Hmong Language

The Hmong language, spoken by the Hmong people, is from the Hmong-Mien language family.


The Hmong language has multiple dialects, most of which are mutually intelligible. There  two major dialect branches of the Hmong language are Hmong Daw (White Miao) and Mong Njua (Green Miao). The number of Hmong speaking each of these dialects in the U.S. is roughly equal. Hmong books are primarily published in White Hmong.

Form, Content, and Use

Hmong is a tonal language.  The tone is the rise and fall of the voice, or pitch.  Hmong has eight tones, all which change the meaning of words.  Most Hmong families do not teach reading and writing in Hmong language at home, but Hmong language is primarily (if not exclusively) spoken at home.  In terms of greetings, handshakes are not traditionally part of Hmong culture (especially handshakes with women).  Direct eye contact is typically not made, as it is a sign of disrespect.

Most Hmong words are one syllable.  Each word contains a consonant (or consonant blend) and a vowel or diphthong.  Each syllable has a tone.  There are 58 phonemes in White Hmong and 60 in Blue Hmong.  Many of these have no English equivalents, like the retroflex /r/, which is made with the tongue curled back.  There are six simple vowels, five diphthongs, and three nasal vowels.  There are no suffixes in Hmong, such as the past tense –ed, present progressive –ing, or plural –s in English.  Hmong sentence structure, similar to that of English, follows the SVO (subject-verb-object) pattern.  However, unlike sentences in English, adjectives follow (rather than precede) nouns in Hmong language. 

*Listen to Hmong phonemes. 


  Labial Labiodental Dental Retroflex Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal







̻ŋ ŋ




ᵐb ᵐbˡ

ᵐpʰ ᵐpˡʰ




ⁿd ⁿdˡ

ⁿtʰ ⁿtˡʰ

ʈ ʈʰ

ⁿɖ ⁿʈʰ


ᶮɟ ᶮcʰ


ᵑg ᵑkʰ


ᶰG ᶰqʰ


͡ts ͡tsʰ

ⁿ͡dz ⁿ͡tsʰ


͡tʂ ͡tʂʰ

ⁿ͡dʐ ⁿ͡tʂʰ

Fricative   f v s ɬ ʂ ʐ ç ʝ      
Approximant     l          


Language and Clinical Implications for SLP

Many Hmong people learning English experience difficulty with the voiced and voiceless “th” sound and also /ʤ/, since there are not equivalents of these phonemes in Hmong language.  They may also struggle with producing consonants in the final word position of English words because most Hmong words do not end in consonants.  Since most Hmong words consist of only one syllable, multisyllabic English words may also be challenging.  English plurals, possessives, pronouns, and verb tenses can also cause difficulty for Hmong individuals learning English language.

Speech-Language Pathologists must keep these language aspects in mind when serving the Hmong.  Being cognizant of them can help the SLP differentiate between language difference and language disorder.  In addition to the specific linguistic properties of Hmong language, it is also imperative for the SLP to keep in mind the cultural components of the Hmong mentioned in previous sections.  As Kohnert (2007) describes, the “underside of culture includes values and behaviors that influence every aspect of communicative interactions” and goes on to explain, “Culture affects how we learn and how we demonstrate this learning.  It influences how we measure success, what we perceive as problems, and the ways we deal with these perceived problems.  Culture influences perceptions of ability as well as disability” (p. 29).  Culture, then, should be at the forefront of the SLP’s mind when conducting assessment and intervention.  In other words, SLPs should always be striving to establish cultural competency with all clients.  This means acknowledging, respecting, and building upon the social, cultural, and linguistic diversity of their clients.  In order to accomplish this, the SLP can go beyond this site and collaborate with interpreters, cultural liaisons, bilingual paraprofessionals, and other professionals (Kohnert, 2007). 

It is essential to remember that for Hmong learners of English, their L1 (Hmong) may be needed to “maintain and promote family connections, cultural links, and the self-identity necessary for positive social-emotional development and well-being.  Along side this need for L1, the majority L2 (English in the case of children in the United States) is essential to develop and maintain positive interactions with the extended community in order to maximize educational and vocational success” (Kohnert, 2007, p. 66).  It is essential, then, to support both languages and also bear in mind the client’s communicative environments, partners, and purposes for which each language is needed.  These considerations will assist in informing the clinician’s course of action for assessment and intervention.  Kohnert sets forth four key points for the SLP to support two languages in bilingual children with language disorder (LD), which are listed below.  *Also see teh Myths about Bilingualism featured on this site

1) Monolingualism is not a cure for bilingual LD.
2) Dual language learners with LD are not at a greater disadvantage than their monolingual peers, all else being equal.
3) Planning for gains in both languages allows the child with LD to take full advantage of previous experiences with language as well as to increase the number of opportunities to use language for meaningful interactions.
4) Increasing skills in a minority home language does not jeopardize language attainment in a majority language for either typical learners or children with LD (Kohnert, 2007). 

Helpful Resources


Student Contributor Laura Holden Winter 2012

References and Resources