Hmong WoW: Tshuab Hlwb Hlau

The Hmong Word of the Week is “tshuab hlwb hlau.”

This is a Hmong word for “computer.” It is a made-up word based on the idea behind “computer.” Translated literally, it means “machine brain metal,” or “metal brain machine,” for the adjective follows the noun, or noun clause, in Hmong. It takes the classifier “lub.”

This word is more common in written text than it is spoken. Usually, in everyday speech, the Hmong will use a transliteration of the English word “computer.” But I like “tshuab hlwb hlau” for its creativity. It shows that the Hmong language has tried to accommodate the Western world and its gadgets. It is an example of stretching the language.

In the Old Countries of Laos and Southern China, the Hmong lived an agricultural lifestyle. They have an extensive vocabulary dealing with farming, farming equipment, seasons, times of the day, and rituals. But as they have assimilated more and more with their host countries, they have needed to adopt terms or ideas that are foreign to their traditional life. And the language has stretched to accommodate this.

This is wonderful! The more Hmong grows and stretches the better it has a chance to be a viable language in the future.

Have you heard of “lub tshuab hlwb hlau”? What’s you favorite Hmong word?

Author: Michael Andrew Ellis

I write literary fiction at the confluence of Mormonism, Hmong culture, and the human condition. Here on my blog I write about Mormon arts and letters, Hmong history and culture, classic and contemporary literature, existentialism, and my journey as a writer.

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