The origin of the glossary

During 1946, Wang Ming-ji, a teacher at Shi-men-kan near the city of Zhaotung, in north-east Yunnan, painstakingly compiled a list of about 2000 Ahmao words with short definitions of their meanings. The list was written in Pollard script and bound into four small books, approximately 170 cm. by 130 cm., each containing between 50 and 60 pages. In 1949 Wang Ming-ji approached Kenneth Parsons at Shi-men-kan with the suggestion that his "Ahmao Dictionary" should be translated into English, a task which, working together under considerable pressure, they completed just before the change of government forced all missionaries to leave China. In the years that followed, this basic glossary has been greatly extended by the addition of words and phrases which Keith Parsons has gathered in the course of translating his collection of traditional Ahmao songs and stories.

Why "glossary"?

Although the glossary comprises a considerable quantity of material, it has been deemed wise not to call it a "dictionary", since that word demands a degree of authority which we cannot claim. The work is, indeed, as complete and accurate as we can make it, but we have had no opportunity to collect new words and phrases which may have entered the language during the past fifty years, nor to conduct the detailed cross-checking that the word "dictionary" would imply, we are therefore happier that it remain a "glossary".

The need for a glossary

The early missionaries who first mastered the Ahmao language, (there were only four Methodists and perhaps as many C.I.M.) did not leave behind any vocabularies, or much in the way of grammars to assist those who followed to learn the language. It is hoped that the present glossary may help in filling that gap. We hope that it may be of interest to the Ahmao people themselves, but since they already know their own language, they will have little need of a word list with definitions in a foreign tongue. The possible exception is that in these pages there are a number of archaic expressions probably no longer in common use, which have been gathered from the old songs. In the glossary such entries are distinguished by the initials OM standing for "Old Miao". Ahmao students wishing to learn English will certainly be literate and fluent in Chinese, and for them there is no dearth of Chinese English and English Chinese dictionaries. The glossary will be of greater value to English speaking people interested in the Ahmao language and culture, and particularly in their rich heritage of songs and stories. Students of comparative linguistics will also find useful information in these pages.