What language is this???

I was at the depression support group at Mclean Hospital today, even though I don’t feel depressed anymore.

I still like to go there to make the people who are depressed feel better. I made them cupcakes last week.
Anyway, in the DeMarneffe building they have a rack of all sorts of pamphlets addressing all sorts of mental illnesses.

And one of these sets of pamphlets had some weird writing on it.

I am usually good at languages, but I have never seen anything like this. I passed the pamphlet around to everyone in the group and not a single person had any idea what this language was.

Here are some exerpts from the pamphlet:

Lwj Siab-Qaug Zog: Ua rau yus ntshai , Mob tsis tu qab, Xav Kho kom zoo

Pib hauv National Institute ntawnm Mental Health thiab ua hauj lwm nyob hauv Minnesota hauv Mental Health Association, ntawwm D/ART Educational Campaign tau ua tus tsim rau.

One guy in the group studied this pamphlet for a good twenty minutes or so, looking for patterns and things and he suspected that it wasn’t a real language at all.

If that’s the case, why would they put gibberish or encoded English in a facility for mentally ill people? Won’t it drive them insane? Isn’t it wrong to fuck with mentally ill people?

How do you pronounce a word spelled “lwm”?

I thought of Vietnamese, but I’ve seen that before and there are accent marks on many letters in that language. This writing had no accent marks anywhere.

This might be asking too much, but does anyone know what the words might mean?

I promised my depressed buddies that I would try as hard as i could to find out for them.

It’s Hmong. From Laos. Look here.

OK, so we’ve established it is Hmong.

I am guessing that the english letters is a rather poor attempt at capturing the probably unique sounds of the language. So it is safe to say it is written in it’s original form in a non-roman scrpit? Also, what language family does it belong to? The fact that most of the words appear to be one syllable would lead it to a variant of some Chinese tongues, but I don’t know geographically if that is a good guess.

Any linguists out there in the know?

Lovable Rogue

Looks like authentic frontier gibberish to me.

Of course, any language that you have sufficiently little experience with is indistinguishable from gibberish.

A bit presumptuous, but I’m beginning to agree. It looks like nothing I would call a language, and for many of the same reasons: Not enough repetition to have a grammar or a simple vocabulary of a reasonable length. Conjugations and such can mangle words (for example, ‘is’, ‘was’, and ‘are’ are all conjugations of ‘to be’), but I don’t know of any language that is that irregular.

If they’re already nuts, a few pamphlets in gibberish won’t make them any worse. [bad joke]They’ll just think the CIA is using a new code to communicate with the Greys.[/bad joke] I do agree with you, though: It’s pretty dense to ‘translate’ a pamphlet into nonsense.

How do you pronounce a word spelled ‘cwm’? ‘Koom’, that’s how. Don’t assume English sound values.

I was thinking of an African language. It doesn’t look like Xhosa or anything else I’ve seen, and it certainly doesn’t look Asian. I’m thinking it is gibberish.

“If you can read this, you’re nuts.”


I hope they won’t be too sad if it is, in fact, just nonsense.

I was wrong. The world is more sane than I thought.

Might I add I don’t speak or read Hmong?

(Minnesota based) Hmong Homepage

Look what I found!


I could be mistaken, but I am fairly sure that Hmong was traditionally NOT a written language, and it is only recently has it been written. (poking around http://www.hmongnet.org/ it looks like I might be mistaken)

The Hmong (langauge(s), dialect(s)) differs from Laosian (sp?) but I dont know by how much.

You asked for help from a linguist and I happen to be studying linguistics in college. I’m no expert really, but I have spent some time learning about languages.

What I am about to say is unresearched and just off the top of my head, so take it with a grain of salt, but also remember that I did take a class on the languages of the world this past quarter.

Hmong belongs to the Hmong-Mien (Miao-Yao) language family according to the author of my text book (I had to go look it up to be sure). This family has not been determined to be connected to any other language family, at least not definatively. Many Chinese linguists say that it is part of the Sino-Tibetan language family, but this is not clear. Hmong-Mien languages are spoken in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and China. They seem to have been influenced by both the Sino-Tibetan language family (or perhaps are decended from that family) and the Tai-Kadai language family.

These languages may have as many as 12 phonemic tones (meaning a tone may signal a different meaning) and I believe they have Isolating morhology (meaning that word or morpheme carries only one piece of information, so that words tend to be short.)

I dan’t know if any of this is interesting or makes sense to you, but that is what I have to contribute to the discussion.

Wow, thanks. You gals are so smart.

I wonder why the mental hospital would have pamphlets in English, Spanish and Hmong.

Weird…I mean, I understand the need for English and Spanish, but why would they include Hmong and leave out Japanese and French and Vietnamese and Chinese and Portuguese and a thousand other languages?

I still think they did it to screw with the mentall ill people’s minds.

Good grief, it was a source of great consternation at the meeting tonight.

I read that after the Vietnam War (or Southeast Asian Conflict or Whatever) that a lot of Hmong (relatively–this is such a small group I don’t think there’s ever been “a lot” of them any where) moved to the United States and settled down in a small number of cities. Perhaps you live in one of these communities? Probably the Hmong represent such a small number of people that most other minorities out number them, but if a number of them live in your area, your hospital might have decided to take extra measures to cater to them. If nothing else, it’s probably good PR.

Don’t know about Minnesota, but I know there’s a fairly large Hmong population in Ann Arbor, MI. I work for a national educational organization and we’ve heard from many school personnel in that area that Hmong is one of the major ethnic groups there.

Interestingly, there are two different branches of the language—White and Green. No, I’m not kidding.

In my cultural anthro class, we read a book that described some of the conflicts between Hmong and Western traditions. It was actually a pretty good read, equal parts medicine and anthropology: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0374525641/qid=1016727234/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_67_1/102-0026535-9563310 .

It covered transliteration briefly. Evidently, the last letter signifies what tone the word is supposed to be spoken in, which is why many words end in “odd” letters such as g, q, v, and b.

We also learned that Wisconsin and Minnesota have some of the largest Hmong populations in the US (after California).

Here is a Massachusetts Patient’s Right Brochure in Hmong.


The Hmong speakers are montagnards - hill people - from Vietnam. IIRC, they supported the French and the Americans during the 50s and 60s, and they were persecuted by the majority Vietnamese as a result. The US let a lot of them come over - out of guilt, more or less. They and their kids have had a hard time settling down in the US and they suffer more than average amounts of mental health problems. Hence - I guess - the Hmong language pamphlets in a mental health institution.

FWIW, this site breaks down Hmong transliteration into Roman letters:


(You’ll see some oddly-placed “Unable to process URL” messages, but they mean nothing – the site still works)

Click on “Pronounciation” at the left.

It’s pretty ingenious, when you look at it. Sjc, there are seven tones referenced (with a dialectical eight tone) represented by the following finals"

TONE                      FINAL  HMONG EXAMPLE
------------------------- -----  -----------------
high tone                  -b    pob 'ball, lump' 
high falling tone          -j    poj 'female' 
mid rising tone            -v    pov 'throw' 
mid tone                   -#    po 'spleen' 
breathy mid low tone       -g    pog 'grandmother' 
low tone                   -s    pos 'thorn' 
low falling (creaky) tone  -m    pom 'see' 

BTW, “w” is indeed a vowel in Hmong. It is equivalent to the high-central vowel found in Russian and Rumanian, and is pronounced midway between IPA* [ u ] and [ i ]. This vowel is represented by a Barred “i” in the IPA.

    • IPA = International Phonetic Alphabet

The Hmong are called the Miao in Chinese (Hmong-Mien in an earlier post), and are among the most numerous and widespread of all the Chinese minority groups. Traditionally mountain people, and outside encroachment begun by the Mongols and their practice of slash and burn agriculture led to widespread migrations.

Although no written records exist, an artic migration myth passed down through the ages tells of an exodus from a central Asian homeland to an artic zone and then south to a more moderate climate. Miao(Hmong) blood types differ greatly from southern Chinese and Southeast Asian samples but closely correspond to those of northern Chinese and Mogolian populations.

In the 1900’s, Christian missionaries among the Miao (Hmong) in Guizhou devised a written script. See The Ta-Hua Miao of Keicho Privince, 1954, Inez de Beauclair. I have absolutely no idea if this script is related or close to that used by the Hmong in the US.

I certainly don’t speak Hmong but for those that think the romanization system makes no sense, it is helpful to keep in mind that the pronunciation may not be the same as what you are used to in English. In other words, the writing is a key for the Hmong languageand not for English speakers.

Yep - there’s a large enough Hmong population in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul) that pamphlets printed in anglisized (sp?) Hmong isn’t that unusual.

In response to Turpentine - I grew up in the Twin Cities and I gotta say that they don’t have a huge minority population to speak of - much less the rest of the state of Minnesota. When I moved to Chicago, the first time I came back home to visit I went to the Mall of America and noticed for the first time how white it is there…all those Scandihoovians wit der ‘ya’ nd ‘yooo becha’:smiley:

Anyway - that’s probably why there was a limited number of translations on the pamphlet - Cantonese translations in St. Paul are just not applicable, whereas Hmong would be quite useful.

I do think that indicating tone by roman letters is kind of odd, but, hey, as long as the Hmong understand it, it’s okay by me. At least it makes typing out e-mails that much easier. That said, are there any other languages (when romanized) that indicate tone through letters rather than diacriticals?