William A. Smalley (1923-1997) was a missionary and anthropological linguist. This collection mainly concerns his work with Hmong scripts and the Khmu' language and contains correspondence, notes, writings, reference materials, photographs, and sound recordings.
Scope and Contents:
These papers document William A. Smalley's work and research as an anthropological linguist and missionary, two roles that were often intertwined, through his correspondence, notes, writings, reference materials, photographs, and sound recordings. Smalley's research on Hmong scripts, particularly Pahawh, and the Hmong people make up a significant portion of the collection. Noteworthy are a collection of published and unpublished manuscripts written in Pahawh script and primers and writing samples of other Hmong scripts. Aside from some letters and 1953 conference reports by Smalley and G. Linwood Barney, there is little material from his work in developing Hmong RPA. Other materials relating to RPA include a Hmong-English dictionary by Ernest E. Heimbach and a Hmong-French dictionary by Father Yves Bertrais. Also in the collection are Smalley's research on Khmu' and Thai languages and dialects and several Khmu' primers. As a missionary linguist, Smalley created guides for missionaries learning Khmu' and Vietnamese, as well as a guide to pronouncing Egyptian Arabic, all of which are in the collection. Reprints for a large portion of his articles can also be found in the collection, reflecting his interests in linguistics, anthropology, missionary work, and Southeast Asia. In addition, the collection contains drafts of his unfinished book, Liberation of an Evangelical and his work editing The Bible in Cross-Cultural Perspective by Jack Loewen. Photographs in the collection are composed mostly of 35mm slides and some prints and negatives. Most of the images are of Southeast Asia along with some photos of Africa, Haiti, New Guinea, and Hong Kong. There are also photos of Hmongs in the United States and photos for his book, Mother of Writing: the Origin and Development of a Hmong Messianic Script. The sound recordings are composed mostly of interviews he conducted for his research on Thailand, Hmongs in the United States, and the Pahawh Hmong script. Additional materials in the collection are his writings as a college student published in the Houghton Star, the school newspaper for which he also served as chief editor.
Please note that the contents of the collection and the language and terminology used reflect the context and culture of the time of its creation. As an historical document, its contents may be at odds with contemporary views and terminology and considered offensive today. The information within this collection does not reflect the views of the Smithsonian Institution or National Anthropological Archives, but is available in its original form to facilitate research.
William A. Smalley was born April 4, 1923, in Jerusalem, Palestine. His parents were American missionaries for the Christian and Missionary Alliance, working among Arabs in Jerusalem and Transjordan. In 1934, Smalley and his family moved back to the United States. In reflecting upon his upbringing, Smalley writes, "My parents were thoroughly, deeply devoted both to Christ and to the Alliance, but they drew their boundaries more widely than many." According to Smalley, "My home was intellectually more open than some Alliance homes; my upbringing was somewhat less doctrinaire." (Smalley 1991)
Smalley attended Houghton College, where he developed an interest in anthropology, which he saw as relevant to missionary work. After graduating from Houghton in 1945 with a degree in English literature, he attended the Missionary Training Institute (1945-1946) and received linguistic training in Bible translation at the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) at the University of Oklahoma (1946-1947). In 1946 he also enrolled in Columbia University's graduate program in anthropology with a concentration in
linguistics. According to Smalley, he discovered his "intellectual niche" studying at SIL, while "the anthropological training at Columbia gave linguistics a broader cultural context." "I became absorbed in the challenge to understand my faith in Christ in light of all I was learning about human culture." (Smalley 1991)
In 1950, Smalley was sent to Vietnam by the Christian and Missionary Alliance. There, Smalley worked on language analysis problems in the southern region of the country. The following year, he was sent to Luang Prabang, Laos to analyze the Khmu' language and prepare language lessons for other missionaries to learn the language. While in Laos, Smalley also worked with Reverend G. Linwood Barney and Father Yves Bertrais in developing a writing system for the Hmong people. Together, they developed the Hmong Romanized Popular Alphabet (RPA), which is the most widely used Hmong writing system today.
With the outbreak of civil war in Laos, Smalley and his wife were forced to return to the United States in 1954. He completed his dissertation on the Khmu' language and was awarded his doctorate in 1956. An abbreviated version of his dissertation was later published in 1961 as Outline of Khmu' Structure.
Over the next several years, Smalley worked primarily in Southeast Asia as a translation consultant for the American Bible Society (1954-1969) and as a regional translations coordinator (1969-1972) and translation consultant (1972-1977) with the United Bible Societies. Due to his work, he resided in Thailand from 1962 to 1967 and from 1969 to 1972. (He also lived in Thailand as a Fulbright research fellow in 1985 and 1986.) In 1977, he decided to leave the United Bible Societies after 23 years. Unable to find employment, he worked briefly at a discount toy store.
In 1978, Smalley relocated to St. Paul, Minnesota, to accept a position as professor of linguistics at Bethel University (1978-1987). In Minnesota, he unexpectedly found that thousands of Hmong refugees were also settling in the Twin Cities, which guided his research over the next decade. As an Honorary Fellow (1982-1984) with the University of Minnesota Southeast Asia Refugee Studies Program, he took part in a project studying Hmong adaptation to life in the United States, publishing "Adaptive Language Strategies of the Hmong: From Asian Mountains to American Ghettos" (1985) and "Stages of Hmong Cultural Adaptation" (1986). He also studied the different Hmong scripts that had
developed since RPA, in particular Pahawh Hmong script, which was created in 1959 in Laos by Shong Lue Yang. Smalley published two books on the script and its creator— Mother of Writing: The Origin and Development of a Hmong Messianic Script (1990) and The Life of Shong Lue Yang: Hmong "Mother of Writing" (1990), both of which he co-authored with Chia Koua Vang and Gnia Yee Yang.
In addition to his work on the Hmong, Smalley researched the different languages and dialects of Thailand, publishing Linguistic Diversity and National Unity: Language Ecology in Thailand (1994); "Thailand's Hierarchy of Multilingualism" (1988); and
"Language and Power: Evolution of Thailand's Multilingualism" (1996). As a student at Columbia University, he had also studied Comanche phonology and morphology, coauthoring with Henry Osborn "Formulae for Comanche Stem and Word Formation" (1949).
In 1955, Smalley took over editorship of Practical Anthropology (now known as Missiology), which he edited from 1955 to1968. He also served as associate editor for
Bible Translator (1957-59) and Language Sciences (1983-92).
When he retired from Bethel College in 1987, he was awarded the college's first annual Distinguished Teaching Award. In his retirement, he continued to write extensively and also edited Jacob A. Loewen's book, The Bible in Cross-Cultural Perspective, for which
he wrote an introduction.
In 1997, Smalley died of a heart attack at the age of 74.
Smalley, William. "My Pilgrimage in Mission." International Bulletin of Missionary Research 15, no. 2 (1991): 70-73.
Beckstrom, Maja. "Scholar of Hmong language praised for 'invaluable' work." St. Paul Pioneer Press, December 21, 1997: 1B, 6B.
1923 -- Born April 4 in Jerusalem, Palestine
1945 -- Earns B.A. from Houghton College in English Literature
1945-1946 -- Studies at Missionary Training Institute
1946-1947 -- Studies at Summer Institute of Linguistics at University of Oklahoma
1950 -- Serves as missionary linguist in Vietnam
1951 -- Assigned to Luang Prabang, Laos to analyze the Khmu' language and prepare language lessons for other missionaries to learn the language
1951-1953 -- Works with Reverend G. Linwood Barney and Father Yves Bertrais in developing Hmong RPA
1954-1969 -- Translation consultant for American Bible Society
1955-1968 -- Editor of Practical Anthropology (now known as Missiology)
1956 -- Receives doctorate in linguistic anthropology at Columbia University
1961 -- Publishes Outline of Khmu' Structure
1969-1972 -- Regional translations coordinator with the United Bible Societies
1972-1977 -- Translation consultant with the United Bible Societies
1978-1987 -- Professor of linguistics at Bethel College
1982-1984 -- Honorary fellow with the University of Minnesota Southeast Asia Refugee Studies Program studying Hmong adaptation to life in the United States
1985-1986 -- Fulbright Fellow studying linguistic diversity and national unity in Thailand
1990 -- Publishes Mother of Writing: The Origin and Development of a Hmong Messianic Script and The Life of Shong Lue Yang: Hmong "Mother of Writing"
1994 -- Publishes Linguistic Diversity and National Unity: Language Ecology in Thailand
1997 -- Dies of a heart attack at the age of 74 on December 16
Smalley's Pahawh Hmong project was funded by the Indochina Studies Center, Social Science Research Council. Upon the completion of the project, the Indochina Studies Center arranged for some of his Pahawh Hmong research materials to be deposited at the Library of Congress as part of the archives of programs that the center has funded. The materials deposited at the Library of Congress include photographs, sound recordings, and a collection of published and unpublished manuscripts written in Pahawh and Sayaboury script. Indices and descriptions of the materials deposited can be found in
Series 2: Hmong, Sub-series 2.2 Pahawh, "[Pahawh Hmong Project]." Not all of the materials that were sent to the Library of Congress are present in this collection and vice versa. Among the materials absent from this collection are some of the photographs, four sound recordings, and most
of the Sayaboury manuscripts.
These papers were donated to the National Anthropological Archives by Jane Smalley.
Three tape recordings and the associated transcripts of the interviews that Smalley conducted for his research on the Pahawh Hmong script are restricted until 2040.
Access to the William A. Smalley papers requires an appointment.