Pahawh HmongHmng

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Origins of the Pahawh Hmong Script
Pahawh Hmong Script Carving
Stages of Development


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Research into newly created scripts of Southeast Asia


  • According to Hmong tradition, at the beginning of time, God sent each of his twelve sons to different places on the earth, bearing a message of salvation. When the saviour arrived amongst the Hmong people, however, the Hmong were afraid of him and killed him. God sent three subsequent messengers to the Hmong, but they killed them all, so God condemned them to endure punishment until the year 1957, when he would deliver them.

    At the appointed time, one of God's sons was once again selected to go to the Hmong people. The first time he was sent, he did not complete his task and instead returned to Heaven. He was born again in 1929 as a Hmong boy by the name of Shong Lue. Unfortunately, by the time Shong Lue was nine, his parents and all his siblings had died and he was alone. He went to live in a neighbouring village, where he remained until he was an adult, marrying and having children. In 1959, Shong Lue had a vision from God, telling him that he had been sent to the Hmong people to deliver them, and that he was to prepare and smoke an opium pipe so that two of God's other sons could communicate with him. At this time, he was illiterate.

    Some nights later, Shong Lue prepared and smoked the opium, and two men appeared in the room and began teaching him the Pahawh Hmong script. This happened for a number of nights. At this time, Shong Lue's wife became pregnant, and five months later gave birth to two twin boys. These boys were in fact the same sons of God who had been visiting Shong Lue in adult form.

    The two boys died within a few weeks of being born, but not without leaving Shong Lue written instructions as to the propagation of the script. They instructed Shong Lue to teach the script to both the Hmong and the Khmu people, and that whichever group accepted the script would be blessed and would increase; the other would be cursed and remain downtrodden and poor.

    When Shong Lue read the message, he remembered everything that had happened in his previous life in Heaven, and his first birth on the earth. He returned to the family into which he had first been born, and to the children he had borne the first time he had come to earth, and they corroborated his story.

    He taught the Hmong and the Khmu people the script and gave them the message from God about how to live as good people on the earth. Reportedly, both groups accepted everything he said, although little documented use of the Pahawh Khmu script exists. The Hmong came in increasing numbers and Shong Lue gained widespread influence. The authorities, however, felt threatened by his power and by the love the Hmong people had for him. He was killed in 1971 on the pretext of CIA involvement.

    (Full story available in 15 chapters from  Mother of Writing.)

    ContributorScriptSource Staff
  • This is a sample of the Pahawh Hmong script. The carving was done by Tim Brookes as part of the  Endangered Alphabets Project.


    From an original carving by Tim Brookes. Used with permission.

    Copyright© Tim Brookes 2011
    LicenseCreative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Allows modification and redistribution
    ContributorSteph Holloway
  • During his life, Shong Lue produced four versions of the script. The first stage consisted largely of identification of the sounds; each vowel+tone had a different sign, as did each consonant. In the second stage the script was made more economical; tones were divided into two groups, marked by diacritics. The 60 consonant symbols were reduced to 20, and 2 diacritics introduced to modify these and represent the full consonant inventory. A further refinement in the third stage systemized the associations between vowel qualities and symbols, and by the fourth and final stage each vowel quality was associated with only one symbol, which could be modified by a greater number of diacritics, each diacritic representing one tone.


    Martha Ratliff, 'The Pahawh Hmong Script', in The World's Writing Systems, ed. by Daniels & Bright (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 619-120.

    ContributorScriptSource Staff


  • As many of you may know, new scripts have been developed in Southeast Asia in the 20th century, often by Messianic cultural movements involved in anti-colonial struggles. This is reminiscent of a parallel phenomenon in West Africa, amply documented by Peter Unseth.

    I am very interested in new scripts of Southeast Asia and I have had the opportunity to document two of them (Eskayan and Abakano). I'm keen to find out anyone else is doing this kind of research, or if anybody has come across new scripts that I'm not aware of.

    Here is my list of the new scripts in Southeast Asia that have come to my attention. I would be very grateful if anyone in this forum can add to the list, even if it's just a vague rumour or an idle anecdote – that's usually how serious research starts!

    · Eskayan (developed in 1930s) on the island of Bohol in the Philippines for Visayan and Eskayan languages.

    · Pahawh Hmong (1959) for Hmong languages

    · Khom in Laos (1924) for the Loven language of Laos.

    · Sayaboury for Hmong languages

    · Iban alphabet (1947-1962) in Sarawak, Borneo for Iban language.

    · The Naasioi script (1988-1998) for the Naasioi language of Bougainville

    · A script used on Dinagat island in the Philippines (perhaps for Visayan/Cebuano; circumstances unknown)

    ContributorPiers Kelly

Copyright © 2017 SIL International and released under the  Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license (CC-BY-SA) unless noted otherwise. Language data includes information from the  Ethnologue. Script information partially from the  ISO 15924 Registration Authority. Some character data from  The Unicode Standard Character Database and locale data from the  Common Locale Data Repository. Used by permission.