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; the speakers of these languages are predominantly "hill people" in contrast to the neighboring Han Chinese who have settled the more fertile river valleys.


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. 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."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.
Kosaka (2002) argued specifically for a Miao–Dai family.Kosaka, Ryuichi. 2002.
On the affiliation of Miao-Yao and Kadai: Can we posit the Miao-Dai family
" ''Mon-Khmer Studies'' 32:71-100.


The most likely homeland of the Hmong–Mien languages is in Southern China between the Yangtze and Mekong rivers, but speakers of these languages may have migrated from Central China either as part of the Han Chinese expansion or as a result of exile from an original homeland by Han Chinese. Migration of people speaking these languages from South China to Southeast Asia took place ca. 1600–1700 CE. Ancient DNA evidence suggests that the ancestors of the speakers of the Hmong–Mien languages were a population genetically distinct from that of the Tai–Kadai and Austronesian language source populations at a location on the Yangtze River. Recent Y-DNA phylogeny evidence supports the proposition that people who speak the Hmong–Mien languages are descended from the population that now speaks Austroasiatic Mon-Khmer languages. 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.


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. 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. 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.Goddard, ''The Languages of East and Southeast Asia''; p. 121 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 including Yeheni, Shaozhou Tuhua, and various Pinghua dialects. Sanqiao and possibly also Baishi Miao, both spoken in Guizhou, are mixed languages of Hmongic and Kam-Sui origins.

See also

* Proto-Hmong–Mien language * Hmong-Mien comparative vocabulary list (Wiktionary) * Hmong writing


Further reading

* Chen Qiguang 其光(2013). ''Miao and Yao language'' 瑶语文 Beijing: Ethnic Publishing House 族出版社 * 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. . * 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. tockholm? Institute of Oriental Languages, Stockholm University. * Lombard, S. J., & Purnell, H. C. (1968). ''Yao-English dictionary''. * Lyman, T. A. (1979). ''Grammar of Mong Njua (Green Miao): a descriptive linguistic study''. .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. * * 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. * Smith, P. (1995). ''Mien–English everyday language dictionary = Mienh in-wuonh dimv nzangc sou''. Visalia, CA: .n. ;Data sets *Johann-Mattis List, & Mei Shin Wu. (2019). lexibank/chenhmongmien: Miao and Yao Language (Version v2.0.1) ata set Zenodo.

External links

Basic vocabulary word lists of Hmong–Mien languages
{{DEFAULTSORT:Hmong-Mien Languages Category:Language families Category:Sino-Austronesian languages