5. Spelling

Spelling Hmong words with RPA is relatively simple, especially in the case of mono-syllabic words. However, for multi-syllabic words, things are fuzzy. There are two conventions seen in the wild for spelling multi-syllabic words, and they are extremes of one another.

  • separate the syllables by a space

  • concatenate the syllables

Let’s take the Hmong word for friend, which you may spell as follows.

  • phooj ywg

  • phoojywg

Which one of these makes more sense to you? What’s your criteria? Separating syllables in a word with spaces might seem more aesthetically pleasing (less congestion). Keeping syllables in a word altogether might adhere to the convention of other languages and eliminate ambiguity about which syllables logically compose a single word.

Words that derive from transliterations also weigh in heavily on this issue of spelling. Take the Hmong word for America.

  • A mes lis kas

  • Amesliskas

Did your opinion on how to use RPA to spell multi-syllabic words change after seeing this transliterated word?

In Pinyin, syllables may be separated by a dot .. For example, the Mandarin word for friend may be spelled as péng.yǒu. If we apply this practice to RPA, we will end up with phooj.ywg, which is not bad at all. However, applying this practice to America will give us A.mes.lis.kas, which is horrendous and creates tremendous cognitive friction and overload.

Perhaps we should not go to extremes or adopt other spelling conventions or practices to complicate RPA. Here are some suggestions.

  • State your RPA spelling convention clearly.

  • For traditional Hmong words with two syllables, separation by a space is acceptable.

  • For Hmong words beyond two syllables, especially new and transliterated words, spell words with no spaces between the syllables.