Recently a client asked me why the Hmong translation for “yes” and “no” as a response to a question differed throughout one of their questionnaires.
The words “yes” and “no” are typically thought of as to only have one translation in most languages. After doing some more research I came across a wonderful document explaining some intricacies in the Hmong language and culture.
I learned that in Hmong a simple answer is usually not a “yes” or “no” answer because to answer “no” can be considered rude regardless of the context. And in a verbal response a Hmong speaker (in English) will answer “yes” when really “no” is what they mean. For example, in a question like “Did you go to school today?” the answer wouldn’t be “no” but rather “yes, I didn’t go” or something to that effect.
In that example “yes” is referring to the fact that they understood the question and not “yes” they went to the school. The same idea is true for translation. If the sentence above was translated into Hmong, the Hmong translator wouldn’t give a literal translation of “no” but rather something that either affirms or negates the question.
In that respect the answer would be “went” or “didn’t go”. In written Hmong there is simply no concrete way of translating the word “no” and “yes” as it exists in most other languages.
Peter founded Argo Translation, originally based in Milwaukee, WI, in 1995. Prior to transferring his love of all things international and his savvy business expertise into Chicago’s premier translation agency, he attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he graduated with a major in finance and human resource management. After graduation he went on to become an Italian translator and project manager for an international medical equipment manufacturer and major airline.