How are Green Hmong and White Hmong Different?

Many who want to learn Hmong are concerned about which dialect they are learning, and this is fair because it can seem quite intimidating when you are first starting out!

Let me give you some reassurance, Green Hmong and White Hmong are dialects of the same language. They are not different languages. What does that mean? Think of it like this: You may know English. But which dialect? Let’s say you know American English. Can you understand British English? Australian English? New Zealand English? South African English? Likely, the answer is ‘mostly.’

You may have just observed that these different dialects are just that: different from the version of English you speak. But if we were articulate it more clearly, we could simply say that different dialects differ by:

  • Subtle vowel and consonant changes
  • Some differences in vocabulary

For example, how do you pronounce the word ‘No.’ If you are Australian, you may be adding a ‘w’ and an ‘r’ in there somewhere, something like: ‘nawr.’ If you are an American chuckling at this, where is the letter ‘w’ when you say ‘hawk?’ Ask an Australian, they can help you out.

Vocabulary is also sometimes different. One area may call the push-able, rolling grocery holder a ‘cart,’ others may call it a ‘buggie,’ etc.

So, back to the good news? Green Hmong and White Hmong are simply different dialects of the same language. That means that they are usually pretty mutually understandable among native speakers. If you can speak one well, usually someone with the other dialect can understand what you are saying.

This, however, doesn’t solve the immediate challenge of those just starting out. When you only have a handful of words to work with, it can be daunting to be faced with these two different paths.

My suggestion is this: Learn White Hmong first. Not because it is better in any way. Just because there are 10x more resources available in White Hmong than in Green.

Also, here is a helpful cheat sheet to show common vowel and consonant changes from White to Green as well as common vocabulary changes

Common Vowel Changes

White HmongGreen HmongExample
IAA‘siab’ becomes ‘sab’
AAA‘nab’ becomes ‘naab’
For example, the vowel ‘ia’ in white turns to ‘a’ in green so the word ‘siab’ in White Hmong becomes ‘sab’ in Green Hmong.

Sometimes, depending on the the area the Green Hmong dialect is from, the vowel ‘I’ in White Hmong will turn to ‘W’ in Green Hmong.

Inconsistent Vowel Changes

There are a handful of vowel changes that happen with some words, but not with all. For example:

White HmongGreen HmongExample
AUU‘Hauv’ becomes ‘huv,’ but ‘paub’ does not become ‘pub.’
OU‘Nco’ becomes ‘ncu,’ but ‘tos’ does not become ‘tus.’

Common Consonant Changes

White HmongGreen HmongExample
DDL‘dev’ becomes ‘dlev’
DHDLH‘dhau’ becomes ‘dlhau’
HMM‘Hmoob’ becomes ‘moob’
HNN‘hnub’ becomes ‘nub’
HNYNY‘hnyav’ becomes ‘nyav’
HF‘hwj’ becomes ‘fwj
The above changes are easier to remember than you might imagine. No word in Green Hmong starts with a ‘pre-aspiration’ or in other words, an H followed by a consonant where the H comes out as a puff of air from the nose. So when you see that, just chop the H off. When the H comes before a vowel, it usually changes to an ‘f’ so ‘hwj’ (bottle) becomes ‘fwj.’

Common Vocabulary Changes

Again, sometimes differences in dialects are not based on specific vowel or consonant change, but the words are just completely different words. This only happens with a handful of words, but because some of these words are very common, and thus used in every other sentence, it can seem like a lot. Here are some of the common differences I’ve found.

White HmongGreen HmongMeaning
komkuasto cause to happen
lawvpuabthey, them (3rd person)
lileas, according to; like
musmoogto go
ntawdhovthat; there
nebmebyou all (2 people, 2nd person)
nejmejyou all (3 or more people, 2nd person)
ntiaj tebnplaj tebthe earth, the world
neegtuab neegpeople
tibtuabthe same (followed by a classifier or the word ‘neeg’)
poj niamquas pujwife; woman
txiv neejquas yawghusband; man
pamchoja blanket
sawv dawssuav dlawgeveryone
thiabhaband, also
txhobxob(imperative command) don’t!
xub ntiagxub ndlagthe bosom; the area in front of someone
phauphooclassifier for books
txibkhaivto send on a mission, to comission
tsistsinot, isn’t
rauruato, for

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