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Hmong (RPA: Hmoob) or Mong (RPA: Moob) is the common name for a group of dialects of the West Hmongic (Chuanqiandian) branch of the Hmong-Mien/Miao-Yao language family spoken by the Hmong people of Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangxi, northern Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos. The total number of speakers worldwide has been estimated to be more than 4 million, including over 200,000 Hmong Americans. Some dialects are mutually intelligible while others are so distinct as to be considered separate languages.
The two dialects described here are known as White Hmong (also called Hmong Der or Hmong Daw) and Green Mong (also called Mong Leng or Mong Njua). These are the two major dialects spoken by Hmong Americans. While mutually intelligible, the dialects differ in both lexicon and certain aspects of phonology. For instance, Green Mong lacks the aspirated /m/ of Hmong Der and has a third nasalized vowel, /ã/. In English, "Hmong" is used to include both Hmong Der and Mong Leng, although some have suggested a compromise, such as: H'Mong, Mhong, or (H)Mong.
The Hmong people are a minority ethnic group in several countries, believed by some researchers to be from the Yellow Basin area in China. The Hmong are known in China as the Miao, a designation that embraces several different ethnic groups. There is debate about usage of this term, especially amongst Hmong living in the West, as it is believed by some to be derogatory, although Hmong living in China still call themselves by this name. Chinese scholars have recorded contact with the Miao as early as the 3rd Century BCE, and wrote of them that they were a proud and independent people. However, after the Han Chinese attempted to impose several new taxation systems and continued expansion of their empire, the Hmong are reported to have rebelled. Many wars were fought, and eventually many Hmong were pushed from China into Burma (Myanmar), Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. The history of the Hmong people is difficult to trace; they have an oral tradition, but there are no written records except where other people have encountered them. Hmong history has been passed down through legends and ritual ceremonies from one generation to another.
However, throughout the recorded history, the Hmong have remained identifiable as Hmong because they have maintained their own language, customs, and ways of life while adopting the ways of the country in which they live. In the 1960s and '70s many Hmong were secretly recruited by the American CIA to fight against communism during the Vietnam War. After American armed forces pulled out of Vietnam, a communist regime took over in Laos, and ordered the prosecution and re-education of all those who had fought against its cause during the war. Whilst many Hmong are still left in Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, and China (which houses one of the biggest Hmong populations in the world, 5 million), since 1975 many Hmong have fled Laos in terror. Housed in Thai refugee camps during the 1980s, many have resettled in countries such as the United States, French Guiana, Australia, France, Germany, as well as some who have chosen to stay in Thailand in hope of returning to their own land. In the United States, new generations of Hmong are gradually assimilating into American society while being taught Hmong culture and history by their elders. Many fear that as the older generations pass on, the knowledge of the Hmong among Hmong-Americans will die as well.
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