Hmong is a language spoken by about four million people around the world, most commonly in northern Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Burma/Myanmar, and parts of China. According to hmongculture. net, “About five percent of those speaking the Hmong Language actually reside within the United States speaking this and English fluently in certain cities around the country. ” This statistic demonstrates the fact that the Hmong language is in danger of possibly becoming almost extinct.
Learning about the Hmong language, its history, and the efforts that are put into preserving the language will help people to understand this unrecognized language more and more. The exact origination of the Hmong language is unknown since over time the language changed with new words and phrases borrowed from their environment, creating a new way of communication. The history of the Hmong people started in 3,000 B. C. when they were identified as inhabitants of China’s Yellow River. After living frantic, nomadic lives, they colonized in Laos in the early 1800s.
However, wars charged through the country and caused many Hmong to seek refuge in insufficient Thailand refugee camps. Hmong immigration to the United States began in 1976. Those who decided to stay behind suffered from Laotian oppression for not adopting Communist ideals. The written and spoken Hmong languages are quite unique since they consist of many dialects. The main one is Chuanquindian. It extends into over twenty dialects with two well-known ones—Green Hmong and White Hmong.
White Hmong is more widely used and is rendered in their writing language. Although speakers are descendants from common ancestors, they have great difficulty distinguishing among dialects that are not their own, although less so between Green and White Hmong. According to Jessica Lim, “Hmong in general has eight vowels, fifty-seven consonants, and seven tones. Four writing systems are used, but RPA, the romanized popular alphabet, is the most commonly used one.
Tones are conveyed through the placement of certain letters placed at the ends of syllables. Living in America causes breaches in families, the basis of the Hmong culture. This loss of culture slowly but surely forces the thriving generations of Hmong to slowly lose their mother tongue. The slow attrition allows the integration process to be easier with constant pressure to fit in with new American culture but at the price of native culture. Most often, first-generation Hmong who have migrated into the states learn minimal English to get by. Children, however, submerged in English at school, tend to lose Hmong through disuse.
Families and relationships are the building blocks of the Hmong culture, seen in the formations of the clan and families, executed through principles of kindness and respect. Caring for parents after growing up is one example that demonstrates respect from children. However, American culture pressures the children to become independent and move out. According to Jessica Lim, “As it is difficult for extended families to live together, support for the elderly has diminished. Outside of the family, there is a loss of a communal feeling.
In traditional Hmong culture, people farm for their own food. As a result, there is no great disparity in wealth. In contrast, there is much more wealth disparity in America, and thus weakens the sense of equality. ” According to Alison DeNisco, the demands of communities in Minnesota often leads schools to add foreign language classes in less-common languages, such as Hmong, Arabic, Hindi and Swahili. In her article “Hmong Dual-Language Programs Preserve Culture”, DeNisco explains that usually the term “dual language” makes most people to commonly think of Spanish.
However, “… dual-language programs taught in less-common tongues can help families preserve their cultural identities as new generations are born in the United States” (DeNisco, “Hmong Dual-Language Programs Preserve Culture”). About forty-four percent of the Hmong population is under the age of eighteen, causing the increase in demand on schools to assist these students.
According to the article “Hmong Dual-Language Programs Preserve Culture”, “About 7,980 of St. Paul’s 39,000 students are Hmong–5,600 of those are ELL, and most were born in the United States. Any student can participate in the Hmong immersion program… A handful of Hmong-focused charter schools cater to students in the area as well. ” America’s second Hmong dual-language program opened in the Sacramento City school district in 2011. Kindergarten students are taught in Hmong ninety percent of the time and English ten percent of the time. Each year, English instruction increases and Hmong instruction decreases until grade 5 until the ratio is 50-50.
As the Hmong language continue to face characteristics that threaten the loss of their native language, different preventive measures have been applied to try and slow the gradual loss down. Although some cultural influences are unavoidable, the Hmong culture is kept alive through tradition and the use of technology. In California, where there is the highest mass of Hmong population and the most poverty among the Hmong, radio stations and newspapers are used to keep and raise awareness of the endangered Hmong language.