Hmong speakers greet each other with the phrase Nyob zoo (Hello). Hmong greetings are usually cordial and based on bloodline and age. Men usually greet by shaking hands, waving, or verbally acknowledging their counterparts. Women, on the other hand, do not traditionally kiss, hug, or shake hands with each other or with men, greeting only verbally or by waving at each other. However, since Hmong people live in countries such as the United States, Laos, Thailand, and China, they have adopted some of the greeting manners of these countries, and nowadays it is more common to see Hmong women kissing or hugging and shaking hands when greeting.
Hmong communication style tends to be indirect. In Hmong culture, kindness is appreciated, and confrontation is often avoided, so it is important to note that sometimes “yes” or “okay” can mean no. Therefore, the use of open-ended questions is advised. Raising one’s voice is considered disrespectful and it can lead to misunderstandings. The Hmong are very conscious of their actions and emotions and the exhibit of good and polite manners is expected by all Hmong people. Showing disapproval in public, voicing out disagreements, or not being able to control one’s own emotions is seen as impolite and a cause of embarrassment. Additionally, boasting about one’s achievements or asking for praise is considered arrogant.
Personal Space and Touching
Personal space is valued by the Hmong people and it is customary to keep at least a distance of an arm’s length during a conversation. This distance may be shortened among family members and close friends, but it may also be greater when interacting with strangers. Because gender differences are quite accentuated in Hmong culture, men and women should not stand too close to each other while conversing and public displays of affection are likely frowned upon. Additionally, the head is considered the most sacred part of the body, and therefore is not to be touched.
Eye Contact and Gestures
In Hmong culture looking directly into someone’s eyes is considered disrespectful. It is especially disrespectful to make direct eye contact with elders. For this reason, Hmong people tend to look at the floor or at some distant object to avoid eye contact.
Hmong people bow their heads to show respect and they do not wave their hands to call someone. Instead, Hmong people use all fingers, facing down, since using the whole hand with fingers facing upwards demonstrates contempt and can suggest anger.
Hmong Culture Reference Guide
Hmong Population in the United States
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Also known as White Hmong, due to the traditional white colors and patterns the group used to wear. Hmong Daw is spoken by the Hmong community in the southwest of China, particularly in the provinces of Sichuan, Guizhou, and Yunnan, but also in the northern regions of Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and Myanmar, as well as in the United States. White Hmong is the most spoken dialect today and it may be considered by some as the most “proper” form of Hmong since the written language is based on this dialect. In America, this dialect is sometimes called Blue Hmong.
Also known as Green Hmong, for the same reasons mentioned above, it is the oldest Hmong dialect. This dialect is spoken mainly in the United States and Laos. Mong Njua is mutually intelligible with Hmong Daw. Nonetheless, the dialects differ in vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. As an example, Green Hmong has three nasalized vowels when White Hmong has only two. Also, Green Hmong has lost the aspirated “m” sound. Even though the Hmong written language is based on White Hmong, it also represents Green Hmong’s sound variations.
This dialect forms the basis of the Standard Hmong language in China. It is mainly spoken in the Chinese Guizhou province. Dananshan resembles Mong Njua the most and even though all dialects are mutually intelligible, it still differs from the other dialects of Hmong in vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. Unlike the other dialects, Dananshan has some extra diphthongs, a triphthong (ieu), several Chinese loanwords, and a number of Chinese borrowings, such as ‘je’, ‘waj’, ‘jaw’, ‘wen’, and ‘waη’.
Even though there are no exact numbers, it is estimated that Hmong is spoken by approximately 2 million people. The language is spoken by Hmong communities in the provinces of Sichuan, Guizhou, and Yunnan in China, as well as in Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, and in the United States, but it bears no official language status in any of these countries.
Countries Where Hmong is the Official Language
The Hmong are originally from the south of China. However, due to the oppression of the Qing Dynasty, they moved south to Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand. During the Vietnam War, the Hmong were recruited by the CIA to help in the fight against the North Vietnamese in Laos and when the war ended, they were persecuted for their involvement by the Lao communist forces. Between the years 1975 and 1980 many Hmong people came to the United States, most of them from Laos, with refugee status.16 According to the 2019 American Community Survey there are over 300,000 Hmong Americans in the U.S.17 According to the U.S. Census Bureau over 214,000 people speak Hmong in the country.
Leading states with the highest numbers of Hmong speakers:
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