I know, I know, another dying-language story, but Lee Romney’s Los Angeles Times piece about Herbert Purnell and his Iu Mien dictionary is well worth reading. It’s full of drama (“For [Purnell], there was the murder of a daughter, a house fire that consumed his nearly finished work and the gentle assistance of collaborators on three continents who helped him pick up the pieces”) and tragic history (“the Mien, like the Hmong, began to be recruited to assist in covert military operations in the Indochinese wars — first for the French and later the CIA”), and the dictionary (“which includes 5,600 entries, 28,000 subentries, 5,000 example sentences, 4,500 notes on usage, register and idiom, and about 2,000 cultural notes”) sounds like a fascinating work:
Purnell included riddles, folk tales and accounts of cultural practices tied to a way of life largely erased by war.
“Use this to talk to your children,” Purnell — lanky and wearing a red necktie adorned with elephants — implored the older Mien gathered at the Sacramento event. “Use it to tell them: This is how we made the baby hats. This is how we dyed the cloth. This is how we made paper.”
Thanks, Stan and Eric!