Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Hmong language and music research

As of Monday, 20 August, I'll be traveling through Wisconsin and Minnesota conducting linguistic experiments with speakers of the Hmong language. The results of these experiments will shed light on how Hmong musicians are able to communicate words through instrumental music. The experiments are part of a larger, cross-cultural study that will contribute to a better understanding of how tonal languages are processed. Below, you will find a recruitment letter that explains the research in greater detail. Please feel free to pass it along to anyone who might be interested. You can contact me with questions (or better yet, volunteer to take the test) via the e-mail address listed on my website.


How do Hmong musicians communicate words through music? How do speakers of the Hmong language (and other tonal languages) use tone to understand spoken words? Do speakers of Hmong process language differently from speakers of other tonal languages?

These questions will be investigated in a set of linguistic experiments and your help is needed in finding participants. The data gathered from these experiments will be used to better understand how skilled Hmong musicians are able to communicate words through music (on instruments like the raj, qeej, and nplooj) -- a phenomenon never before studied with experimental methods. The data will also be used to study how lexical tone is processed not only by speakers of the Hmong language, but of tonal languages in general. The success of this research will be largely dependent on the number of participants, and if you have an interest in the study of Hmong language and music, we encourage you to consider joining us.

-Native speakers of Hmoob Dawb with normal hearing (speakers of Moob Leeg who are fluent in Hmoob Dawb may also participate. See "Other information" for details)
-Above 18 years-old
-We are especially interested in testing older speakers who have experience playing or listening to raj, ncas, qeej, etc.
-Younger people are welcome to take the test, but if possible, we encourage you to seek out older relatives and friends who might be interested in participating, as well

There are 2 tests that will be run (each subject will only take 1 test)
1) Listen to syllables and decide if they are words in Hmoob Dawb or if they are not words (i.e., nonsense sounds). Responses are recorded by pressing a button on a computer.
2) Listen to syllables and repeat them aloud into a microphone.

Participants who are familiar with the raj and qeej are invited to take a brief follow-up test:
3) Listen to short phrases from performances on the raj and speak aloud the words that are played.

Tests 1 and 2 last between 30 to 45 minutes and test 3 lasts only 5 minutes. The total time for the experiment should be less than an hour (including set up time, a practice sessions, and breaks).

-Testing can be done at any location of your choosing, including the home of the subject
-The first round of testing will take place in Wisconsin and Minnesota (see below for more details). Later testing will take place in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

-scheduling is very flexible and can be done at your convenience

Testing will be available in the following locations at the dates listed:
-Madison, WI: 20 - 27 August
-Eau Claire, WI and the Twin Cities, MN: August 28 - Sept. 7
-Locations in Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania are available after Sept. 7

How you can help:
- set up a time to take the test yourself
- help us to find other people who might be interested in taking the test
- pass along this message to other people who might be able to spread the word about this research

Other information:
The experiment is overseen by Dr. Udo Will of the Ohio State University and testing will be administered by Nicholas Poss (a PhD candidate from Ohio State). A Hmong language interpreter is available upon request. Unfortunately, we are not able to offer any monetary compensation for participation. However, the issues we are investigating have never been studied before, and there is significant potential for increased understanding about both Hmong language and music as well as tonal language in general. We hope this is at least a small incentive for volunteers. The names of the participants are only recorded on a consent form and no personally identifiable information about the subjects will ever be made public.

Please be aware that the experimental materials for this research consists of words in the Hmoob Dawb dialect. Due to constraints of time, we could not produce a version in both dialects. Native speakers of Moob Leeg who are fluent in Hmoob Dawb should be able to take the test with little difficulty.

We welcome your questions and comments about the research. Mr. Poss's contact information can be found at