Hmong is a Hmong-Mien language of South-East Asia. It is spoken in Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and in the South of China. Many Hmong people fought on the side of the United States during the Vietnam war, and were persecuted by the Communists after the war ended. For this reason, many left their ancestral lands and moved to the US, Thailand, and France. A large number of Hmong lived near me when I was living in Northern California.
The Hmong language has several dialects, which have very interesting - colorful - names. These can be found in the Hmong-Mien family tree below. Most Hmong in my area speak the dialect called White Hmong (Hmoob dawb, called variously White Hmong, Hmong Daw, and Hmong Der), although some speak Green Mong (Mong Leng/Mong Njua).
(The paragraph to follow is out of date.)
There isn't a lot of material available for English speakers who want to learn Hmong, but the situation is slowly improving. I have tried to collect resources here for the benefit of those who are interesting in the Hmong language, either as language learners or as linguists. I think Hmong is a very interesting and worthwhile language in and of itself. In my area it is most certainly a living language, and I would like to see it stay that way. I hope that this summer I will be able to work with the Hmong community to create some new language learning materials for English speakers who want to learn the language. In addition to promoting communications between English and Hmong speakers, high-quality language learning materials in English will help to ensure the survival of the Hmong language in the USA. I am still waiting to find a full grammar of Hmong in English. If one does not already exist, it ought to be written. In addition to the obvious benefits to Hmong language learners and native speakers, it would help to facilitate typological linguistic work that might not otherwise be done.
Speaking of typology: Hmong is an analytic language with the basic word order Subject-Verb-Object. Adjectives - which are really stative verbs - follow the noun they modify. Hmong is tonal and mainly monosyllabic. It possesses a formidable inventory of stop consonants which can be daunting to an English speaker.
Hmong is a language with many names, which is one of the reason it can be so hard to find information about it. The many names of Hmong include:
- Hmong From the White Hmong word Hmoob [m̥ɔ́ŋ] (Said [m̥ʌ́ŋ] by the Hmong I know). In my area, this is the preferred name for the people and the language. Although it's from the White Hmong word , most Green Hmong accept it as well.
- Mong Based on the Green Mong pronunciation of the cognate word, Moob. [mɔ́ŋ]
- H'Mong, Mhong, (H)Mong, H/Mong Attempts to create a spelling compromise between White Hmong "Hmong" and Green Mong "Mong".
- Meo, Maeo Based on the Thai word for the Hmong, [mɛ́ːw]. Reportedly offensive to some Hmong, it was nonetheless often used in the titles of a number of early publications on the language.
- Miao From the Chinese word for Hmong. (苗 according to my dictionary.) This is fairly common in the literature, even today. However, this word is also sometimes considered offensive. (A Mandarin-speaking friend informs me that 苗 also means "[plant] sprout" in Chinese. I don't know how that situation came about etymologically.)
The Hmong-Mien Family of Languages
Hmong-Mien is one of the world's primary language families, although some linguists group it into an Austric super-family.
In the journal Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area 10.2, David Strecker gives this arrangement for the Hmong-Mien family:
- Hmongic (Miao)
- West Hunan group or QoXiong language; Northern Hmongic
- East Guizhou group or Mhu language; Eastern Hmongic
- Sichuan-Guizhou-Yunnan group; Western Hmongic
- Sichuan-Guizhou-Yunnan subgroup This includes White and Green Hmong.
- Northeastern Yunnan subgroup
- Guiyang subgroup
- Huishui subgroup
- Mashan subgroup
- Luobo River subgroup
- Eastern or Zhong'an River subgroup
- Pingtang subgroup
- Qianxi-Pingba-Qingzhen-Liuzhi subgroup
- Luodian Moyin subgroup
- Dushan subgroup
- Luodian Pingyan subgroup
- Ziyun-Zhenning subgroup
- Wangmo subgroup
- Wangmo-Luodian subgroup
- Pu-Nao subgroup
- Pu Nu
- Nu Nu
- Pu No
- Nao Klao
- Nu Mhou
- Pa Hng
- Hm Nai
- Kiong Nai
- Yu Nuo
- Ho Nte (She)
- Western/Lianhua dialect
- Eastern/Luofu dialect
- Mienic (Yao)
- Biao Mon
- Biao Min
- Chao Kong Meng
- Dzao Min
- Uncertain Classification
- Na-e (Pateng)
In the article A Brief Description of the Miao Language (in Miao and Yao Linguistic Studies 1972, translated from Chinese), Miao (Hmong) is placed in the "Miao-Yao family of the Sino-Tibetan phylum," and is divided on the basis of "differences in phonology, lexicon, and grammatical features" in this way:
- Xiang Xi dialect In China, it is spoken in Hua Yuan, Feng Huang, Ji Shou, Gu Zhang, Lü Qi and Bao Jing in Hunan, and in the Song Tao Miao Autonomous District in Kweichow. 440,000 speakers estimated sometime prior to 1972. It has two subdialects.
- Qian Dong dialect Also spoken in China, mainly in the districts of Kai Li, Lei Shan, Ma Jiang, Huang Ping, Jian He, Jin Ping, Li Ping, Cong Jiang, and Rong Jiang in Kweichow; in the Ta Miao Shan Miao Autonomous district and the San Jiang Tong Autonomous district in the Kwangsi Chuang Autonomous qu. It has three subdialects and 900,000 speakers.
- Chuan Qian Dian dialect Spoken mainly in southern Szechwan, western and south-central Kweichow, eastern Yunnan, and the western part of the Kwangsi Chuang Autonomous qu. this dialect has seven subdialects and 1,150,000 speakers.
For yet another alternate view, check out Ethnologue's Hmong-Mien family tree, which can be found here.
Although the Hmong in the US are almost all White or Green Hmong, there are many more groups. Lyman gives this system of H/Mong ethnic groups in his Grammar of Mong Njua, some of which have very interesting names indeed. Presumably, some of these are exonyms used by the Green Mong (not what the named groups call themselves), but I am not sure:
- móŋ ñjúa The Green Miao, Blue Miao. Also called [móŋ le̊ŋ]. [Note: Lyman uses the ring above for the low falling breathy voiced tone.] (Thailand)
- móŋ pù From [pù] To close up an opening; To bake.
- móŋ kláw The White Miao (In Thailand)
- móŋ qùa.mbáŋ The Banded-Sleeve Miao (Chingkham, Chiangrai Province, Thailand)
- móŋ yáo chúa The Striped Miao (Absorbed by Green and White Miao?)
- móŋ qhǎo.táu The Pumpkin-Hole Miao (China)
- móŋ pẘ The Tame Miao (China) [Note: Lyman uses the ring above for the low falling breathy voiced tone -g.]
- móŋ nâo.ne̊ŋ The Man-Eating [!] Miao (China)
- móŋ te̟ŋ.ka̟u The Amulet Miao [Lyman uses plus above for the -m tone. There isn't a plus above diacritic in Unicode, so I've used a plus below.] (China)
- móŋ chɨ́ The White-Skinned Miao (China)
- móŋ šǔa The Sinicized Miao (China)
- móŋ tua.ñû The Oxen-Killing Miao (China)
- móŋ ñɖâu.klě The Dog-Mouth Miao (Uncertain Location)
Finding information about Hmong, particularly about grammar and dialects other than White and Green H/Mong, is a difficult task. I wish you the best in this endeavor. To assist the scholar studying Hmong, here is some information about Hmong related publications I have found:
- Miao and Yao Linguistic Studies A collection of scholarly linguistics articles translated from Chinese by Chang Yü-hung and Chu Kwo-ray, edited by Herbert C. Purnell Jr. It was published by Cornell University in 1972. It contains the articles "A Brief Description of the Miao Language" and "A Brief Description of the Yao Language," both of which are very interesting.
- Hmong and Areal South-East Asia An article, published in 1989 in a book I found in the UC Berkely library titled Papers in South-East Asian Linguistics. Written by Marybeth Clark, it discusses the areal features of Laotian White Hmong and other South-East Asian languages around it, like tones, being basically monosyllabic, classifiers, serial verbs, and the like. It describes quite a bit of Hmong grammar, and is worth reading for the student of Hmong for that reason alone, even if he or she is not interested in the specific subject of the paper.
- Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area This scholarly journal occasionally publishes articles about Hmong-Mien languages. Of great interest is issue 10.2 (Fall 1987), which was a special issue on Hmong-Mien. A wealth of interesting articles are contained within, such as:
- The Hmong-Mien Languages (Strecker)
- Early Miao-Yao/Tibeto-Burman Loan Relationships (Benedict)
- An Investigation of Two Alveolar Stop Consonants in White Hmong (Jarkey)
- Tone Sandhi Compounding in White Hmong (Ratliff)
- Lexical and Phonological Sources of Hmong Elaborate Expressions (Jones & Strecker)
- Topic Markers in Hmong (Fuller)
- The Word nzǐ in Green Hmong (Lyman)
- White Hmong Language Lessons By Doris Whitelock. Originally written for missionaries learning Hmong and living in Hmong villages, it is the pedagogical resource for English speaking non-linguists who want to learn Hmong. It supposes that a Hmong informant (language teacher) is available to the student. It also originally had an audio tape. This tape was lost prior to the 1982 reprint. I hope to have a new tape recorded soon, as well as updating the typesetting, but no promises. The material is in the public domain, and I've placed it online here (3.9Mb PDF file). I payed over forty dollars for this, obtaining one of only two copies available online at the time. If you feel so inclined, I'd be happy if you sent me some money via PayPal (email@example.com) to support my Hmong research.
- A Grammar of Mong Njua (Green Miao) By Thomas Amis Lyman. The only grammar of a Hmongic language in English that my research has turned up so far. It is rather brief and Professor Lyman uses some grammatical terminology that will be unfamiliar to many readers, as per his belief that non-Western languages shouldn't be forced into a Western mold. (I agree with this but I think he takes it too far - you may feel differently.) It is supplemented by a number of texts with interlinear glosses and free translations, which make up about half of the book's 100 or so pages. I haven't been able to acquire a copy for my library, this information is based of my incomplete photocopy from the one at UC Berkeley's library. You can find it there in the stacks, around PL3300 (which is down on the D level). Despite the minor shortcomings of being too short and using excess novel terminology, this is still a must-read. Lyman also wrote a dictionary. You can get that dictionary here (13 Mb PDF file).
- Meaningful Tone: A Study of Tonal Morphology in Compounds, Form Classes, and Expressive Phrases in White Hmong By Martha Ratliff. Has quite a bit of useful information about Hmong besides just the topics in the title. I haven't finished reading it yet.
- English-White Hmong Dictionary By Brian McKibben. The language of the dictionary is English, for translating from English to White Hmong. It was apparently self-published and it has had several printings. Basically, this is the English-Hmong dictionary in English.
- White Hmong-English Dictionary By Ernest E. Heimbach, a very significant figure in the study of Hmong. It was originally titled White Meo-English Dictionary and you should look for it under that name as well if you're searching for a copy. Another must-have for anyone studying Hmong. It has helpful appendices of various sorts, pronunciation information (including a tone diagram that seems to have been uncritically propagated by nearly every author on Hmong since), and some very limited grammar information. You should be able to find a paper copy, but if not, here is a copy online (13Mb PDF file) of the 1969 edition.
- English-Mong-English Dictionary By Xiong Partnership Productions. I don't have a copy, only a partial photocopy, but there is a copy in the Library of Yuba College among other places. You should be able to buy it online as well. It has a Grammar section, which, while exceedingly brief, does contain some useful information. (Although it was not apparently prepared by a professional linguist and it is heavily colored by English grammatical concepts.) It contains both English-Mong and Mong-English sections.
- The Syntax of Hmong: the Uses of Particles in Discourse Karen Gaynor Bleske's 2003 MA thesis. In addition to the topic in the title, it contains quite a bit of general information on the Hmong language and lots of glossed and parsed sentences. It seems to be unpublished, but you can borrow a copy from the library at California State University Chico.
In the future, I plan to put my Hmong research and other information on my website here as it become available. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I mail out status updates on my Hmong language research from time to time, just ask and I'll put you on my list. I also have some data (recordings of word lists, Hmong public speaking, etc) that I may be willing to share if you're interested.