Hmong–Mien languages

The Hmong–Mien (also known as Miao–Yao) languages are a highly tonal language family of southern China and northern Southeast Asia. They are spoken in mountainous areas of southern China, including Guizhou, Hunan, Yunnan, Sichuan, Guangxi, and Hubei provinces, where its speakers have been relegated to being "hill people", whereas the neighboring Han Chinese have settled the more fertile river valleys.

China, Southeast Asia
Linguistic classificationOne of the world's primary language families
ISO 639-5hmx
Hmongic languages in red, Mienic languages in green


Hmong (Miao) and Mien (Yao) are closely related, but clearly distinct. For internal classifications, see Hmongic languages and Mienic languages. The largest differences are due to divergent developments in the phonology. The Hmongic languages appear to have kept the large set of initial consonants featured in the protolanguage but greatly reduced the distinctions in the syllable finals, in particular eliminating all medial glides and final consonants. The Mienic languages, on the other hand, have largely preserved syllable finals but reduced the number of initial consonants.

Early linguistic classifications placed the Hmong–Mien languages in the Sino-Tibetan family, where they remain in many Chinese classifications, but the current consensus among Western linguists is that they constitute a family of their own. The family is believed to have had its origins in central-southern China. The current area of greatest agreement is that the languages appeared in the region between the Yangtze and Mekong rivers, but there is reason to believe that speakers migrated there from further north with the expansion of the Han Chinese.[2] The time of Proto-Hmong-Mien has been estimated to be about 2500 BP (500 BC) by Sagart, Blench, and Sanchez-Mazas using traditional methods employing many lines of evidence, and about 4243 BP by the Automated Similarity Judgment Program (ASJP), an experimental algorithm for automatic generation of phonologically based phylogenies.[3]

Paul K. Benedict, an American scholar, extended the Austric theory to include the Hmong–Mien languages. The hypothesis never received much acceptance for Hmong–Mien, however.[4] Kosaka (2002) argued specifically for a Miao–Dai family.[5]


The Mandarin names for these languages are Miáo and Yáo.

In Vietnamese, the name for Hmong is "H'Mông", and the name Mien is "Dao" (i.e., Yao), although "Miền" is also used.

Meo, Hmu, Mong, Hmao, and Hmong are local names for Miao, but since most Laotian refugees in the United States call themselves Hmong/Mong, this name has become better known in English than the others in recent decades. However, except for some scholars who prefer the word, the term 'Hmong/ Mong' is only used within certain Hmong/Miao language speaking communities in China, where the majority of the Miao speakers live. In Chinese, despite the fact that it was once a derogatory term, the word Miao (Chinese: 苗; the tone varies according to the dialect of Chinese) is now commonly used by members of all nationalities to refer to the language and the ethnolinguistic group.[6]

The Chinese name Yao, on the other hand, is for the Yao nationality, which is a cultural rather than ethnolinguistic group. It includes peoples speaking Mien, Kra–Dai, Yi, and Miao languages, the latter called Bùnǔ rather than Miáo when spoken by Yao. For this reason, the ethnonym Mien may be preferred as less ambiguous.


Like many languages in southern China, the Hmong–Mien languages tend to be monosyllabic and syntactically analytic. They are some of the most highly tonal languages in the world: Longmo and Zongdi Hmong have as many as twelve distinct tones.[7] They are notable phonologically for the occurrence of voiceless sonorants and uvular consonants; otherwise their phonology is quite typical of the region.

They are SVO in word order but are not as rigidly right-branching as the Tai–Kadai languages or most Mon–Khmer languages, since they have genitives and numerals before the noun like Chinese. They are extremely poor in adpositions: serial verb constructions replace most functions of adpositions in languages like English. For example, a construction translating as "be near" would be used where in English prepositions like "in" or "at" would be used.[8]

Besides their tonality and lack of adpositions, another striking feature is the abundance of numeral classifiers and their use where other languages use definite articles or demonstratives to modify nouns.

Mixed languages

Various unclassified Sinitic languages are spoken by ethnic Miao and Yao. These languages have variously been proposed as having Hmong-Mien substrata or as mixed languages, including languages such as Shehua, Laba, Lingling, Maojia, Badong Yao, various Lowland Yao languages (平地瑶话) including Yeheni, Shaozhou Tuhua, and various Pinghua dialects. Sanqiao and possibly also Baishi Miao 拜师苗, both spoken in Guizhou, are mixed languages of Hmongic and Kam-Sui origins.

See also


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Hmong–Mien". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Blench, Roger. 2004. Stratification in the peopling of China: how far does the linguistic evidence match genetics and archaeology? Paper for the Symposium "Human migrations in continental East Asia and Taiwan: genetic, linguistic and archaeological evidence". Geneva June 10–13, 2004. Université de Genève.
  3. ^
  4. ^ "On the Thai evidence for Austro-Tai" (PDF), in Selected Papers on Comparative Tai Studies, ed. R.J. Bickner et al., pp. 117–164. Center for South and Southeast Asian studies, the University of Michigan.
  5. ^ Kosaka, Ryuichi. 2002. "On the affiliation of Miao-Yao and Kadai: Can we posit the Miao-Dai family." Mon-Khmer Studies 32:71-100.
  6. ^ Tapp, Nicholas. The Hmong of China: Context, Agency, and imaginary. Leiden: Brill, 2001.
  7. ^ Goddard, Cliff; The Languages of East and Southeast Asia: An Introduction; p. 36. ISBN 0-19-924860-5
  8. ^ Goddard, The Languages of East and Southeast Asia; p. 121

Further reading

  • Chen Qiguang [陈其光] (2013). Miao and Yao language [苗瑶语文]. Beijing: Ethnic Publishing House [民族出版社]. ISBN 9787566003263
  • Paul K. Benedict (1942). "Thai, Kadai and Indonesian: a new alignment in south east Asia." American Anthropologist 44.576-601.
  • Paul K. Benedict (1975). Austro-Thai language and culture, with a glossary of roots. New Haven: HRAF Press. ISBN 0-87536-323-7.
  • Enwall, J. (1995). Hmong writing systems in Vietnam: a case study of Vietnam's minority language policy. Stockholm, Sweden: Center for Pacific Asian Studies.
  • Enwall, J. (1994). A myth become reality: history and development of the Miao written language. Stockholm East Asian monographs, no. 5-6. [Stockholm?]: Institute of Oriental Languages, Stockholm University. ISBN 91-7153-269-2
  • Lombard, S. J., & Purnell, H. C. (1968). Yao-English dictionary.
  • Lyman, T. A. (1979). Grammar of Mong Njua (Green Miao): a descriptive linguistic study. [S.l.]: The author.
  • Lyman, T. A. (1974). Dictionary of Mong Njua: a Miao (Meo) language of Southeast Asia. Janua linguarum, 123. The Hague: Mouton.
  • Lyman, T. A. (1970). English/Meo pocket dictionary. Bangkok, Thailand: German Cultural Institute, Goethe-Institute.
  • Purnell, H. C. (1965). Phonology of a Yao dialect spoken in the province of Chiengrai, Thailand. Hartford studies in linguistics, no. 15.
  • Ratliff, Martha (2010). Hmong–Mien-language history. Canberra, Australia: Pacific Linguistics. ISBN 0-85883-615-7.
  • Smalley, W. A., Vang, C. K., & Yang, G. Y. (1990). Mother of writing: the origin and development of a Hmong messianic script. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-76286-6
  • Smith, P. (1995). Mien–English everyday language dictionary = Mienh in-wuonh dimv nzangc sou. Visalia, CA: [s.n.].

External links

Biao Min language

Biao Min, or Biao-Jiao Mien, is a Hmong–Mien language of China. The two varieties, Biao Min and Jiaogong Mian, are evidently not mutually intelligible.

Biao Mon language

Biao Mon (autonym: bjau˧˩moːn˧˩) is a Mienic language of Guangxi province, China. It is spoken in Lipu, Mengshan, Pingle, and Zhaoping counties in Guangxi, China.Biao Mon is not to be confused with Biao Min, a different Mienic language spoken to the north in Quanzhou and Gongcheng counties of Guangxi. Also, despite sometimes being referred to as "Mien," Biao Mon is not a variety of Iu Mien and is distinct from it.

Bunu languages

The Bunu (Punu) are the Yao people who speak Hmongic languages. That is, Bunu in the broad sense is a cultural rather than linguistic group. Strecker (1987) had classified Bunu proper (Bu-Nao) as a Western (Chuanqiandian) Hmongic language, and the other Bunu (or Punuic) languages—Younuo, Wunai (Hm Nai), and Jiongnai (Kiong Nai)—as distinct branches of Hmongic. Matisoff (2001) grouped all of these together in a Bunu branch of Hmongic (that is, outside Western Hmongic). Ratliff (2010) returned Bunu proper (Bu-Nao) to Western Hmongic, and moved Jiongnai to its own peripheral branch of Hmongic, but did not address Younuo or Wunai. Mao Zongwu (1997) found that Younuo, Wunai, and Pa-Hng form a distinct branch of Hmongic.The Bunu languages form a group in Chinese classification, but that is because Chinese classifications are not purely linguistic, but take into account ethnic identity.

Chu language

The Chu language is an attested language spoken during the Chu state of China, and is believed to be the base precursor to Xiang Chinese, a dialect spoken in Hunan. The Chu language is classified as a Sino-Tibetan language and sometimes referred to as "Para-Sinitic" meaning that it is related to the Chinese language having shared a common Proto-Sinitic ancestor. It had its own characters modeled on Zhou dynasty Chinese characters.It is suggested that there were possible substrate influences from the Hmong–Mien languages, the Kra–Dai languages and the Austroasiatic languages.

Dzao Min language

Dzao Min (Chinese: 藻敏, Zao Min), is a Hmong–Mien language of China. Mao (2004:306) reports a total of more than 60,000 speakers in Liannan County and Yangshan County of Guangdong, and in Yizhang County of Hunan. The speakers from Bapai, Guangdong are also called Bapai Yao (八排瑶族).


Hmong may refer to:

Hmong people, an ethnic group of people who live in China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand

Hmong cuisine

Hmong customs and culture

Hmong music

Hmong textile art

Hmong language, a continuum of closely related tongues/dialects

Hmong–Mien languages

Pahawh Hmong, an indigenous semi-syllabic script

Nyiakeng Puachue Hmong, a modern alphabetic script

Hmong Americans, Americans of Hmong descent

Hmongic languages

The Hmongic also known as Miao languages include the various languages spoken by the Miao people (such as Hmong, Hmu, and Xong), Pa-Hng, and the "Bunu" languages used by non-Mien-speaking Yao people.

Iu Mien language

The Iu Mien language (Chinese: 勉語 or 勉方言; Thai: ภาษาอิวเมี่ยน) is the language spoken by the Iu Mien people in China (where they are considered a constituent group of the Yao peoples), Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and, more recently, the United States in diaspora. Like other Hmong-Mien languages, it is tonal and monosyllabic.

Linguists in China consider the dialect spoken in Changdong, Jinxiu Yao Autonomous County, Guangxi to be the standard. This standard is also spoken by Iu Mien in the West, however, because most are refugees from Laos, their dialect incorporates influences from the Lao and Thai languages.Iu Mien has 78% lexical similarity with Kim Mun (Lanten), 70% with Biao-Jiao Mien, and 61% with Dzao Min.

Kim Mun language

Kim Mun language (金门方言) is a Hmong–Mien language spoken by 200,000 of the Yao people in the provinces of Guangxi, Hunan and Hainan, as well as 170,000 in some areas of northern Vietnam. (figures as per Ethnologue, 18th Edition)

Iu Mien and Kim Mun are very similar to each other, having a lexical similarity percentage of 78%.

Kiong Nai language

Kiong Nai (or Jiongnai, Chinese: 炯奈 jiǒngnài) is a divergent Hmongic (Miao) language spoken in Jinxiu County, Guangxi, China. The speakers' autonym is pronounced [kjɔŋ˧ nai˧] or [kjaŋ˧˩ nɛ˧˩]; kjɔŋ˧ means 'mountain', while nai˧ means 'people' (Meng 2001:1). Mao & Li (2002) believe it to be most closely related to She.

Maojia dialect

Maojia (猫家 mau˥ka˥) is a mixed language in Southern China. Maojiahua is an unclassified Sinitic language that has undergone influence from Hmongic languages.

Martha Ratliff

Martha Ratliff is an American linguist and Professor Emerita at Wayne State University. She is a leading specialist in Hmong–Mien languages and also notable for her recent reconstruction of the Proto-Hmong–Mien language.Ratliff earned a B.A. in English from Carleton College in 1968, an M.A.T. in English Education from University of Chicago in 1970, and a Ph.D. in Linguistics from University of Chicago in 1986, with a dissertation entitled The Morphological Functions of Tone in White Hmong.She currently serves as an associate editor for the historical linguistics journal Diachronica. She is co-founder of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society along with Eric Schiller.

Mienic languages

The Mienic or Yao languages are spoken by the Yao people of China, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand.

Some of the Yao peoples speak Hmongic languages (Miao); these are called Bunu. A small population of Yao people in Jinxiu Yao Autonomous County (金秀瑶族自治县) in eastern Guangxi speak a Tai-Kadai language called Lakkia. Other Yao peoples speak various Sinitic (Chinese) language varieties.

Pa Na language

Pa Na (Chinese: 巴那语; autonym: pa˥˧na˧˩˧) is a Hmongic language spoken by about 1,000 people in Shangpai 上排, Zhongpai 中排, and Xiapai 下排 of Chengbu County, and Huangshuangping 黄双坪, Suining County in Hunan, China. It is also called "Red Miao." Yoshihisa Taguchi (2012) considers Pa Na to be most closely related to She and Jiongnai.

Yoshihisa Taguchi (2001) covers the Xiapai 下排 dialect of Pa Na.

Proto-Hmong–Mien language

The Proto-Hmong–Mien language (Chinese: 原始苗瑶语) is the reconstructed ancestor of the Hmong–Mien languages.

The date of proto-Hmong-Mien has been estimated to be about 2500 BP by Sagart, Blench, and Sanchez-Mazas and about 4243 BP by the Automated Similarity Judgment Program (ASJP). Lower-level reconstructions include Proto-Hmongic and Proto-Mienic.

Raojia language

Raojia (Chinese: 绕家语; autonym: ʔeu˧ʑu˨˩ or qɑ˨˦ʑuɤ˨˦) is a Hmongic language spoken by about 5,000 people in 3 villages (including Baixing 白兴村) of Heba Township 河坝乡, Majiang County, Guizhou.

Raojia belongs to the Qiandong Miao (East Hmongic) branch (Li Yunbing 2000; Chen Qiguang 2013).

Sheic languages

The Sheic or She–Jiongnai languages are a branch of the Miao (Hmongic) language family.

She (Ho-Ne) has long been recognized as a divergent language. It has been difficult to classify because of a large number of Chinese loanwords. Recently, it has been concluded that a few other Miao languages may be closer to She than to the rest of the family.

Tsat language

Tsat, also known as Utsat, Utset, Hainan Cham, or Huíhuī (simplified Chinese: 回辉语; traditional Chinese: 回輝語; pinyin: Huíhuīyǔ), is a language spoken by 4,500 Utsul people in Yanglan (Chinese: 羊栏) and Huixin (Chinese: 回新) villages near Sanya, Hainan, China. Tsat is a member of the Malayo-Polynesian group within the Austronesian language family, and is one of the Chamic languages originating on the coast of present-day Vietnam.

Unusually for an Austronesian language, Tsat has developed into a solidly tonal language, probably as a result of areal linguistic effects and contact with the diverse tonal languages spoken on Hainan including varieties of Chinese such as Hainanese and Standard Chinese, Tai–Kadai languages such as the Hlai languages, and Hmong–Mien languages such as Kim Mun.

Writing systems of Southeast Asia

There are various non-Latin-based writing systems of Southeast Asia. The writing systems below are listed by language family.

Hmong–Mien languages
Mixed languages
and Asia
New Guinea
and the Pacific
See also

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