Hmong language: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Spoken in China, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and USA.
Total speakers over 4 million[1]
Language family Hmong-Mien
  • Hmong
Language codes
ISO 639-1 None
ISO 639-2 hmn
ISO 639-3 variously:
hmn – Hmong (generic)
mww – Hmong Daw (Laos, China)
hmv – Hmong Do (Vietnam)
hmf – Hmong Don (Vietnam)
hnj – Hmong Njua
hmz – Hmong Shua (Vietnam)
hmc – Hmong Central Huishui (China)
hmm – Hmong Central Mashan (China)
hmj – Hmong Chonganjiang (China)
hme – Hmong Eastern Huishui (China)
cqd – Chuanqiandian Cluster Miao
hrm – Horned Miao
sfm – Small Flowery Miao

Hmong (RPA: Hmoob) or Mong (RPA: Moob) is the common name for a group of dialects of the West Hmongic (Chuanqiandian) branch of the Hmong-Mien/Miao-Yao language family spoken by the Hmong people of Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangxi, northern Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos.[2] The total number of speakers worldwide has been estimated to be more than 4 million, including over 200,000 Hmong Americans.[1] Some dialects are mutually intelligible while others are so distinct as to be considered separate languages.



The two dialects described here are known as White Hmong (also called Hmong Der or Hmoob Dawb) and Green Hmong (also called Mong Leng or Moob Leej).[3] These are the two major dialects spoken by Hmong Americans. While mutually intelligible, the dialects differ in both lexicon and certain aspects of phonology. For instance, Green Mong lacks the aspirated /m/ of Hmong Der and has a third nasalized vowel, /ã/. In English, "Hmong" is used to include both Hmong Der and Mong Leng, although some have suggested a compromise, such as: H'Mong, Mhong, or (H)Mong.



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

Front Central Back
oral nasal oral nasal oral nasal
Close i ɨ u
Mid e ɔ ɔ̃
Open a ã
Closing Centering
Close component is front ai
Close component is central  
Close component is back au


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. Bilabial and, in Green Mong, dental stops also distinguish lateral release, a rare feature. The consonant inventory of Hmong is shown in the chart below. (Consonants particular to White Hmong and Green Mong color coded respectively.)

  Bilabial Labio-
Dental Retroflex Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Plain With dental
lateral release
Central Lateral
Nasal Voiceless m̥ˡ       ɲ̥      
Voiced m   n     ɲ      
Plosive Voiceless p pˡʰ   t tˡʰ ʈ ʈʰ c k q ʔ
Voiced       d            
Prenasalized mb m m mbˡʱ   nd n n ndˡʱ ɳɖ ɳɖʱ ɲɟ ɲɟʱ ŋɡ ŋɡʱ ɴɢ ɴɢʱ  
Affricate Voiceless   ts tsʰ   tʂʰ        
Prenasalized       ndz ndzʱ   ɳɖʐ ɳɖʐʱ        
Fricative Voiceless f s ɬ ʂ ç     h
Voiced v   ʐ ʝ    
Approximant l

The laterally released dentals of Green Mong correspond to the voiced dentals of White Hmong.

Syllable structure

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 are prohibited, except that a weak coda [ŋ] may accompany nasal vowels and a weak coda [ʔ] may accompany the low-falling creaky tone.


Hmong is a tone language and makes use of seven distinct tones:

Tone Example[4] Orthographic 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-falling (creaky) tone /pɔ̰/ 'to see' pom
Mid-low (breathy) tone /pɔ̤/ 'grandmother' pog


The Romanized Popular Alphabet (RPA) is the most widely used script for writing White Hmong and Green Mong in the West. It was developed in Laos between 1951 and 1953 by three Western missionaries with the help of several Hmong assistants. Several other scripts have been developed, including other systems with Roman letters based on the Chinese pinyin or the Vietnamese alphabet. There is also Pahawh, a unique writing system developed by Shong Lue Yang, a Hmong spiritual leader from Laos who believed the script to be revealed by God.[5] Another Hmong writing system is the Flower Cloth script. The characters are based on Hmong textiles. It was believed that the Hmong women preserved and hid the writing systems in the Hmong textiles.


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):[6]

(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 White Hmong (Hmoob Dawb):

White Hmong Pronouns
Person: First Second Third
Singular kuv koj nws
Dual wb neb nkawd
Plural peb nej lawv


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.[7]

Serial verb construction

Hmong verbs can be serialized. Two or more verbs can be combined in one clause. It is not uncommon for as many as five verbs to be strung together sharing the same subject.

Example (White Hmong)
Yam zoo tshaj plaws mas, nej yuav tsum mus nrhiav nug xyuas saib luag muaj kev pab hom dab tsi nyob ncig ib cheeb tsam ntawm nej.
thing good most top you must go look-for ask visit see others have way help kind what be-at around environs at you
'The best thing to do is for you to find people who live in your neighborhood who can help you with different things.'


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

Example (White Hmong)
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. The most common of which are:

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

Example: (Green Mong)
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. This is most clear when taab/tab tom occurs in conjunction with the irrealis marker yuav. It should be noted that the taab tom construction is used only when it is not clear from the context that a situation is ongoing or about to begin.

Perfective: sentence/clause + lawm = completed situation

Example (Green and White Hmong)
Kuv noj mov lawm.
I eat rice perf.
'I am finished/I am done eating.'

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

Example (White Hmong)
Tus tub tau rab hneev, nws thiaj mus ua si lawm.
clf. boy get clf. crossbow; he then go play perf.
'The boy got the crossbow and went off to play.'

Another common way to indicate the accomplishment of an action or attainment is by using tau. Tau, as a main verb, means 'to get/obtain.' It takes on different connotations when 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, present, or future is indicated at the discourse level rather than the sentence level. If the situation has taken place in the past, tau + verb translates to the past tense in English.

Example (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.

Example (White Hmong)
Thaum txog peb caug lawm sawv daws thiaj tau hnav khaub ncaws tshiab.
when arrive New Year perf. 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.

Example (Green Mong)
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 made up of a verb followed by an accomplishment verb as in: (White Hmong) nrhiav tau, to look for; caum tau, to chase; yug tau, to give birth.


Future: yuav + verb

Example (Green Mong)
Kuv yuav moog.
I will go.

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

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

Tus Aav tsis paub yuav ua li cas li.
clf. Frog neg. know irrls. do what int.
'The Frog didn't know what to do.'

See also


  1. ^ a b Lemoine, Jacques. "What is the actual number of the (H)mong in the World." Hmong Studies Journal, Vol 6, 2005.
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ White Hmong phonology: Golston, Chris; Phong Yang (2001). "Hmong loanword phonology". in in: C. Féry, A. D. Green, and 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] Green Mong phonology: Smalley, William et al. Mother of Writing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. p. 48-51. See also: Mortensen, David. “Preliminaries to Mong Leng (Hmong Njua) Phonology” Unpublished, UC Berkeley. 2004.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Pahawh Hmong alphabet
  6. ^ Ratliff, Martha (1997). "Hmong-Mien demonstratives and pattern persistence". Mon-Khmer Studies Journal 27: 317–328. Retrieved 2007-06-06. 
  7. ^ Strecker, David and Lopao Vang. White Hmong Grammar. 1986.


  • 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.

Further reading

  • Enwall, Joakim. Hmong Writing Systems in Vietnam: A Case Study of Vietnam's Minority Language Policy. Stockholm, Sweden: Center for Pacific Asian Studies, 1995.

External links


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address