Founders and Creators of Hmong RPA Writing System

RPA Writing System


The Hmong constitute one of the most ancient peoples in Asia. Today, they number about 8 million, including other subgroups of Miao, scattered by the events of history, over centuries, from China to Southeast Asian, from Laos to Australia, Europe and America. Since 1975, which marked the end of the Vietnam War, more than 150,000 Hmong refugees from the Secret War of Laos have been resettled in the United States.

If the Hmong had a long and rich oral tradition, their language was provided with a writing system only 45 years ago. Thus, in 1952, in Luang Prabang, the Royal City of the former Kingdom of Laos, three men – Dr. Linwood Barney, Father Yves Bertrais and Dr. William Smalley – put their efforts and knowledge together to create the Hmong Romanized Popular Alphabet (R.P.A.) script. Immediately after, Father Bertrais started teaching the Hmong R.P.A. to a first group of young Hmong in his adopted Hmong village of the Guars Mountains (Roob Nyuj Qus), some 50 miles south of Luang Prabang, where in 1950 he had begun his apostolic mission with the Hmong in Laos, whom he has never left since then.

Today, tens of thousands of Hmong, men and women, young and old, in Laos, Thailand, Burma, China, Vietnam, France (and French Guyana), Australia, Canada, Argentina and in the United States use the Hmong RPA script as a vehicle to communicate among themselves. The Hmong media (newspapers, radio broadcast and television) which are beginning to develop in the United States, and American public offices and hospitals use the Hmong writing system for their official translations or communications. The Hmong RPA is now officially taught at the Central Institute of the Chinese Nationalities in Beijing and in several American public schools and universities. Finally, in the early 1980’s, thanks to the beneficence and contribution of Archbishop Renato R. Martino, Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, Father Bertrais, with the assistance of a group of Hmong, was able to start conducting intensive research on Hmong history, culture and traditions in Southeast Asia and in China. Over the past four decades, thousands of books and newsletters have been published in the Hmong languages. In brief, in less than a half century, the Hmong RPA has contributed to he social, economic and political development of the Hmong people who came from the Middle ages to modern times.

Thus, the Hmong around the world owe a deep debt of gratitude to Dr. Barney, Father Bertrais and Dr. Smalley, the founders of the Hmong RPA. The Hmong RPA Founders’ Recognition which takes place today at Sheraton Inn Milwaukee of Brown Deer, Wisconsin, is the humble expression of the Hmong sentiments of appreciation.

Who are these founders with a so generous heart?

1) Dr. Linwood Barney was born in 1923 in Rumney, New Hampshire, U.S.A. He graduated in 1946 from Taylor University of Indiana and received his Doctoral Degree in Anthropology at the University of Minnesota in 1968. In 1951, he was sent by his Christian and Missionary Alliance Church to Xieng Khouang, Laos, where he first met the Hmong people. In 1952, he contributed to the creation of the Hmong RPA in Luang Prabang, in 1954, Dr. Barney was forced by the situation of the First Indochina War (1946-1954) to leave Southeast Asia to come back to the United States. He was successively pastor, missionary, professor and, finally, dean of Jaffrey School of Missions, renames as Alliance Theological Seminary in New York.

2) Father Yves Bertrais was born in 1921 in Nantes, France. In 1969, he graduated from the Sorbonne, University of Paris, with a thesis on Hmong traditional marriage. In 1948, he arrived in Vientiane, Laos, to take the Word of Jesus to the highland Laotian people. In April 1950, he joined the Hmong in the village of the Gaurs Mountains in Luang Prabang province. In 1952, he participated in the invention of the Hmong RPA script which he taught to the Hmong in Laos first and, later on, in Thailand, China and Vietnam. While pursuing his apostolic mission in the mountains of Laos, he actively contributed to the preservation of Hmong history, culture and traditions as well as to the social and economic development of the Hmong people. Finally, he is the founder of the Hmong Cultural Heritage Association, based in French Guyana, which was renamed Association of Hmong Cultural Heritage, recently transferred to the Philippines to be close to the majority of the Hmong, who remain in China and Southeast Asia.

3) Dr. William Smalley was born in 1923 in Jerusalem, Palestine. He received his Ph.D. in anthropological linguistics at Columbia University in New York City in 1956. In 1951, he went to Luang Prabang, Laos, to study and analyze the Khmu language. In 1952, he was instrumental in the creation of the Hmong RPA and , in 1954, he left Southeast Asia to come back to the United States, where he worked as a translation consultant for the American Bible Society. From 1968 to 1987, he taught at Bethel College of Shoreview, Minnesota.

For the Steering Committee
Xia Vue Yang
June 28,1997

Sources (

For more and complete information on the RPA Hmong Writing Structure, please click HERE.


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