A tribute to Barbara F Grimes

Malcolm Ross malcolm.ross at ANU.EDU.AU
Wed Mar 5 23:31:56 UTC 2014

Barbara Joyce Fornasero Grimes

Born:	19 August 1930; San Diego, California

Died:	1 March 2014; Tahlequah, Oklahoma (on her 62nd wedding anniversary), of a stroke.

Her father's people (Italian) are said to have “discovered” America. Her mother's people (Cherokee) were already there to meet the boat. Barbara herself was a registered citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma (#013555). Her heritage became of growing importance over the years as she researched her own background.

Her father, John B. Fornasero (a native speaker of Piemontese) was well known in aviation circles, among other things as Chief of Flight Test for Boeing during “the golden years” of aviation. The oldest daughter Barbara went on to become a Greek major at Wheaton College in Illinois, and later went to Mexico to live in a remote village. Her sister Janet Burton became a writer and teacher.

At Wheaton, Barbara met Joe Grimes, the son of well known Christian songwriter Homer W. Grimes, who had been a popular speaker at her church camps. Joe and Barbara attended SIL summer schools at the University of Oklahoma in 1950 and 1951. Joe preceded her to Mexico. When she joined him there after graduating from Wheaton they were married in Mexico City on 28 Feb 1952 (civil ceremony) and 1 March 1952 (church ceremony—the one they celebrated every year). 

Barbara was a member of SIL International from 1951 until her death.

Joe and Barbara lived and worked among the Huichol Indians in the remote mountains of west central Mexico until they were chased out by bandits in 1963. Barbara had publications in anthropology and literacy, as well as translating Old Testament portions. During the rainy seasons Joe & Barbara went north to teach at several SIL summer schools, mostly at the University of Oklahoma (see list below). The Huichol New Testament, Cacaüyari Niuquieya, was published in 1967. It has since undergone four reprintings due to continuing demand and regular use. In her later years Barbara also had a supporting role in the ongoing translation of the Huichol Old Testament initiated at the request of Huichol Christians.

In 1987 Joe & Barbara became involved in the Hawai'i Pidgin project after Joe had been a visiting professor at the University of Hawai'i. The New Testament, Da Jesus Book, was published in 2000, and has since sold over 85,000 copies and been on the State of Hawai'i bestseller lists 17 times. In gearing up for continuing with the Old Testament, Barbara began studying Hebrew on her 74th birthday (at the same time she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which was later treated successfully with surgery and chemotherapy).

In 1953, Richard Pittman asked Barbara to assist him in compiling a list cataloging what languages were known to exist where, how they were related, how many people spoke them, which ones already had translation begun, and which ones still needed work to be started. In 1967 Barbara was made Assistant Editor of the Ethnologue: languages of the world. She was named Editor in 1971 and remained in that role until 2000. Under her stewardship the Ethnologue came out regularly in a new edition every four years and grew to become the world's premier inventory of the world's languages for linguists, anthropologists, students, researchers and missiologists. When the website was developed (www.ethnologue.com) it quickly won awards as the “go-to” website for anyone doing language related research from anywhere in the world.

While the Ethnologue was SIL's #1 academic best-seller, it also became a kind of battleground within the organization for clarifying ideas about “what is a language?” versus “what is a dialect?”, “what constitutes a translation need?”, what categories of information should or should not be included, making sense of widely varying approaches to language classification in different parts of the world, and many related issues. In trying to bring sense and reason to topics that many people felt passionately about, Barbara finetuned both her thinking and issues in sociolinguistics and dialectology by writing discussion papers, strategy papers, conference papers and professional publications.

The SIL board also tasked Barbara with finding languages that were “falling through the cracks” in their traditional organizational structures. In that mode, Barbara helped initiate research on migrant languages such as Plautdietsch and Pennsylvania Dutch. She also brought attention to the need for  translations for the deaf (communicating through dozens of different sign languages around the world). Expanding from her work trying to understand how Hawai'i Pidgin relates to Standard English both structurally and socially, she also did a lot of research on understanding pidgins and creoles around the world. Work completed or in process in a number of creole languages around the world, is partly due to the clarity and understanding that Barbara brought into the conversation.

As a result of her work on the Ethnologue and related publications, in 1993 Wheaton College awarded her an honorary doctorate.

While Joe was alternating years as a professor of linguistics at Cornell University, and running discourse workshops for SIL in Brazil, New Guinea, Philippines, Nepal, Nigeria, Ghana, and other places, Barbara kept busy systematically refining the information in the Ethnologue for those and other countries around the world—much of it before the age of email. She also co-lectured at workshops on sociolinguistic surveys in Colombia 1982, Philippines 1984, Indonesia 1985, Malaysia 1985, and Kenya 1987.

Her three children were born and raised in Mexico, and Barbara home schooled each of them at various stages of their education. Joe & Barbara's quiet passion for marginalized minorities and the languages they speak is reflected in their children. Marilyn Grimes Thrasher worked to recruit and train Korean linguists in South Korea in the 1980s. Marilyn died in 2000 from breast cancer. Charles (Chuck) Grimes (PhD, linguistics; Australian National University) and his wife Barbara Dix Grimes (the “other Barbara Grimes”; PhD anthropology, ANU) continue to work with language communities in eastern Indonesia, East Timor, and northern Australia. Keith Grimes follows Joe's interests in computing, working in the IT industry in Australia. Joe and Barbara also have 7 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren living in three countries.

People describe Barbara with words like: meticulous, tenacious, faithful, loyal, humble, and big picture visionary.

She was also a beautiful woman. When Barbara turned 60, a student who knew her at Wheaton and later also became a Wycliffe colleague commented, “She has hardly aged at all. She still looks as beautiful as she did at Wheaton.”

Following her death from a stroke, several emails to Joe and Chuck painted the picture of Barbara entering heaven with crowds of forgotten, marginalized and disadvantaged minorities lining the streets to cheer her home.

Chuck & Joe Grimes

5 March 2014, Tahlequah, Oklahoma

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