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5 Fascinating Language Facts: Hmong

The Hmong are an ethnic group that originated in China’s Yellow River Basin. Throughout their history, they faced persecution and displacement. Today, Hmong people live in Vietnam, China, Thailand, and America.

Hmong is part of the Chuanqiandian Cluster, a branch of the Chinese Miao language. More than 2.7 million people speak Hmong worldwide.

Want to learn more?

Let’s look at some interesting facts about the Hmong language.

1. It was once illegal to write in Hmong.

In the 1600s, the Qing Dynasty made it illegal to write the Hmong language. So, Hmong became an oral language. In the 1950s, a Christian missionary created a new written Hmong language based on the Romanized Popular Alphabet. An illiterate peasant name Shong Lue Yang also created a written Hmong language in 1959.

2. The two main Hmong dialects are named after clothing colors.

Hmong Daw (White Hmong) and Mong Njua (Green Hmong) are the two main Hmong dialects. These dialects were named after the colors traditionally worn by the women in each group. Dananshan is a third Hmong dialect. Most Hmong Americans speak either the white or green dialect.

3. Most Hmong words contain one syllable.

Hmong words are short and contain one syllable. Most share the same basic pattern of a consonant group followed by a vowel. Sometimes, the word ends in another consonant. A few other monosyllabic languages are found throughout Southeast Asia. Most monosyllabic languages, like Hmong, are tonal. The tones help distinguish the meanings of these short words.

4. There are 8 distinct Hmong tones.

As we mentioned, Hmong and many other Southeast Asian languages are tonal. One word can take on different meanings depending on how it is pronounced. For example, the Hmong word paw can mean “female”, “to see”, or “pancreas.” There are 8 distinct Hmong tones used to pronounce words. The last letter in a written Hmong word specifies the tone.

5. Hmong verbs act differently than English verbs.

Most English sentences contain one verb to describe the noun’s action. In Hmong, you can use a string of verbs in the same sentence. An English sentence might read: “I jumped over the puddle.” The same Hmong sentence might say: “I jumped, hopped, lept, sprung over the puddle.”

Hmong verbs also don’t change tense like English verbs. Instead, the Hmong language relies on adverbs to signify time.

Now that you know more about this language, try saying some basic Hmong phrases:

Hello: Nyob zoo (pronounced Nyaw zhong)
Good-bye: Sib ntsib dua (pronounced She jee doua)
Thank you: Ua tsaug (pronounced Oua jow)

Hmong is an ancient language still spoken today throughout Southeast Asia and America. If you’re interested in learning more about Hmong or other languages, please visit for details on our language training, testing, translation, and interpretation services.

Stephanie Brown is a New York City-based travel blogger and freelance content creator. You can find her at The Adventuring Millennial.

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