The similarities that speak to historical relationships among different tribes is never more apparent than in their counting numbers. Below are links to voice recordings of the numbers one to ten in each of six tribal languages.

As a listening assistance, for each language I have written each number as I hear it using a basis of American English. In parentheses are the official spellings of the word as used by Thailand-based tribal groups. I have not included official spellings for the Karen numbers as the Karens of our area use a Burmese-like script which seems impractical to include for this demonstration.

It should also be noted that the "official" scripts for most of the tribes are not only seldomly used by Thailand-based tribal groups, but are often based on a different dialect of the language altogether. Below is a list of the dialects presented here with the dialect of the official script in parentheses:

  • Sgaw Karen
  • Green Hmong (White Hmong)
  • Mien (The speaker here descends from the same group of Miens found now in the United States)
  • Red Lahu (Black Lahu, very similar to Red Lahu with some minor differences)
  • Lisu (Script influenced by Chinese Pinyin, with some unfortunate outcomes when read as English words)
  • U Lo Akha (Lo Mi Akha, similar to U Lo but without neutralization of some sounds)

I have made my best attempt to romanize these words so that a casual viewer could feel like he/she is pronouncing them correctly, but some words defy the phonetics of American English. Among those are Lahu two (said without opening one's mouth), Hmong seven, Akha four, and, for some reason, the number nine in most languages. I have used a colon to identify a stopped or constricted vowel sound but I have not made any indication of tones (which all of these languages have) because, well, most Western listeners cannot distinguish tones anyway. Tonal information is encoded in all of the official spellings, usually in the silent final letter, though there is no relationship between the various systems employed. Finally, I have intentionally been somewhat inconsistent in romanizing the "ee" vowel, which I usually write as "i" to make it consistent with the official spellings, but sometimes write as "ee" when it seems appropriate.

See if picking out the related languages is any simpler listening to their numbers than it is listening to the language spoken fluently. Enjoy.

Click on each picture to hear the counting for that language.
Karen
1 - Dter
2 - Kee
3 - Tser:
4 - Lui
5 - Yae
6 - Keu
7 - Nui
8 - Gaw:
9 - Kui
10 - Dter-Chi
Hmong
1 - Ee (Ib)
2 - Aw (Ob)
3 - Bpae (Peb)
4 - Bplau (Plaub)
5 - Jeu (Tsib)
6 - Drau (Rau)
7 - Hyang (Xyaa)
8 - Yi (Yim)
9 - Jua (Cuaj)
10 - Gau (Kaum)
Mien

1 - Yiet (Yietc)
2 - Ee (I)
3 - Bpuo (Buo)
4 - Bpieh (Biei)
5 - Bpiaa (Biaa)

6 - Ju: (Juqv)
7 - Sieh (Siec)
8 - Hiet (Hietc)
9 - Dtua (Nduoh)
10 - Ziep (Ziepc)
Lisu
1 - Ti (Tit)
2 - Nyi (Nit)
3 - Sa (Sa)
4 - Li (Li)
5 - Ngwa (Nguat)
6 - Chu: (Qur)
7 - Sheu (Shit)
8 - Heh: (Her)
9 - Fvu (Gux)
10 - Tseu (Ci)
Akha

1 - Dti: (Tif)
2 - Nyi: (Nyif)
3 - Sm (Smr)
4 - Oe (Oeq)
5 - Nga (Ngaq)

6 - Go: (Kof)
7 - Si: (Sif)
8 - Yae: (Yaef)
9 - Woe (Ghoeq)
10 - Che (Tser)