Iu Mien language

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Iu Mien
Iu Mienh
Pronunciation [ju mjɛn][need tone]
Native to China, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, USA, and France.
Native speakers
840,000 (1995–1999)[1]
Official status
Official language in
China (in Jinxiu Yao Autonomous County)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Either:
ium – Iu Mien
bmt – Biao Mon
Glottolog iumi1238  (Iu Mien)[2]
biao1256  (Biao Mon)[3]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The Iu Mien language (Chinese: 勉語 or 勉方言; Thai: ภาษาอิวเมี่ยน) is one of the main languages spoken by the Yao people in China, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and, more recently, the United States in diaspora. Like other Hmong-Mien languages, it is tonal and monosyllabic.

Linguists in China consider the dialect spoken in Changdong, Jinxiu Yao Autonomous County, Guangxi to be the standard. However, most Iu Mien people in the West are refugees from Laos, so they primarily speak dialects common in Laos.[4]

Iu Mien has 78% lexical similarity with Kim Mun (Lanten), 70% with Biao-Jiao Mien, and 61% with Dzao Min.[4]

Geographic distribution

In China, Iu Mien is spoken in the following counties (Mao 2004:302-303).[5] There are 130,000 speakers in the Hunan province (known as the Xiangnan 湘南 dialect), and 400,000 speakers in the Guangxi, Yunnan, Guangdong, Guizhou, and Jiangxi provinces (known as the Guangdian 广滇 dialect).

  • Guangxi: Yangshuo, Lingui, Guanyang, Ziyuan, Xing'an, Longsheng, Gongcheng, Yongfu, Luzhai, Lipu, Mengshen, Pingle, Jinxiu, Yishan, Rong'an, Rongshui, Luocheng, Huanjiang, Shanglin, Xincheng, Laibin, Baise, Napo, Lingyun, Tianlin, Cangwu, Hezhou, Fuchuan, Zhaoping, Fangcheng, Shangsi
  • Guangdong: Yingde, Lechang, Shixing, Qujiang, Renhua, Wengyuan, Ruyuan, Liannan, Lianshan, Yangshan, Yangchun
  • Yunnan: Hekou, Jinping, Honghe, Mengla, Malipo, Maguan, Gangnan, Funing, Wenshan
  • Guizhou: Rongjiang, Congjiang, Sandu, Danzhai, Leishan, Zhenfeng, Luodian
  • Jiangxi: Quannan, Shanggao
  • Hunan: Jianghua, Yongzhou, Shuangpai, Xintian, Changning, Daoxian, Lanshan, Lingxian, Ningyuan, Jiangyong, Dong'an, Chenzhou, Zixing, Lingwu, Guiyang, Xinning, Yizhang, Chengbu, Qiyang, Chenxi; also in Longzha Township 龙渣瑶族乡, Yanling County


There are several known dialects of Iu Mien. Dialects vary by clan and geographic location. Dialects include, but are not limited to, Cham, Deo Tien, Man Do, Quan Chet, and Quan Trang.



There are 31 cited consonant phonemes in Iu Mien. A distinguishing feature of Iu Mien consonants is the presence of voiceless nasals and laterals.

Consonant phonemes of Iu Mien (unknown dialect)
Labial Dental Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ̥ ɲ ŋ̊ ŋ
Stop p b t d k ɡ ʔ
Affricate t͡sʰ t͡s d͡z t͡ɕʰ t͡ɕ d͡ʑ
Fricative f s h
Approximant j w
Lateral Appr. l
  1. The standard spelling system for Iu Mien does not represent the stop sounds in a way that corresponds to the IPA symbols, but instead uses e.g. ⟨t⟩, ⟨d⟩, and ⟨nd⟩ to represent /tʰ/, /t/, and /d/. This may stem from an attempt to model the Iu Mien spelling system on Pinyin (used to represent Mandarin Chinese), where ⟨t⟩ and ⟨d⟩ represent /tʰ/ and /t/. The Pinyin influence is also seen in the use of ⟨c⟩, ⟨z⟩, and ⟨nz⟩ to represent the alveolar affricates /t͡sʰ/, /t͡s/, and /d͡z/ and ⟨q⟩, ⟨j⟩, and ⟨nj⟩ for the postalveolar affricates /t͡ɕʰ/, /t͡ɕ/, and /d͡ʑ/. Note also that the use of ⟨ng⟩ to represent the velar nasal /ŋ/ means that it cannot also be used to represent /ɡ/, as would be predicted; instead, ⟨nq⟩ is used.
  2. According to Aumann and Chengqian, in a certain Chinese dialect, the postalveolar affricates are instead palatal stops (/cʰ/, /c/, /ɟ/).
  3. According to Daniel Bruhn, the voiceless nasals are actually sequences [h̃m], [h̃n], [h̃ŋ], and [h̃ɲ] (i.e. a short nasalized /h/ followed by a voiced nasal), while the voiceless lateral is actually a voiceless lateral fricative [ɬ].
  4. Bruhn also observed that younger-generation Iu Mien Americans were more likely to substitute the voiceless nasals and voiceless laterals with /h/ and the alveolo-palatal affricates with their corresponding palato-alveolar variants.


It appears that all single consonant phonemes except /ʔ/ can occur as the onset.[6][7]


Unlike Hmong, which generally prohibits coda consonants, Iu Mien has seven single consonant phonemes that can take the coda position. These consonants are /m/, /n/, /ŋ/, [p̚], [t̚], [k̚], and /ʔ/. Some of the stops can only occur as final consonants when accompanied by certain tones; for example, /ʔ/ only occurs with the tone ⟨c⟩ or ⟨v⟩.


Monophthongs of Iu Mien (unknown dialect)
Front Central Back
High i u
High-mid e o
Low-mid ɛ ɜ
Near-low æ ɐ
Low ɒ

Iu Mien vowels are represented in the Iu Mien United Script using combinations of the six letters, ⟨a⟩, ⟨e⟩, ⟨i⟩, ⟨o⟩, ⟨u⟩, and ⟨r⟩.

According to Bruhn, the monophthongs are ⟨i⟩, ⟨u⟩, ⟨e⟩, ⟨o⟩, ⟨ai⟩, ⟨er⟩, ⟨ae⟩, ⟨a⟩, ⟨aa⟩, and ⟨or⟩. The diphthongs are ⟨ai⟩, ⟨aai⟩, ⟨au⟩, ⟨aau⟩, ⟨ei⟩, ⟨oi⟩, ⟨ou⟩, ⟨eu⟩. Furthermore, additional diphthongs and triphthongs can be formed from the aforementioned vowels through /i/- or /u/-on-gliding (having /i/ or /u/ before the vowel). Such vowels attested by Bruhn include ⟨ia⟩, ⟨iaa⟩, ⟨ie⟩, ⟨io⟩, ⟨iu⟩, ⟨ior⟩, ⟨iai⟩, ⟨iaai⟩, ⟨iau⟩, ⟨iaau⟩, ⟨iei⟩, ⟨iou⟩, ⟨ua⟩, ⟨uaa⟩, ⟨uae⟩, ⟨ue⟩, ⟨ui⟩, ⟨uo⟩, ⟨uai⟩, ⟨uaai⟩, and ⟨uei⟩.

The dialect studied by Bruhn, and described in the above table, has a phoneme /ɛ/ that does not have its own spelling, but is represented in various contexts either as ⟨e⟩ or ⟨ai⟩ (which are also used for /e/ and /aɪ/, respectively). In all cases where /ɛ/ is spelled ⟨e⟩, and nearly all cases where it is spelled ⟨ai⟩, it does not contrast with /e/ or /aɪ/, respectively, and can be viewed as an allophone of these sounds. The only potential exception appears to be when occurring as a syllable final by itself, where it has an extremely restricted distribution, occurring only after the (alveolo-)palatal consonants /tɕ/, /dʑ/, and /ɲ/. The sound /ɛ/ may be a secondary development from /aɪ/ in this context, although Bruhn does not discuss this issue.


Iu Mien is a tonal language with six observed tonemes.

In the Iu Mien United Script (the language's most common writing system), tones are not marked with diacritics; rather, a word's tone is indicated by a special marker letter at the end of the word. If a word lacks a marker, then it is to be pronounced with a middle tone.

IPA Description IMUS Example English meaning
˦/˦˥ High v maaiv lopsided
˧˩ Mid, falling h maaih to have
˧ Mid maai basic tail of bird
˨/˨˩ Low c maaic to sell
˨˧ Low, rising x maaix nightmare
˨˧/˨˧˨ Lower, longer, rise-fall z maaiz to buy


Iu Mien is an analytic language and lacks inflection. It is also a monosyllabic language, with most of its lexicon consisting of one syllable.

The language follows a SVO word order. Some other syntactic properties include the following:

  • Adjectives usually follow nouns.
  • Question words like those meaning 'where' generally come at the end of sentences.
  • The negative word maiv (often shortened to mv) may occur before verbs to negate them.
  • A prevalence of contractions. Some words consist of a contracted syllable followed by an uncontracted second syllable (in IMUS, these syllables are separated by apostrophes). One such example is ga'nyorc ("spider"), a contraction of gaeng-nyorc ("insect-spider").

Writing system

In the past, the lack of an alphabet caused low rates of literacy amongst the Iu Mien speakers. It had been written with Chinese characters in China; however, this is extremely difficult for Iu Mien speakers from other countries such as Laos and from groups such as the Chao Clan.

In an effort to address this, an Iu Mien Unified Script was created in 1984 using the Latin script, based on an earlier orthography developed in China.[8] Unlike the Vietnamese language, this alphabet does not use any diacritics to distinguish tones or different vowel sounds, and only uses the 26 letters of the ISO basic Latin alphabet. This orthography distinguishes 30 initials, 128 finals, and eight tones. Hyphens are used to link adjectives with the nouns they modify. The alphabet is similar to the RPA used to write the Hmong language and the Hanyu Pinyin transcription scheme used for Chinese.

IMUS spelling-to-sound correspondences


The following films feature the Iu Mien language:

  • 2003 - Death of a Shaman. Directed by Richard Hall; produced by Fahm Fong Saeyang.
  • 2010 - "Siang-Caaux Mienh". A story of a very irresponsible family man, alcoholic, and drug addict. He likes his bad friends but he doesn’t love his family. But as he starts paying his mistakes, has become a turning point in his life.
  • 2011 - "Mborqv Jaax Ciangv". A moving family friendly movie.


  1. Iu Mien at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Biao Mon at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Iu Mien". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Biao Mon". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 Ethnologue report for language code:ium
  5. 毛宗武, 李云兵 / Mao Zongwu, Li Yunbing. 1997. 巴哼语研究 / Baheng yu yan jiu (A Study of Baheng [Pa-Hng]). Shanghai: 上海远东出版社 / Shanghai yuan dong chu ban she.
  6. mienh.net online lesson - Initial Consonants
  7. Zhou 2003:259
  8. [1]


  • Smith Panh (Panh Kweifo/盘贵富): Modern English-Mienh and Mienh-English Dictionary (Trafford 2002), ISBN 1-55369-711-1.
  • Tony Waters. "Adaptation and Migration among the Mien People of Southeast Asia." Ethnic Groups vol. 8, pages 127-141 (1990).
  • Máo Zōngwǔ 毛宗武,Méng Cháojí 蒙朝吉,Zhèng Zōngzé 郑宗泽 etc. (eds.): Yáoyǔ jiǎnzhì 瑶语简志 (Overview of the Yao language; Běijīng 北京, Mínzú chūbǎnshè 民族出版社 1982)
  • Máo Zōngwǔ 毛宗武: Yáozú Miǎnyǔ fāngyán yánjiū 瑶族勉语方言研究 (Studies in Mien dialects of the Yao nationality; Běijīng 北京, Mínzú chūbǎnshè 民族出版社 2004).
  • Minglang Zhou: Multilingualism in China. The Politics of Writing Reforms for Minority Languages, 1949-2002 (Berlin, Walter de Gruyter 2003); ISBN 3-11-017896-6.
  • http://www.omf.org/omf/us/peoples_and_places/people_groups/mien_of_thailand

Further reading

  • Kim, Katherine Cowy. Quietly Torn: A Literary Journal by Young Lu Mien American Women Living in Richmond, California. San Francisco, CA: Pacific News Service, 1999.
  • Jue Zongze [劂宗泽]. 2011. The Mien language of Jianghua County [江华勉语研究]. Beijing: Ethnic Publishing House [民族出版社]. ISBN 9787105113712

External links