Where do different languages come from? Who speaks them? How are they unique? How do they change and evolve over time, becoming the “modern” languages spoken and written today? These are just some of the ideas we’ll explore in our new blog topic: Language Spotlight. We’ve chosen Hmong as our first language, and if you have any suggestions for subsequent languages you’d like to see in the spotlight, please let us know!
The Hmong (“mung”) are an Asian tribal culture who have lived primarily in the countries of Laos, China, Vietnam and Thailand. After fighting for the United States in the Vietnam War, many Hmong were forced to flee their Southeast Asian homeland, and chose to settle in America to avoid oppression and persecution in Asia. There are approximately 200,000 Hmong living in the United States, and their numbers are concentrated in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and California. The total number of Hmong speakers worldwide is estimated to be about four million, including those in America.
Did you know that for generations the Hmong had no written language? There were no written texts, no alphabet, and knowledge and culture were passed from generation to generation through spoken language only, often in the form of folktales and song. In the 1950s, Western missionaries worked with Hmong advisors to develop a way to write Hmong words using the letters from the French, English and German languages. This was called the Romanized Popular Alphabet, or RMA. The idea behind this was to be able to create a written Hmong language that used common Western letters, without having to rely on a lot of elaborate characters. Today, the RMA is the most widely used writing system for Hmong.
The two major dialects spoken by Hmong Americans are known as White and Green. While mutually understandable, these two dialects differ somewhat in both lexicon and phonology. The Hmong language is monosyllabic, tonal, with a variety of dialects. Hmong shares some characteristics with several other Asian languages, including Chinese and Vietnamese.
For information about Hmong translation, click here.