Vocabulary White Hmong

by Martha Ratliff  

The vocabulary contains 1472 meaning-word pairs ("entries") corresponding to core LWT meanings from the recipient language White Hmong. The corresponding text chapter was published in the book Loanwords in the World's Languages. The language page White Hmong contains a list of all loanwords arranged by donor languoid.

Word form LWT code Meaning Core list Borrowed status Source words

Field descriptions



White Hmong entries in this field appear in the Romanized Popular Alphabet designed by linguists working in Laos and Thailand in the 1950s. It is more widely used than any other orthography by White Hmong people in the diaspora. For the most part, the values of the symbols are what one would expect (so is in fact a voiceless palatal stop and is in fact a voiceless uvular stop), with the following exceptions:

1) Since there is only one possible final consonant in a Hmong word—[ŋ]—consonant symbols in word-final position have been used to indicate tones: high level <-b>, high falling <-j>, mid rising <-v>, low level <-s>, mid level <-ø>, falling breathy <-g>, and low creaky <-m>.

2) The final [ŋ] is indicated by a doubling of the vowel: <-oo-> is thus [oŋ].

3) Certain symbols have special values:
s [ʃ]
x [s]
xy [ɕ]
ts [tʃ]
tx [ts]
r [ʈ]
g [ŋ]
w [ɯ]

4) In prenasalized clusters, the nasal is always written , even though it assimilates to the following consonant (npua ‘pig’ is thus pronounced [mpua]).

Additional writing conventions (users of the RPA orthography differ in these practices)

1) No space is used between morphemes if that is the conservative spelling convention (dabtsi ‘what’, pojniam ‘wife’, menyuam ‘child’)

2) A hyphen is used between morphemes if the word
a. has an affix (typically, a prefix)
b. is a phonological unit: the tone of the first word has changed the tone of the second
c. is an expressive: the form of each morpheme is dependent on the form of the other
d. is a reduplication
3) In all other cases, a space is inserted between two morphemes, even if it is judged to be a compound either because the meaning of the whole cannot be deduced from the meaning of its parts, or because the two members of the compound are synonyms.


1) A two-word entry is labeled analyzable derived if
a. the first morpheme is a noun class prefix or a reciprocal
b. the last morpheme is the Chinese nominal suffix txwm
c. it is an expressive (derived by rule)
d. it is a reduplication (derived by rule)

2) A two-word entry is labeled an analyzable compound if
a. no space is used between morphemes in conventional spelling
b. it is a phonological unit: the tone of the first word has changed the tone of the second
c. the meaning of the whole cannot be deduced from the meaning of the individual words (even though the meaning of the words seems to be clear)
d. the two words are synonyms

3) All other entries of two or more morphemes are labeled analyzable phrasal. This is somewhat arbitrary: for example, pas dej ‘pool water’ is called a phrase because does not pass any of the tests in (2) above, but it often acts as a unit, and is what anyone will give as the equivalent of ‘lake’.


Use of “?”
A question mark is entered in lieu of a gloss for a morpheme or a compound where the morpheme or both components of the compound are completely opaque, such as foom koob hmoov ‘to bless’ [seal/fix + ?-good.luck], where only koob is opaque, or kab laug-sab ‘a spider that makes a web’ [bug + ?], where both laug and sab are opaque.

Comment on borrowed

If a White Hmong word is linked to either Middle Chinese or Old Chinese, the lower Hmongic or higher Hmong-Mien reconstruction is provided here to demonstrate the likelihood of borrowing. These reconstructions are taken from

Ratliff, Martha. 2010+. Hmong-Mien Language History. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, Australian National University.

In my Hmongic reconstructions, tone categories are indicated by the letters “A”, “B”, “C” and “D” following each form. In my Hmong-Mien reconstructions, the final laryngeals that gave rise to tones are indicated by -ø (tone A), -X (tone B), -H (tone C), and -p, -t, -k (tone D): these conventions are also used in Baxter’s Middle Chinese transcriptions.


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Benedict, Paul K. 1987. Early MY/TB loan relationships. Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area 10.2:12–21.
Blust, Robert. n.d. Austronesian comparative dictionary. Manuscript.
Chang Kun. 1972. Sino-Tibetan ‘iron’: *Qhleks. Journal of the American Oriental Society 92.3:436–446.
Haudricourt, André G. and David Strecker. 1991. Hmong-Mien (Miao-Yao) loans in Chinese. T’oung Pao 77.4-5:335–341.
Heimbach, Ernest E. 1979. White Hmong–English dictionary, revised ed. Linguistics Series 4, Data Paper 75. Ithaca: Cornell University Southeast Asia Program, Department of Asian Studies.
Li, Fang-Kuei. 1977. A handbook of comparative Tai. Oceanic Linguistics Special Publication 15. Honolulu: The University Press of Hawaii.
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Ratliff, Martha. 1992. Meaningful tone: A study of tonal morphology in compounds, form classes, and expressive phrases in White Hmong. DeKalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois University Center for Southeast Asian Studies.
Ratliff, Martha. 2001. Voiceless sonorant initials in Hmong-Mien: Sino-Tibetan correspondences. In Graham Thurgood (ed.) Papers from the Ninth Annual Meeting of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society (1999), 361–375. Tempe: Arizona State University Program for Southeast Asian Studies.
Sagart, Laurent. 1995. Chinese ‘buy’ and ‘sell’ and the direction of borrowings between Chinese and Hmong-Mien: a response to Haudricourt and Strecker. T’oung Pao 81.4-5:328–342.
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Zhou Guoyan and Somsonge Burusphat. 1996. Languages and cultures of the Kam-Tai (Zhuang-Dong) Group: a word list. Bangkok: The Institute of Language and Culture for Rural Development, Mahidol University.


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