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Hmong is a dialect continuum spoken across several countries in Southeast Asia.

One prominent characteristic is the "aspirated m" (IPA or ) found in some varieties. This is the reason behind the "hm" in the English spelling of their ethnonym.

It's not hard to find sources stating that it exists, some like to include "voiceless" as well as "aspirated" when referring to it.

But I can't seem to find a clear description of its nature.

I know there are other languages with voiceless nasals, I believe some Celtic languages are examples. But I believe those do not also have the aspiration component.

  • Does the aspiration come before the "m" as suggested in the English spelling?
  • Does it come after the "m" as suggested in some IPA transcriptions?
  • Are they somehow at the same time?
  • Is this voicelessness as important as the aspiration? This component is not as often referred to though it is in the Wikipedia article.

One of the few discussions of this sound's nature I can find is a blog post from 2009 on the Clint Eastwood Movie Gran Torino, which featured Hmong characters. This blogger also seemed to have some trouble analysing this sound.

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  • I don't know about Celtic languages (at least current ones), but Burmese has voiceless nasals including /m̥/ Sep 15 '13 at 12:18
  • Burmese has voiceless nasals but not aspirated, is that right? Sep 16 '13 at 12:00
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    There's a whole lot of literature on Voice Onset Time (VOT) in particular languages and cross-linguistically. What distinguishes your different cases is the timing of +/-VOICE and of +/-NASAL OPENING (I've not got the right name for the latter feature, I know). In some languages the timing is more crucial than others: in Modern Welsh, I've heard people pronounce voiceless nasals as post-aspirated nasals (i.e. turn on the voice for a time during the nasal opening).
    – Colin Fine
    Sep 16 '13 at 17:39

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