of a dialect cluster known in China as Chuanqiandian Miao, that is, "Sichuan–Guizhou–Yunnan Miao", called the "Chuanqiandian cluster" in English (or "Miao cluster" in other languages) as West Hmongic is also called Chuanqiandian, while the variety spoken from Sichuan in China to Thailand and Laos is referred to as the "First Local Variety" (第一土语) of the cluster. Mong Njua and Hmong Daw are just those varieties of the cluster that migrated to Laos; the Western names Mong Njua, Mong Leng, Hmong Dleu/Der, and Hmong Daw are also used in China for various dialects of the Chuanqiandian Miao cluster.

Ethnologue once distinguished only the Laotian varieties (Hmong Daw, Mong Njua), Sinicized Miao (Hmong Shua), and the Vietnamese varieties (Hmong Dô, Hmong Don). The Vietnamese varieties are very poorly known; population estimates are not even available. In 2007, Horned Miao, Small Flowery Miao, and the Chuanqiandian cluster of China were split off from Mong Njua [blu].[7] These varieties are as follows, along with some alternative names ('Ch.' = Chinese name, 'auto.' = autonym [self name]):

  • Hmong/Mong/Miao (China, Laos) macrolanguage (also spoken by minorities in Thailand and the United States) including:
    • Hmong Daw (White Miao, Ch. Bai Miao, auto. Hmoob Dawb; Forest Miao, Hmong Rongd; Hmong Dleu / Hmongb Dleub; in the US, “White Hmong”, frequently just “Hmong”, auto. Hmong Der);
    • Mong Njua (Blue Miao, Green Miao, Ch. Qing Miao; Hmoob Ntsuab / Hmongb Nzhuab; in the US, also “Blue/Green Hmong”, Mong Leng / Len, auto. Moob Leeg; Hmongb Shib)
    • Hmong Shua (Sinicized Miao, auto. Hmongb Shuat);
    • Horned Miao (Ch. Jiao Miao, auto. Hmo or A-Hmo);
    • Small Flowery Miao;
    • the part of the Chuanqiandian Miao cluster located in China.
  • Individual Hmong languages of Vietnam, not considered part of the China/Laos macrolanguage, and possibly forming their own distinct macrolanguage; they are still not very well classified even if they are described by Ethnologue as having a vigorous use (in Vietnam) but without population estimates; they have most probably been influenced by Vietnamese, as well as French (in the former Indochina colonies) and later by American English, and they may be confused with varieties spoken by minorities living today in the United States, Europe or elsewhere in Asia (where their varieties may have been assimilated locally, but separately in each area, with other Hmong varieties imported from Laos and China) :
    • Hmong Dô (Vietnam);
    • Hmong Don (Vietnam, assumed).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that the White and Green dialects "are said to be mutually intelligible to a well-trained ear, with pronunciation and vocabulary differences analogous to the differences between British and American English."[8]

Many of the above names used outside (White Miao, Blue/Green Miao, Flowery Miao, Mong Leng, etc.) are also used in China. Several Chinese varieties may be more distinct than the varieties listed above:

  • Dananshan Miao (Hmong Dou, auto. Hmong Drout Raol, Hmong Hout Lab), the basis of the Chinese standard of the Chuanqiandian cluster
  • Black Miao (Ch. Hei Miao, auto. of subgroups: Hmong Dlob, Hmong Buak / Hmoob Puas)[9]
  • Southern Hmong (auto. of subgroups: Hmongb Shib, Hmongb Nzhuab, Hmongb Lens, Hmongb Dlex Nchab, Hmongb Sad; includes some of Mong Njua above)
  • Northern Hmong (auto. of subgroups: Hmongb Soud, Hmong Be / Hmongb Bes, Hmongb Ndrous)
  • Western Sichuan Miao (Ch. Chuan Miao)

In the 2007 request to establish an ISO code for the Chuanqiandian cluster, corresponding to the "first local dialect" (第一土語) of the Chuanqiandian cluster in Chinese, the proposer made the following statement on mutual intelligibility:

A colleague has talked with speakers of a number of these closely-related lects in the US, in Thailand and in China, and has had many discussions with Chinese linguists and foreign researchers or community development workers who have had extensive contact with speakers of these lects. As a result of these conversations this colleague believes that many of these lects are likely to have high inherent mutual intelligibility within the cluster. Culturally, while each sub-group prides itself on its own distinctives, they also recognize that other sub-groups within this category are culturally similar to themselves and accept the others as members of the same general ethnic group. However, this category of lects is internally varied and geographically scattered and mixed over a broad land area, and comprehensive intelligibility testing would be required to confirm reports of mutual intelligibility throughout the cluster.[10]

Varieties in Laos[edit]

According to the CDC, "although there is no official preference for one dialect over the other, White Hmong seems to be favored in many ways":[8] the Romanized Popular Alphabet (RPA) most closely reflects that of White Hmong (Hmong Daw); most educated Hmong speak White Hmong; and most Hmong dictionaries only include the White Hmong dialect. Moreover, younger generations of Hmong are more likely to speak White Hmong, and speakers of Blue/Green Hmong (Mong Njua) are more likely to learn White Hmong than speakers of White Hmong are to learn Blue/Green Hmong.[8]

Varieties in the United States[edit]

Most Hmong in the United States speak the White Hmong (Hmong Daw) and Hmong Leeg (Moob Leeg) dialects, with about sixty percent speaking White Hmong and about forty percent Hmong Leeg. The CDC states that "though some Hmong report difficulty understanding speakers of a dialect not their own, for the most part, White and Hmong Leeg speakers seem to understand one another".[8]


The three dialects described here are known as Hmong Daw (also called White Miao or Hmong Der),[11] Mong Leeg (also called Leng Miao or Mong Leng),[12] and Dananshan (Standard Chinese Miao).[13] Hmong Daw and Mong Leeg are the two major dialects spoken by Hmong Americans. Although mutually intelligible, the dialects differ in both lexicon and certain aspects of phonology. For instance, Mong Leeg lacks the voiceless/aspirated /m̥/ of Hmong Daw (as exemplified by their names) and has a third nasalized vowel, /ã/; Dananshan has a couple of extra diphthongs in native words, numerous Chinese loans, and an eighth tone.


The vowel systems of Hmong Daw and Mong Leeg are as shown in the following charts. Phonemes particular to each dialect are color-coded respectively:

Hmong Daw and Mong Leng vowels
Front Central Back
oral nasal oral nasal oral nasal
Close i ⟨i⟩
𖬂, 𖬃
ɨ ⟨w⟩
𖬘, 𖬙
u ⟨u⟩
𖬆, 𖬇
Mid e ⟨e⟩
𖬈, 𖬉
ẽ~eŋ ⟨ee⟩
𖬀, 𖬁
Open a ⟨a⟩
𖬖, 𖬗
ã~aŋ ⟨aa⟩
𖬚, 𖬛
ɒ ⟨o⟩
𖬒, 𖬓
ɒ̃~ɒŋ ⟨oo⟩
𖬌, 𖬍
Closing Centering
Close component is front ai ⟨ai⟩
𖬊, 𖬋
𖬔, 𖬕
Close component is central ⟨aw⟩
𖬎, 𖬏
Close component is back au ⟨au⟩
𖬄, 𖬅
𖬐, 𖬑

The Dananshan standard of China is similar. Phonemic differences from Hmong Daw and Mong Leeg are color-coded.

Dananshan Miao vowels
Front Central Back
oral nasal oral nasal oral nasal
Close i (ɨ) u
Mid e en o
Open a
Closing Centering
Close component is front aj ⟨ai⟩
Close component is back aw ⟨au⟩ ⟨ua⟩
əw ⟨ou⟩

Dananshan [ɨ] occurs only after non-palatal affricates, and is written ⟨i⟩, much like Mandarin Chinese. /u/ is pronounced [y] after palatal consonants. There is also a triphthong /jeβ/ ⟨ieu⟩, as well as other i- and u-initial sequences in Chinese borrowings, such as /je, waj, jaw, wen, waŋ/.


Hmong makes a number of phonemic contrasts unfamiliar to English speakers. All non-glottal stops and affricates distinguish aspirated and unaspirated forms, most also prenasalization independently of this. The consonant inventory of Hmong is shown in the chart below. (Consonants particular to Hmong Daw and Mong Leeg are color-coded respectively.)

Hmong Daw and Mong Leeg consonants
Bilabial Labio-
Dental Retroflex Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
plain lateral* plain lateral*
Nasal voiceless ⟨hm⟩
(m̥ˡ) ⟨hml⟩
ɲ̥ ⟨hny⟩
voiced m ⟨m⟩
() ⟨ml⟩
n ⟨n⟩
ɲ ⟨ny⟩
Plosive tenuis p ⟨p⟩
() ⟨pl⟩
t ⟨t⟩
() ⟨dl⟩
ʈ ⟨r⟩
c ⟨c⟩
k ⟨k⟩*** q ⟨q⟩
ʔ ⟨au⟩
aspirated ⟨ph⟩
(pˡʰ) ⟨plh⟩
(tˡʰ) ⟨dlh⟩
ʈʰ ⟨rh⟩
voiced d ⟨d⟩
𖬞𖬰 ⟨dh⟩
prenasalized** ᵐb ⟨np⟩
(ᵐbˡ) ⟨npl⟩
ⁿd ⟨nt⟩
(ⁿdˡ) ⟨ndl⟩
ᶯɖ ⟨nr⟩
ᶮɟ ⟨nc⟩
ᵑɡ ⟨nk⟩
ᶰɢ ⟨nq⟩
ᵐpʰ ⟨nph⟩
(ᵐpˡʰ) ⟨nplh⟩
ⁿtʰ ⟨nth⟩
(ⁿtˡʰ) ⟨ndlh⟩
ᶯʈʰ ⟨nrh⟩
ᶮcʰ ⟨nch⟩
ᵑkʰ ⟨nkh⟩
ᶰqʰ ⟨nqh⟩
Affricate tenuis ts ⟨tx⟩
aspirated tsʰ ⟨txh⟩
tʂʰ ⟨tsh⟩
prenasalized** ⁿdz ⟨ntx⟩
ᶯdʐ ⟨nts⟩
ⁿtsʰ ⟨ntxh⟩
ᶯtʂʰ ⟨ntsh⟩
Continuant voiceless f ⟨f⟩
s ⟨x⟩
ʂ ⟨s⟩
ç ⟨xy⟩
h ⟨h⟩
voiced v ⟨v⟩
l ⟨l⟩
ʐ ⟨z⟩
ʝ ⟨y⟩

The Dananshan standard of China is similar. (Phonemic differences from Hmong Daw and Mong Leeg are color-coded. Minor differences, such as the voicing of prenasalized stops, or whether /c/ is an affricate or /h/ is velar, may be a matter of transcription.) Aspirates, voiceless fricatives, voiceless nasals, and glottal stop only occur with yin tones (1, 3, 5, 7). Standard orthography is added in angled brackets. Glottal stop is not written; it is not distinct from a zero initial. There is also a /w/, which occurs only in foreign words.

Dananshan Miao consonants
Bilabial Labio-
Dental Retroflex Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
plain lateral* plain lateral*
Nasal voiceless ⟨hm⟩ ⟨hn⟩ ɲ̥ ⟨hni⟩
voiced m ⟨m⟩ n ⟨n⟩ ɲ ⟨ni⟩ ŋ ⟨ngg⟩
Plosive tenuis p ⟨b⟩ () ⟨bl⟩ t ⟨d⟩ () ⟨dl⟩ ʈ ⟨dr⟩ k ⟨g⟩ q ⟨gh⟩ (ʔ)
aspirated ⟨p⟩ (pˡʰ) ⟨pl⟩ ⟨t⟩ (tˡʰ) ⟨tl⟩ ʈʰ ⟨tr⟩ ⟨k⟩ ⟨kh⟩
prenasalized** ᵐp ⟨nb⟩ (ᵐpˡ) ⟨nbl⟩ ⁿt ⟨nd⟩ ᶯʈ ⟨ndr⟩ ᵑk ⟨ng⟩ ᶰq ⟨ngh⟩
ᵐpʰ ⟨np⟩ (ᵐpˡʰ) ⟨npl⟩ ⁿtʰ ⟨nt⟩ ᶯʈʰ ⟨ntr⟩ ᵑkʰ ⟨nk⟩ ᶰqʰ ⟨nkh⟩
Affricate tenuis ts ⟨z⟩ ⟨zh⟩ ⟨j⟩
aspirated tsʰ ⟨c⟩ tʂʰ ⟨ch⟩ tɕʰ ⟨q⟩
prenasalized** ⁿts ⟨nz⟩ ᶯtʂ ⟨nzh⟩ ⁿtɕ ⟨nj⟩
ⁿtsʰ ⟨nc⟩ ᶯtʂʰ ⟨nch⟩ ⁿtɕʰ ⟨nq⟩
Continuant voiceless f ⟨f⟩ s ⟨s⟩ ⟨hl⟩ ʂ ⟨sh⟩ ɕ ⟨x⟩ x ⟨h⟩
voiced v ⟨v⟩ l ⟨l⟩ ʐ ⟨r⟩ ʑ ⟨y⟩ (w)

^* The status of the consonants described here as single phonemes with lateral release is controversial. A number of scholars instead analyze them as biphonemic clusters with /l/ as the second element. The difference in analysis (e.g. between /pˡ/ and /pl/) is not based on any disagreement in the sound or pronunciation of the consonants in question, but on differing theoretical grounds. Those in favor of a unit-phoneme analysis generally argue for this based on distributional evidence (i.e. if clusters, these would be the only clusters in the language, although see below) and dialect evidence (the laterally released dentals in Mong Leeg, e.g. /tl/, correspond to the voiced dentals of White Hmong), whereas those in favor of a cluster analysis tend to argue on the basis of general phonetic principles (other examples of labial phonemes with lateral release appear extremely rare or nonexistent[14]).

^** Some linguists prefer to analyze the prenasalized consonants as clusters whose first element is /n/. However, this cluster analysis is not as common as the above one involving /l/.

^*** Only used in Hmong RPA and not in Pahawh Hmong, since Hmong RPA uses latin and Pahawh Hmong doesn't use latin. For example, in Hmong RPA, to write "keeb," you have to follow the order Consonant + Vowel + Tone (CVT), so it is K + ee + b = Keeb, but in Pahawh Hmong, it is just Keeb "𖬀𖬶" (2nd-Stage Version).

Syllable structure[edit]

Hmong syllables have a very simple structure: onsets are obligatory (except in a few particles), nuclei may consist of a monophthong or diphthong, and coda consonants apart from nasals are prohibited. In Hmong Daw and Mong Leeg, nasal codas have become nasal vowels, though they may be accompanied by a weak coda [ŋ]. Similarly, a weak coda [ʔ] may accompany the low-falling creaky tone.

Dananshan has a syllabic /l̩/ (written ⟨l⟩) in Chinese loans, such as lf 'two' and lx 'child'.


Hmong is a tone language and makes use of seven (Hmong Daw and Mong Leeg) or eight (Dananshan) distinct tones.

Tone Hmong Daw example[15] Hmong/Mong spelling
High ˥ /pɔ́/ 'ball' pob
Mid ˧ /pɔ/ 'spleen' po
Low ˩ /pɔ̀/ 'thorn' pos
High-falling ˥˧ /pɔ̂/ 'female' poj
Mid-rising ˧˦ /pɔ̌/ 'to throw' pov
Low checked (creaky) tone ˩
(phrase final: long low rising ˨˩˧)
/pɔ̰̀/ 'to see' pom
Mid-falling breathy tone ˧˩ /pɔ̤̂/ 'grandmother' pog

The Dananshan tones are transcribed as pure tone. However, given how similar several of them are, it is likely that there are also phonational differences as in Hmong Daw and Mong Leeg. Tones 4 and 6, for example, are said to make tenuis plosives breathy voiced (浊送气), suggesting they may be breathy/murmured like the Hmong g-tone. Tones 7 and 8 are used in early Chinese loans with entering tone, suggesting they may once have marked checked syllables.

Because voiceless consonants apart from tenuis plosives are restricted to appearing before certain tones (1, 3, 5, 7), those are placed first in the table:

Dananshan Miao tone
Tone IPA Orthography
1 high falling ˦˧ 43 b
3 top ˥ 5 d
5 high ˦ 4 t
7 mid ˧ 3 k
2 mid falling ˧˩ 31 x
4 low falling (breathy) ˨˩̤ 21 l
6 low rising (breathy) ˩˧̤ 13 s
8 mid rising ˨˦ 24 f

So much information is conveyed by the tones that it is possible to speak intelligibly using musical tunes only; there is a tradition of young lovers communicating covertly this way by playing on a jew's harp (though this method may only convey vowel sounds).[16]


Robert Cooper, an anthropologist, collected a Hmong folktale saying that the Hmong used to have a written language, and important information was written down in a treasured book. The folktale explains that cows and rats ate the book, so, in the words of Anne Fadiman, author of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, "no text was equal to the task of representing a culture as rich as that of the Hmong." Therefore, the folktale states that the Hmong language was exclusively oral from that point onwards.[17]

Natalie Jill Smith, author of "Ethnicity, Reciprocity, Reputation and Punishment: An Ethnoexperimental Study of Cooperation among the Chaldeans and Hmong of Detroit (Michigan)", wrote that the Qing Dynasty had caused a previous Hmong writing system to die out when it stated that the death penalty would be imposed on those who wrote it down.[18]

Since the end of the 19th century, linguists created over two dozen Hmong writing systems, including systems using Chinese characters, the Lao alphabet, the Russian alphabet, the Thai alphabet, and the Vietnamese alphabet. In addition, in 1959 Shong Lue Yang, a Hmong spiritual leader from Laos, created an 81 symbol writing system called Pahawh. Yang was not previously literate in any language. Chao Fang, an anti-Laotian government Hmong group, uses this writing system.[17]

In the 1980s, Nyiakeng Puachue Hmong script was created by a Hmong Minister, Reverend Chervang Kong Vang, to be able to capture Hmong vocabulary clearly and also to remedy redundancies in the language as well as address semantic confusions that was lacking in other scripts. Nyiakeng Puachue Hmong script was mainly used by United Christians Liberty Evangelical Church, a church also founded by Vang, although the script have been found to be in use in Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, France, and Australia.[19] The script bears strong resemblance to the Lao alphabet in structure and form and characters inspired from the Hebrew alphabets, although the characters themselves are different.[20]

Other experiments by Hmong and non-Hmong orthographers have been undertaken using invented letters.[21]

The Romanized Popular Alphabet (RPA), the most widely used script for Hmong Daw and Mong Leeg, was developed in Laos between 1951 and 1953 by three Western missionaries.[17] In the United States Hmong do not use RPA for spelling of proper nouns, because they want their names to be easily pronounced by people unfamiliar with RPA. For instance Hmong in the U.S. spell Hmoob as "Hmong," and Liab Lis is spelled as Lia Lee.[22]

The Dananshan standard in China is written in a pinyin-based alphabet, with tone letters similar to those used in RPA.

Correspondence between orthographies[edit]

The following is a list of pairs of RPA and Dananshan segments having the same sound (or very similar sounds). Note however that RPA and the standard in China not only differ in orthographic rules, but are also used to write different languages. The list is ordered alphabetically by the RPA, apart from prenasalized stops and voiceless sonorants, which come after their oral and voiced homologues. There are three overriding patterns to the correspondences: RPA doubles a vowel for nasalization, whereas pinyin uses ⟨ng⟩; RPA uses ⟨h⟩ for aspiration, whereas pinyin uses the voicing distinction of the Latin script; pinyin uses ⟨h⟩ (and ⟨r⟩) to derive the retroflex and uvular series from the dental and velar, whereas RPA uses sequences based on ⟨t, x, k⟩ vs. ⟨r, s, q⟩ for the same.

RPA Pinyin Vietnamese
aa ang
au âu
aw ơư
e ê
ee eng ênh
oo ong ông
u u
w i ư
RPA Dananshan Vietnamese
c j ch
ch q
nc nj nd
nch nq
d đ
dh đh
dl đr
dlh tl đl
ndl nđr
ndlh nđl
f ph
k g c
kh k kh
nk ng g
nkh nk nkh
Consonants (cont.)
RPA Dananshan Vietnamese
ml mn
hml hmn
hn hn
ny ni nh
hny hni hnh
p b p
ph p ph
np nb b
nph np mf
Consonants (cont.)
RPA Dananshan Vietnamese
pl bl pl
plh pl fl
npl nbl bl
 nplh  npl mfl
q gh k
qh kh qh
nq ngh ng
nqh nkh nkr
r dr tr
rh tr rh
nr ndr r
nrh ntr nr
s sh s
t d t
th t th
nt nd nt
nth nt nth
Consonants (cont.)
RPA Dananshan Vietnamese
ts zh ts
tsh ch tsh
nts nzh nts
ntsh nch ntsh
tx z tx
txh c cx
ntx nz nz
ntxh nc nx
x s x
xy x sh
y z
z r j

There is no simple correspondence between the tone letters. The historical connection between the tones is as follows. The Chinese names reflect the tones given to early Chinese loan words with those tones in Chinese.

Hmoob Moob Hmôngz
平 or A 1 b ˦˧ b ˥ z
2 x ˧˩ j ˥˧ x
上 or B 3 d ˥ v ˧˦ r
4 l ˨˩̤ s g s
去 or C 5 t ˦ (unmarked) ˧
6 s ˩˧̤ g ˧˩̤ l
入 or D 7 k ˧ s ˩ s
8 f ˨˦ m ˩̰ ~ d ˨˩˧ v ~ k

Tones 4 and 7 merged in Hmoob Dawb, whereas tones 4 and 6 merged in Mong Leeg.[23]

Example: lus Hmoob /̤lṳ˧˩ m̥̥õ˦/ (White Hmong) / lug Moob (Mong Leng) / lol Hmongb (Dananshan) / lus Hmôngz (Vietnamese) "Hmong language".


Hmong is an analytic SVO language in which adjectives and demonstratives follow the noun. Noun phrases can contain the following elements (parentheses indicate optional elements):[24]

(possessive) + (quantifier) + (classifier) + noun + (adjective) + (demonstrative)

The Hmong pronominal system distinguishes between three grammatical persons and three numbers – singular, dual, and plural. They are not marked for case, that is, the same word is used to translate both "I" and "me", "she" and "her", and so forth. These are the personal pronouns of Hmong Daw and Mong Leeg:

White Hmong Pronouns
Number: Singular Dual Plural
First kuv wb peb
Second koj neb nej
Third nws nkawd lawv
Green Hmong Pronouns
Number: Singular Dual Plural
First kuv ib peb
Second koj meb mej
Third nwg ob tug puab


Hmong is an isolating language in which most morphemes are monosyllables. As a result, verbs are not overtly inflected. Tense, aspect, mood, person, number, gender, and case are indicated lexically.[25]

Serial verb construction[edit]

Hmong verbs can be serialized, with two or more verbs combined in one clause. It is common for as many as five verbs to be strung together, sharing the same subject.

Here is an example from White Hmong:
Yam zoo tshaj plaws, nej yuav tsum mus nrhiav nug xyuas saib luag muaj kev pab hom dab tsi nyob ncig ib cheeb tsam ntawm nej.
Thing best, you (plural) must go seek, ask, examine, look others have services variations what on tour the area at you (plural)
'The best thing you can do is to explore your neighborhood and find out what services are available.'


Because the verb form in Hmong does not change to indicate tense, the simplest way to indicate the time of an event is to use temporal adverb phrases like "last year," "today," or "next week."

Here is an example from White Hmong:

Nag hmo










{Nag hmo} kuv mus tom khw.

yesterday I go LOC market

'I went to the market yesterday.'


Aspectual differences are indicated by a number of verbal modifiers. Here are the most common ones:

Progressive: (Mong Leeg) taab tom + verb, (White Hmong) tab tom + verb = situation in progress



taab tom






(Mong Leeg)


Puab {taab tom} haus dlej.

they PROG drink water

'They are drinking water.'

Taab/tab tom + verb can also be used to indicate a situation that is about to start. That is clearest when taab/tab tom occurs in conjunction with the irrealis marker yuav. Note that the taab tom construction is not used if it is clear from the context that a situation is ongoing or about to begin.

Perfective: sentence/clause + lawm = completed situation









(Leeg and White Hmong)


Kuv noj mov lawm.

I eat rice PERF

'I am finished/I am done eating rice.' / 'I have already eaten "rice".'

Lawm at the end of a sentence can also indicate that an action is underway:

















ua si




(White Hmong)


Tus tub tau rab hneev, nws thiaj mus {ua si} lawm.

CLF boy get CLF crossbow he then go play PFV

'The boy got the crossbow and went off to play.' / 'The boy went off to play because he got the bow.'

Another common way to indicate the accomplishment of an action or attainment is by using tau, which, as a main verb, means 'to get/obtain.' It takes on different connotations when it is combined with other verbs. When it occurs before the main verb (i.e. tau + verb), it conveys the attainment or fulfillment of a situation. Whether the situation took place in the past, the present, or the future is indicated at the discourse level rather than the sentence level. If the event took place in the past, tau + verb translates to the past tense in English.











White Hmong)


Lawv tau noj nqaij nyug.

they attain eat meat beef

'They ate beef.'

Tau is optional if an explicit past time marker is present (e.g. nag hmo, last night). Tau can also mark the fulfillment of a situation in the future:











sawv daws








khaub ncaws




(White Hmong)


Thaum txog peb caug lawm {sawv daws} thiaj tau hnav {khaub ncaws} tshiab.

when arrive New Year PFV everybody then attain wear clothes new

'So when the New Year arrives, everybody gets to wear new clothes.'

When tau follows the main verb (i.e. verb + tau), it indicates the accomplishment of the purpose of an action.







ib plag,








tswv yim.


(Mong Leeg)


Kuv xaav xaav {ib plag}, kuv xaav tau {tswv yim}.

I think think awhile, I think get idea

'I thought it over and got an idea.'

Tau is also common in serial verb constructions that are made up of a verb, followed by an accomplishment: (White Hmong) nrhiav tau, to look for; caum tau, to chase; yug tau, to give birth.


Future: yuav + verb:




(Mong Leeg)

Kuv yuav moog.

'I will be going.'

Yuav + verb may also be seen as indicative of the irrealis mood, for situations that are unfulfilled or unrealized. That includes hypothetical or non-occurring situations with past, present, or future time references:





hais tias,




















(from a White Hmong folk tale)


Tus Tsov {hais tias}, "Kuv tshaib tshaib plab li kuv yuav noj koj".

CLF Tiger say, I hungry hungry stomach INT I IRR eat you

'The Tiger said, "I'm very hungry and I'm going to eat you.'



















Tus Qav tsis paub yuav ua li cas li.

CLF Frog NEG know IRR do {} what INT

'The frog didn't know what to do.'

Worldwide usage[edit]

In 2012 McDonald's introduced its first Hmong language advertising in the United States on a commercial billboard in Saint Paul, Minnesota. However it was unintelligible to Hmong speakers due to an incorrect translation.[26] Google Translate introduced support for Hmong Daw (referred to only as Hmong) in May 2013.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hmong / Miao at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Hmong Don (Vietnam) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Hmong Dô (Vietnam) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Mong Njua/Mong Leng (China, Laos), “Blue/Green Hmong” (United States) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Hmong Daw (China, Laos), “White Hmong” (United States) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Sinicized Miao (Hmong Shua) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Horned Miao (A-Hmo, China) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    (Additional references under 'Language codes' in the information box)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "First Vernacular Hmong". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ In China, Hmong is classified as a variety of the Miao languages (苗语), a term that covers all languages spoken by the Miao ethnic group.
    王辅世,苗语方言划分问题. 《民族语文》1983年5期.
  4. ^ Ratliff, Martha (1992). Meaningful Tone: A Study of Tonal Morphology in Compounds, Form Classes, and Expressive Phrases in White Hmong. Dekalb, Illinois: Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Northern Illinois University.
  5. ^ Elizabeth M. Hoeffel; Sonya Rastogi; Myoung Ouk Kim; Hasan Shahid (March 2012). "The Asian Population: 2010" (PDF). 2010 Census Briefs. United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 20 March 2013.
  6. ^ Not of Chinese Miao as a whole for which the standard language is based on Hmu
  7. ^ "2007-188 - ISO 639-3".
  8. ^ a b c d "Chapter 2. Overview of Lao Hmong Culture." (Archive) Promoting Cultural Sensitivity: Hmong Guide. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. p. 14. Retrieved on May 5, 2013.
  9. ^ Note however that "Black Miao" is more commonly used for Hmu.
  10. ^ "ISO 639-3 New Code Request" (PDF). Retrieved 2018-09-30.
  11. ^ Golston, Chris; Phong Yang (2001). "Hmong loanword phonology". In C. Féry; A. D. Green; R. van de Vijver (eds.). Proceedings of HILP 5 (Linguistics in Potsdam 12 ed.). Potsdam: University of Potsdam. pp. 40–57. ISBN 3-935024-27-4. [1]
  12. ^ Smalley, William et al. Mother of Writing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. p. 48-51. See also: Mortensen, David. “Preliminaries to Mong Leng (Mong Njua) Phonology” Unpublished, UC Berkeley. 2004. Archived 29 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ 王辅世主编,《苗语简志》,民族出版社,1985年。
  14. ^ Even the landmark book The Sounds of the World's Languages specifically describes lateral release as involving a homorganic consonant.
  15. ^ Examples taken from: Heimbach, Ernest H. White Hmong–English Dictionary [White Meo-English Dictionary]. 2003 ed. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Southeast Asia Program Publications, 1969. Note that many of these words have multiple meanings.
  16. ^ Robson, David. "The beautiful languages of the people who talk like birds". BBC Future. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
  17. ^ a b c Fadiman, Anne. "Note on Hmong Orthography, Pronunciation, and Quotations." The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1997. 291.
  18. ^ Smith, Natalie Jill. "Ethnicity, Reciprocity, Reputation and Punishment: An Ethnoexperimental Study of Cooperation among the Chaldeans and Hmong of Detroit (Michigan)" (PhD dissertation). University of California, Los Angeles, 2001. p. 225. UMI Number: 3024065. Cites: Hamilton-Merritt, 1993 and Faderman [sic], 1998
  19. ^ Ian James & Mattias Persson. "New Hmong Script". Retrieved April 7, 2018. This excellent script has been used by members of the United Christians Liberty Evangelical church in America for more than 25 years, in printed material and videos.
  20. ^ Everson, Michael (2017-02-15). "L2/17-002R3: Proposal to encode the Nyiakeng Puachue Hmong script in the UCS" (PDF).
  21. ^ Hmong Language online encyclopedia.
  22. ^ Fadiman, Anne. "Note on Hmong Orthography, Pronunciation, and Quotations." The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1997. 292.
  23. ^ Mortensen (2004)
  24. ^ Ratliff, Martha (1997). "Hmong–Mien demonstratives and pattern persistence" (PDF). Mon–Khmer Studies Journal. 27: 317–328. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-09-23. Retrieved 2007-06-06. ()
  25. ^ Strecker, David and Lopao Vang. White Hmong Grammar. 1986.
  26. ^ Melo, Frederick. "St. Paul: McDonald's Hmong pitch mangles language." Twin Cities Pioneer Press. September 2, 2012. Updated on September 3, 2012. Retrieved on May 10, 2013.
  27. ^ Donald Melanson (8 May 2013). "Google Translate adds five more languages to its repertoire". Engadget. Retrieved 22 February 2018.


  • Cooper, Robert, Editor. The Hmong: A Guide to Traditional Lifestyles. Singapore: Times Editions. 1998. pp. 35–41.
  • Finck, John. "Clan Leadership in the Hmong Community of Providence, Rhode Island." In The Hmong in the West, Editors, Bruce T. Downing and Douglas P. Olney. Minneapolis, MN: Southeast Asian Refugee Studies Project, Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, University of Minnesota, 1982, pp. 22–25.
  • Thao, Paoze, Mong Education at the Crossroads, New York: University Press of America, 1999, pp. 12–13.
  • Xiong Yuyou, Diana Cohen (2005). Student's Practical Miao–Chinese–English Handbook / Npout Ndeud Xof Geuf Lol Hmongb Lol Shuad Lol Yenb. Yunnan Nationalities Publishing House, 539 pp. ISBN 7-5367-3287-2.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]