Hello JAC,


I do not know whether any of you looked at the change request regarding two individual languages (Hmong Njua [hnj] and Hmong Shua/Sinicized Miao [hmz]) and the macrolanguage Hmong [hmn] with which they are associated. I am asking that you do so now, in an abbreviated way. (If you want to see it  all, documents are posted at http://www.sil.org/iso639-3/chg_detail.asp?id=2009-090 )


The proposal was received from an applied linguist and educator of "Mong" descent living in the US and very involved in advocacy for bilingual education programs, particularly for speakers of his native language. The request contends that the ISO 639 standard does not include his native language, "Mong" (which he associates most closely with [hnj] but also with [hmz]). The request seeks to merge the two individual languages to create a single "Mong" language, not associated with the Hmong macrolanguage [hmn]. He contends that the lack of recognition of "Mong" in the ISO 639 standard is a barrier to receiving services for native speakers of his language in the US.


The request is very much oriented toward US speakers of the language, and virtually ignores speakers in other countries (particularly the linguistic homelands of China, Vietnam, and Laos, except with regard to the history of the emigration of the ethnic group.) However, he includes worldwide population figures (which are significantly out of alignment with other population figures).


We received three comments in opposition to the requested changes, all of which argue quite effectively against them on both linguistic and sociolinguistic grounds. Each of these commentators recognized the main goal as being recognition for the "Mong" language (in the US). All gave evidence as to why the voiced bilabial nasal ("m") and voiceless bilabial nasal ("hm") are not contrastive (a distinguishing feature) in the way described by the requester--which is the linguistic basis of his request--when taking the worldwide [hnj] speaking population (and in fact, the whole of [hmn]) into consideration. The commentators noted that "Mong" is used in some dialects in China and elsewhere, while "Hmong" is used in other dialects, but the groups themselves see these as dialectal aspects within their recognized groups, not as distinguishing feature between separate groups. The commentators also provide information that refutes the merging of Hmong Njua and Sinicized Miao.


Two of the commentators suggested adding "Mong" as an alternate name to be used with [hmn] (as well as adding "Mong Leng" and "Mong Njua" as names associated with [hnj]). This may not satisfy the requester fully, but it does better reflect the use (or absence) of the voiceless bilabial nasal among the whole range of Hmongic language communities around the world. It might to some extent achieve the recognition desired for "Mong" as a name with which the request and others of his language community in the US can self-identify. (Early on, I suggested this approach to the requester, and it was not what he wanted at that time.)


The review committee with which I work on evaluating the requests is sympathetic with the plight of non-native English speakers in the US. That said, it is not the intention of the ISO 639-3 RA to be motivated by the perceived needs of one country’s sub-community of a given language, in opposition to the situations of users of that language around the world. The review committee finds the recommendation to add "Mong" as a name used with [hmn] as a reasonable action, and one that would improve the ISO 639 code set.


That is the long way of asking whether the JAC would consider adding the name "Mong" for use with the identifier [hmn]?


Thanks for giving this consideration.


Joan Spanne

SIL International

ISO 639-3 Registration Authority