EthnicityMiao people
China, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand
Linguistic classificationHmong–Mien
  • Hmongic
ISO 639-2 / 5hmn
Hmongic languages:
  West Hmongic
  Central (Gejia, A-Hmyo, Mashan, Huishui)
  Hmu / East Hmongic
  Xong / North Hmongic
  Divergent groups: Pa Hng, Bunu, Aoka, etc.

The Hmongic languages, also known as Miao languages (Chinese: 苗语; pinyin: Miáoyǔ), include the various languages spoken by the Miao people (such as Hmong, Hmu, and Xong). Hmongic languages also include various languages spoken by non-Mienic-speaking Yao people, such as Pa-Hng, Bunu, Jiongnai, Younuo, and others, while She is spoken by ethnic She people.


Miao () is the Chinese name and the one used by Miao in China. However, Hmong is more familiar in the West, due to Hmong emigration. Hmong is the biggest subgroup within the Hmongic peoples. Many overseas Hmong prefer the name Hmong, and claim that Meo (a Southeast Asian language change from Miao) is both inaccurate and pejorative, though it is generally considered neutral by the Miao community in China.

Of the core Hmongic languages spoken by ethnic Miao, there are a number of overlapping names. The three branches are as follows,[1] as named by Purnell (in English and Chinese), Ratliff, and scholars in China, as well as the descriptive names based on the patterns and colors of traditional dress:

Glottolog Native name Endonym Purnell Chinese name (geographical) Chinese name (general) Ratliff Dress-color name
chua1248 Hmong lol Hmongb Sichuan–Guizhou–Yunnan Miao 川黔滇苗 Chuanqiandian Miao Western Miao 苗语西部方言 West Hmongic White, Blue/Green, etc.
larg1235 Ahmao[a] ad Hmaob lul Northeast Yunnan Miao 滇东北次苗 Diandongbeici Miao Western Miao 苗语西部方言 West Hmongic Flowery Miao (大花苗)
nort2748 Xong dut Xongb Western Hunan Miao 湘西苗 Xiangxi Miao Eastern Miao 苗语东部方言 North Hmongic Red Miao
east2369 Hmu hveb Hmub Eastern Guizhou Miao 黔东苗 Qiandong Miao Central Miao 苗语中部方言 East Hmongic Black Miao
  1. ^ Local Chinese for Flowery Miao. No common name. Miao speakers use forms like Hmong (Mong), Hmang (Mang), Hmao, Hmyo. Yao speakers use names based on Nu.

The Hunan Province Gazetteer (1997) gives the following autonyms for various peoples in Hunan classified by the Chinese government as Miao.


Hmongic is one of the primary branches of the Hmong–Mien language family, with the other being Mienic. Hmongic is a diverse group of perhaps twenty languages, based on mutual intelligibility, but several of these are dialectically quite diverse in phonology and vocabulary, and are not considered to be single languages by their speakers. There are probably over thirty languages taking this into account.[2] Four classifications are outlined below, though the details of the West Hmongic branch are left for that article.

Mo Piu, first documented in 2009, was reported by Geneviève Caelen-Haumont (2011) to be a divergent Hmongic language, and was later determined to be a dialect of Guiyang Miao. Similarly, Ná-Meo is not addressed in the classifications below, but is believed by Nguyen (2007) to be closest to Hmu (Qiandong Miao).

Purnell (1970)

Purnell (1970) divided the Miao languages into Eastern, Northern, Central, and Western subgroups.[3]

Strecker (1987)

Strecker's classification is as follows:[2]

In a follow-up to that paper in the same publication, Strecker tentatively removed Pa-Hng, Wunai, Jiongnai, and Yunuo, positing that they may be independent branches of Miao–Yao, with the possibility that Yao was the first of these to branch off. Effectively, this means that Miao/Hmongic would consist of six branches: She (Ho-Nte), Pa-Hng, Wunai, Jiongnai, Yunuo, and everything else.[4] In addition, the 'everything else' would include nine distinct but unclassified branches, which were not addressed by either Matisoff or Ratliff (see West Hmongic#Strecker).

Matisoff (2001)

Matisoff followed the basic outline of Strecker (1987), apart from consolidating the Bunu languages and leaving She unclassified:

Wang & Deng (2003)

Wang & Deng (2003) is one of the few Chinese sources which integrate the Bunu languages into Hmongic on purely linguistic grounds. They find the following pattern in the statistics of core Swadesh vocabulary:[5]

Matisoff (2006)

Matisoff (2006) outlined the following. Not all varieties are listed.[6]

Matisoff also indicates Hmongic influence on Gelao in his outline.

Ratliff (2010)

The Hmongic classification below is from Martha Ratliff (2010:3).[7]

Ratliff (2010) notes that Pa-Hng, Jiongnai, and Xong (North Hmongic) are phonologically conservative, as they retain many Proto-Hmongic features that have been lost in most other daughter languages. For instance, both Pa-Hng and Xong have vowel quality distinctions (and also tone distinctions in Xong) depending on whether or not the Proto-Hmong-Mien rime was open or closed. Both also retain the second part of Proto-Hmong-Mien diphthongs, which is lost in most other Hmongic languages, since they tend to preserve only the first part of Proto-Hmong-Mien diphthongs. Ratliff notes that the position of Xong (North Hmongic) is still quite uncertain. Since Xong preserves many archaic features not found in most other Hmongic languages, any future attempts at classifying the Hmong-Mien languages must also address the position of Xong.

Taguchi (2012)

Yoshihisa Taguchi's (2012, 2013) computational phylogenetic study classifies the Hmongic languages as follows.[8][9]

Hsiu (2015, 2018)

Hsiu's (2015, 2018)[10][11] computational phylogenetic study classifies the Hmongic languages as follows, based primarily on lexical data from Chen (2013).[12]


Numerals in Hmongic Languages[13]
Language One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight Nine Ten
Proto-Hmong-Mien *ʔɨ *ʔu̯i *pjɔu *plei *prja *kruk *dzjuŋH *jat *N-ɟuə *ɡju̯əp
Pa-Hng (Gundong) ji˩ wa˧˥ po˧˥ ti˧˥ tja˧˥ tɕu˥ tɕaŋ˦ ji˦˨ ko˧ ku˦˨
Wunai (Longhui) i˧˥ ua˧˥ po˧˥ tsi˧˥ pia˧˥ tju˥ tɕa˨˩ ɕi˧˩ ko˧ kʰu˧˩
Younuo je˨ pje˧ pwɔ˧ pi˧ tjo˧˥ sɔŋ˧˩ ja˨˩ kiu˩˧ kwə˨˩
Jiongnai ʔi˥˧ pa˦ ple˦ pui˦ tʃɔ˧˥ ʃaŋ˨ ʑe˧˨ tʃu˧ tʃɔ˧˥
She (Chenhu) i˧˥ pa˨ pi˧˥ pi˨ kɔ˧˩ tsʰuŋ˦˨ zi˧˥ kjʰu˥˧ kjʰɔ˧˥
Western Xong (Layiping) ɑ˦ ɯ˧˥ pu˧˥ pʐei˧˥ pʐɑ˧˥ ʈɔ˥˧ tɕoŋ˦˨ ʑi˧ tɕo˧˩ ku˧
Eastern Xong (Xiaozhang) u˥˧ pu˥˧ ɬei˥˧ pja˥˧ to˧ zaŋ˩˧ ʑi˧˥ ɡɯ˧˨ ɡu˧˥
Northern Qiandong Miao (Yanghao) pi˧ l̥u˧ tsa˧ tʲu˦ ɕoŋ˩˧ ʑa˧˩ tɕə˥ tɕu˧˩
Southern Qiandong Miao (Yaogao) tiŋ˨˦ v˩˧ pai˩˧ tl̥ɔ˩˧ tɕi˩˧ tju˦ tsam˨ ʑi˨˦ tɕu˧˩ tɕu˨˦
Pu No (Du'an) i˦˥˦ aːɤ˦˥˦ pe˦˥˦ pla˦˥˦ pu˦˥˦ tɕu˦˨˧ saŋ˨˩˨ jo˦˨ tɕu˨ tɕu˦˨
Nao Klao (Nandan) i˦˨ uɔ˦˨ pei˦˨ tlja˦˨ ptsiu˧ tɕau˧˨ sɒ˧˩ jou˥˦ tɕau˨˦ tɕau˥˦
Nu Mhou (Libo) tɕy˧ yi˧ pa˧ tləu˧ pja˧ tjɤ˦ ɕoŋ˧˩ ja˧˨ tɕɤ˥ tɕɤ˧˨
Nunu (Linyun) i˥˧ əu˥˧ pe˥˧ tɕa˥˧ pɤ˥˧ tɕu˨˧ ʂɔŋ˨ jo˨ tɕu˧˨ tɕu˨
Tung Nu (Qibainong) au˧ pe˧ tɬa˧ pjo˧ ʈu˦˩ sɔŋ˨˩ ʑo˨˩ tɕu˩˧ tɕu˨˩
Pa Na ʔa˧˩ ʔu˩˧ pa˩˧ tɬo˩˧ pei˩˧ kjo˧˥ ɕuŋ˨ ʑa˥˧ tɕʰu˧˩˧ tɕo˥˧
Hmong Shuat (Funing) ʔi˥ ʔau˥ pʲei˥ plɔu˥ pʒ̩˥ tʃɔu˦ ɕaŋ˦ ʑi˨˩ tɕa˦˨ kɔu˨˩
Hmong Dleub (Guangnan) ʔi˥ ʔɑu˥ pei˥ plou˥ tʃɹ̩˥ ʈɻou˦ ɕã˦ ʑi˨˩ tɕuɑ˦˨ kou˨˩
Hmong Nzhuab (Maguan) ʔi˥˦ ʔau˦˧ pei˥˦ plou˥˦ tʃɹ̩˥˦ ʈou˦ ɕaŋ˦ ʑi˨ tɕuɑ˦˨ kou˨
Northeastern Dian Miao (Shimenkan) tsɿ˥[14] tl̥au˥ pɯ˥ tl̥au˧ ɕaɯ˧ ʑʱi˧˩ dʑʱa˧˥ ɡʱau˧˩
Raojia ɔ˦ poi˦ ɬɔ˦ pja˦ tju˧ ɕuŋ˨ ʑa˥˧ tɕa˥ tɕu˥˧
Xijia Miao (Shibanzhai) u˧˩ pzɿ˧˩[14] pləu˧˩ pja˧˩ ʈo˨˦ zuŋ˨˦ ja˧ ja˧˩ ʁo˧˩
Gejia tsɪ˧˩ plu˧ tsia˧ tɕu˥ saŋ˧˩ ʑa˩˧ tɕa˨˦ ku˩˧


Main article: Hmong writing

The Hmongic languages have been written with at least a dozen different scripts,[15] none of which has been universally accepted among Hmong people as standard. Tradition has it that the ancestors of the Hmong, the Nanman, had a written language with a few pieces of significant literature. When the Han-era Chinese began to expand southward into the land of the Hmong, whom they considered barbarians, the script of the Hmong was lost, according to many stories. Allegedly, the script was preserved in the clothing. Attempts at revival were made by the creation of a script in the Qing Dynasty, but this was also brutally suppressed and no remnant literature has been found. Adaptations of Chinese characters have been found in Hunan, recently.[16] However, this evidence and mythological understanding is disputed. For example, according to Professor S. Robert Ramsey, there was no writing system among the Miao until the missionaries created them.[17] It is currently unknown for certain whether or not the Hmong had a script historically.

Around 1905, Samuel Pollard introduced the Pollard script, for the A-Hmao language, an abugida inspired by Canadian Aboriginal syllabics, by his own admission.[18] Several other syllabic alphabets were designed as well, the most notable being Shong Lue Yang's Pahawh Hmong script, which originated in Laos for the purpose of writing Hmong Daw, Hmong Njua, and other dialects of the standard Hmong language.

In the 1950s, pinyin-based Latin alphabets were devised by the Chinese government for three varieties of Miao: Xong, Hmu, and Chuangqiandian (Hmong), as well as a Latin alphabet for A-Hmao to replace the Pollard script (now known as "Old Miao"), though Pollard remains popular. This meant that each of the branches of Miao in the classification of the time had a separate written standard.[19] Wu and Yang (2010) believe that standards should be developed for each of the six other primary varieties of Chuangqiandian as well, although the position of romanization in the scope of Hmong language preservation remains a debate. Romanization remains common in China and the United States, while versions of the Lao and Thai scripts remain common in Thailand and Laos.

Nyiakeng Puachue Hmong script was created by Reverend Chervang Kong Vang to be able to capture Hmong vocabulary clearly and also to remedy redundancies in the language as well as address semantic confusions that was lacking in other scripts. This was created in the 1980s and was mainly used by United Christians Liberty Evangelical Church, a church also founded by Vang. The script bears strong resemblance to the Lao alphabet in structure and form and characters inspired from the Hebrew alphabets, although the characters themselves are different.[20]

Mixed languages

Due to intensive language contact, there are several language varieties in China which are thought to be mixed Miao–Chinese languages or Sinicized Miao. These include:

In southwestern Hunan, divergent Sinitic language varieties spoken by Miao and Yao peoples include:[24]

See also


  1. ^ Schein, Louisa (2000). Minority Rules: The Miao and the Feminine in China's Cultural Politics (illustrated, reprint ed.). Duke University Press. p. 85. ISBN 082232444X. Retrieved 24 April 2014.
  2. ^ a b Strecker, David (1987). "The Hmong-Mien Languages" (PDF). Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area. 10 (2): 1–11.
  3. ^ Purnell, Herbert C., Jr. 1970. Toward a reconstruction of Proto-Miao-Yao. PhD dissertation, Cornell University.
  4. ^ Strecker, David. (1987). "Some comments on Benedict's 'Miao-Yao enigma: the Na-e language'" (PDF). Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area. 10 (2): 22–42.
  5. ^ 王士元、邓晓华,《苗瑶语族语言亲缘关系的计量研究——词源统计分析方法》,《中国语文》,2003(294)。
  6. ^ Matisoff, 2006. "Genetic versus Contact Relationship". In Aikhenvald & Dixon, Areal diffusion and genetic inheritance.
  7. ^ Ratliff, Martha. 2010. Hmong–Mien language history. Canberra, Australia: Pacific Linguistics.
  8. ^ Yoshihisa Taguchi [田口善久] (2012). On the Phylogeny of the Hmong-Mien languages Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine. Conference in Evolutionary Linguistics 2012.
  9. ^ Yoshihisa, Taguchi [田口善久] (2013). On the phylogeny of Hmongic languages. Presented at the 23rd Annual Meeting of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society (SEALS 23), Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok.
  10. ^ Hsiu, Andrew. 2015. The classification of Na Meo, a Hmong-Mien language of Vietnam. Paper presented at SEALS 25, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
  11. ^ Hsiu, Andrew. 2018. Preliminary classification of Hmongic languages.
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ "Miao-Yao". Archived from the original on 2011-11-21. Retrieved 2012-09-29.
  14. ^ a b ɿ is commonly used by Sinologists to mean [ɨ].
  15. ^ "Hmong Archives – preserving the Hmong heritage".
  16. ^ "Hunan Shaoyang Relics Indicate Written Language of Miao Ethnic Group 湖南首次发现古苗文实物:苗族有语言也有文字 - News Today 今日新闻 - 3Us Community :Hunan Bilingual Forum——尚友国际社区:湖南最大双语论坛". Archived from the original on 2014-07-28. Retrieved 2014-07-28.
  17. ^ Ramsey, S. Robert (1987). The Languages of China (illustrated, reprint ed.). Princeton University Press. p. 284. ISBN 069101468X. Retrieved 24 April 2014.
  18. ^ Tanya Storch Religions and missionaries around the Pacific, 1500-1900 2006 p293
  19. ^ 苗文创制与苗语方言划分的历史回顾 Archived 2011-11-04 at the Wayback Machine
    Other branches had been left unclassified.
  20. ^ Everson, Michael (2017-02-15). "L2/17-002R3: Proposal to encode the Nyiakeng Puachue Hmong script in the UCS" (PDF).
  21. ^ Wu, Weijun 吴伟军 (2019). Guizhou Qinglong Changliu Laba Miaorenhua 贵州晴隆长流喇叭苗人话. Beijing: The Commercial Press. OCLC 1137079712.
  22. ^ "Operation China" (PDF). Retrieved 2018-09-30.
  23. ^ "Chinese peoples info" (PDF).
  24. ^ Hu, Ping 胡萍 (2018). Yuyan jiechu yu Xiangxinan Miao Yao Pinghua diaocha yanjiu 语言接触与湘西南苗瑤平话调查研究. Changsha: Yuelu shushe 岳麓书社. ISBN 9787553808710. OCLC 1073112896.
  25. ^ Hu (2018):98)
  26. ^ Hu (2018):98)

Further reading