Personal Pronouns in Hmong

Thai painting of many people

VIDEO: Personal Pronouns in Hmong

The Basic Personal Pronouns in Hmong.

Hmong personal pronouns are similar to English, with a few simple differences. Here are the basics:

1st Person – I, me, we

I, me, myWe (2 people)We (3 or more people)

Kuv mus lawm.

I went. Lit: I go already.

Wb yuav mus.

We’ll go. Lit: We(2) will go.

Peb tsis tuaj.

We’re not coming. Lit: We(3+) not come.

2nd Person – You, your, y’all

You, yourYou, y’all (2 people)You, y’all (3 or more people)

Koj siab heev.

You’re very tall. Lit: You tall very.

Neb mus qhov twg?

Where are you going? Lit: You(2) go where?

Nej ua dabtsi?

What are you doing? Lit: You(3+) do what?

3rd Person – He, she, it, they, them, their, etc.

He, she, itThey (2 people)They (3 or more people)

Nws noj mov.

He eats. Lit: He eat rice.

Nkawd tsis paub.

They don’t know. Lit: They(2) not know.

Lawv tsis noj.

They don’t eat. Lit: They(3+) not eat.

The special pronoun ‘yus.’

The pronoun, ‘yus,’ has a very similar meaning to pronoun, ‘one,’ that we sometimes use in English. It serves, perhaps, a more important role than the word, ‘one,’ in English. Let’s look at an example below:

Yus tsis paub kev, yus tsis txhob mus.

(When) one doesn’t know the way, one shouldn’t go. Lit: One not know path one not don’t! go.

You can use, ‘yus,’ for all different purposes, but it is most commonly used to soften direct comments or even criticisms. If we were to replace the word, ‘yus,’ with the word, ‘koj,’ in the above example it would sound extremely harsh: Koj tsis paub kev ces koj tsis txhob mus! Hmong culture places high importance on dignity and respect towards others. So the word, ‘yus,’ serves a valuable role in making sentences like the above less direct and softer.

The special pronoun ‘luag,’ and ‘luag tej.’

The pronoun, ‘luag,’ and ‘luag tej,’ can essentially be defined as, ‘others,’ in English. Like, ‘yus,’ above, though, it has a special and subtle usage. First let’s look at the basic usage:

Luag pheej cem kuv.

Others are always scolding me. Lit: Others keep-on scold me.

In the above example, ‘luag,’ is simply used to mean other people or anyone other than one’s self.

Yuav tsum pab luag tej.

(You) must help others. Lit: Must help others.

The expression, ‘luag tej,’ has a similar meaning but implies a broader range of people. While the first example could refer to just one person, this example implies more generally to all people.

Luag muab wb tus ntxhais tua pov tseg.

He killed our daughter. Lit: Other(he) take our(2) clf daughter kill throw away.

Nws nyiag luag khoom ces luag tsis txaus siab lawm.

He stole their stuff, now they aren’t happy. Lit: He stole others(their) thing then others(they) not satisfied heart already.

In the above two examples, the word, ‘luag,’ are actually referring to a specific person and not just, ‘others,’ but it is deliberately indirect. In the first example, it is because they feel the murderer’s name is unspeakable. There can be any number of reasons why one would want to refer to someone else indirectly.

With both, ‘yus,’ and ‘luag,’ their necessity is more cultural and less because of grammar. As mentioned above, Hmong culture values the respect and dignity of the other person and thus Hmong will often speak indirectly to safe the face and dignity of the other person. Or sometimes, as in the rare cases similar to the last two examples of, ‘luag,’ because they don’t want to have to speak of the person.

Now that you have a list of all of the pronouns, let’s take a look at a couple of special use-cases.

Special pronoun usage – self

A common word to refer one’s self in Hmong is the word, ‘tus kheej,’ as in the following example.

Nws tsuas xav txog nws tus kheej xwb.

He only thinks about himself. Lit: He only think about him CLF self only.

Hmong, however, has a more simple and idiomatic way of talking about self. See the following two examples:

Nws ua nws.

He did it himself. Lit: He do he.

Nws tua nws.

He killed himself. Lit: Nws tua nws.

Special pronoun usage – redundant pronoun.

Another idiomatic expression using pronouns is when you want to refer to a few people by name, often the appropriate pronoun is placed immediately after their names. See the following examples:

Kuv thiab Mim wb xav qhia nej hais tias….

Mi and I wanted to tell you that… Lit: Mi(name) we(2) want tell you(3+) say that…

Pov thaib Ntxhais nkawd tseem tsis tau paub lawm.

Paw and Sai don’t know yet. Lit: Paw(name) and Sai(name) they(2) still don’t achieve know already.

Cov kwv tij neej tsa lawv yuav tsis txaus siab.

The family won’t be happy. Lit: Plur. younger-brother older-brother family-of-wife they will not satisfied heart.

While this may seem unnecessary and redundant in English, it is natural and common in Hmong.

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