Barbara F. Grimes (1930-2014)

Barb Grimes, (long-time Ethnologue Editor) our colleague and long-time coworker in this Bible translation ministry has gone on ahead of us into eternity at the age of 83. Many of you know her legendary work in shaping the Ethnologue into today’s globally known resource on language information, but may not realize all the other work she did in her 53 years with SIL. 

Barbara and Joe began work in 1952 in west central Mexico among the Huichol Indians publishing the NT, Cacaüyari Niuquieya, in 1967. Then in 1987 they helped the Hawai’i Pidgin translation project, publishing the NT, Da Jesus Book, in 2000. They have three children: Marilyn, Chuck, and Keith. Below is an excellent summary of her life and ministry by her son, Chuck, and husband, Joe – keep scrolling down to the bottom and you will see her C.V. (work experience, education, courses taught, and workshops conducted), including her numerous publications in sociolinguistics, anthropology, and Huichol.

She is probably best known for building up the Ethnologue, the first large scale register of known languages of the world, into a reference work known to virtually every linguist. The Ethnologue was founded by Richard S. Pittman, with the first edition coming out in 1951.  In 1971 Barbara became the second editor. She had assisted with the Ethnologue since the fourth edition (1953) and took on the role of research editor in 1967 for the seventh edition (1969). She continued as editor through the fourteenth edition in 2000. She expanded the information from primarily minority languages to encompass all known languages of the world. Between 1967 and 1973 she completed an in-depth revision of the information on Africa, the Americas, the Pacific, and a few countries of Asia. During her years as editor, the number of identified languages grew from 4,493 to 6,809 and the information about each language exploded so that the published work more than tripled in size.

Brian Migliazza

Asia Area Linguistics


Barbara Joyce Fornasero Grimes

passionate for those considered “least important” (1 Cor 12:14-27, NLT)

Memoriam by Chuck & Joe Grimes: 5 March 2014, Tahlequah, Oklahoma

  • 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. Raised as an Italian Catholic, he was a bit disconcerted when his two daughters started attending West Side Presbyterian Church in Seattle, WA. Eventually Barbara went on to become a Greek major at Wheaton College in Illinois, and became a missiologist and Bible translator. Her sister Janet Burton became a Christian writer, Bible teacher, and pastor’s wife.

At Wheaton, Barbara met Joe Grimes, the son of evangelist and 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 and also Wycliffe Bible Translators from 1951-present.

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. Several dozen indigenous Huichol-led congre­gations have grown up around the translated scriptures. 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). Da Befo Jesus Book (Hawai’i Pidgin Old Testament) is nearing completion, with only around 30 chapters remaining to be completed in three more books, out of 929 chapters total.

In 1953, Richard Pittman asked Barbara to assist him in compiling a list cataloging what languages were known to exist where, which ones already had translation begun, and which ones still needed work to be started. The original purpose was to inform people so they could pray. 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 ( it quickly won awards as the “go-to” website for anyone doing language related research from anywhere in the world. (See also:

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. In the midst of all these battles, she never lost sight of the Ethnologue’s initial reason-for-being—as a resource to foster prayer.

Because of her careful work on the Ethnologue, well-known missiologists such as Ralph Winter and Patrick Johnstone regularly conferred with her about their own work, and occasionally asked her to contribute a publication or speak at a conference, including a chapter in Winter’s widely used Perspectives textbook. Campus Crusade conferred with her several times so they could use their limited resources to be strategic as to which languages to dub the Jesus Film into in the early stages of that project. Wycliffe USA’s Bibleless People’s Prayer Project was another spin-off in which Barbara was heavily involved, and this has mobilized hundreds of people to committed prayer.

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 and eventual translation in Plautdietsch (now has a full Bible), Pennsylvania Dutch (now has a full Bible), and Bibles 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. There are now translations completed or in process in a number of creole languages around the world, 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. Rev. Billy Graham was present when president Dick Chase conferred the degree.

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 Bible translation and marginalized minorities is reflected in their children. Marilyn Grimes Thrasher worked with Wycliffe Bible Translators to recruit and train Koreans in South Korea in the 1980s. Marilyn died in 2000 from breast cancer. Charles (Chuck) Grimes and his anthropologist wife Barbara Dix Grimes (the “other Barbara Grimes”) continue to work with Wycliffe in eastern Indonesia, East Timor, and northern Australia. They have published 3 New Testaments (Kupang, Dhao, Tetun), and have only one book remaining to check in a fourth language (Amarasi). Barbara Dix Grimes is also Director of AuSIL, overseeing the linguistic, literacy and translation work in Australia, East Timor, and one province of Indonesia. 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, amazing, and big picture visionary.

She was also a beautiful woman. When Barbara turned 60, a former student at Wheaton who was also 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.

Work Experience                                                                                                                  

SIL International and Wycliffe Bible Translators, Inc.

  • Member 1951-2014
  • Field investigator, Huichol language project, Mexico 1952-1967, 1979-1980, 2007-2014
  • Field investigator, Hawaii Pidgin language project, 1987-2014
  • Instructor in Linguistics, Summer Institute of Linguistics (summers)
    • University of Oklahoma 1954-1955, 1957-1972, 1980, 1982, 1984-1987
    • University of North Dakota 1956, 1974, 1976
    • University of Texas, Arlington 1988-1992
    • Editor, Ethnologue: Languages of the World 1971-2000
      • Assistant Editor 1967-71
      • Editorial Assistant 1953, 1965


  • Litt. D., Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, 1993
  • B. A., Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois (Greek, Clarence B. Hale), 1952
  • West Seattle High School, Seattle, Washington, 1948
  • SIL, University of Oklahoma, summers 1950, 1951, 1979
  • Linguistic Institute of the Linguistic Society of America, University of Indiana, summer 1953
  • Member, Scholastic Honor Society, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois

Courses taught & Workshops conducted:

  • Introductory Phonetics, SIL 1954-1957, 1959, 1976, 1980
  • Introductory Phonology, SIL 1958, 1960-1964, 1982
  • Introductory Grammar, SIL 1965-1970, 1974
  • Introductory Spanish, SIL 1971
  • Sociolinguistic Surveys, SIL 1984-1992
  • Cultural Anthropology, International College, Honolulu, HI 1994
  • Lectured on sociolinguistic surveys for SIL
    • Latin America Area Consultants’ Seminar, Guatemala City, Guatemala, September 1983
    • Horsley’s Green, England (at least twice)
    • Asia Area Sociolinguistics Seminar, Manila, Philippines, March 1984
    • Workshops Colombia 1982, Philippines 1984, Indonesia 1985, Malaysia 1985, Kenya 1987

Publications (anthropology):

  1. ‘Notes on Huichol kinship terminology’, with Joseph E. Grimes. El Mexico Antiguo 9:561-576, 1961.
  2. ‘Semantic distinctions in Huichol (Uto-Aztecan) kinship’, second author with Joseph E. Grimes. American Anthropologist 64:104-114, 1962.

Publications (sociolinguistics):

  1. Ethnologue: Languages of the world. Dallas: SIL International. Editor 1974, 1978, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000; assistant editor 1969, editorial assistant 1953, 1965.
  2. Ethnologue Language Name Index. Dallas: SIL International. Editor 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000.
  3. Bible translation needs bulletin. Dallas: Wycliffe Bible Translators. Editor 1988, 1992, 1996.
  4. Joseph E. Grimes and Barbara F. Grimes. 1993, 1996, 2000. Ethnologue Language Family Index. Dallas: SIL International.
  5. ‘Comprehension and language attitudes: conditions and roles in Bible translation need’. Notes on Linguistics, Special Publication No. 2:26-40, July 1982.
  6. ‘Language attitudes: Identity, distinctiveness, survival in the Vaupes.’ Notes on Linguistics 29.25-34, 1984.
  7. ‘Second language proficiency report.’ Notes on Linguistics 31.26-30, 1984.
  8. ‘Comprehension and language attitudes in relation to language choice for literature and education in pre-literate societies.’ Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 6:2.165-181, 1985.
  9. ‘Language attitudes: Identity, distinctiveness, survival in the Vaupes.’ Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 6:5.389-401, 1985.
  10. ‘Evaluating bilingual proficiency in language groups for cross cultural communication.’ Notes on Linguistics 33.5-27, 1986.
  11. ‘Regional and other nonstandard dialects of major languages.’ Notes on Linguistics 35.19-39, 1986.
  12. ‘Language skills required of a disciple.’ Notes on Scripture in Use 9.19-23, 1986.
  13. ‘Language choice in First Century Christianity.’ Notes on Scripture in Use 12.20-31, 1987.
  14. ‘Good surveys: Diagnosing vernacular literature need.’ Notes on Linguistics 38.26-30, 1987.
  15. ‘How bilingual is bilingual?’ Notes on Linguistics 40.3-23, 1987.
  16. Review of Gyula Decsy, Statistical report on the languages of the world as of 1985. Word 38.1:73-80 1987.
  17. ‘Why test intelligibility?’ Notes on Linguistics 42.39-64, 1988.
  18. ‘On bilingual proficiency thresholds.’ Notes on Scripture in Use 16.1-10, 1988.
  19. ‘Checking data for reliability.’ ms. submitted to Lausanne Conference on Evangelism newsletter, 1988.
  20. ‘Special considerations for creole surveys.’ Notes on Linguistics 47:41-63, 1989.
  21. ‘Validity and reliability in language survey testing.’ Presented at the International Language Assessment Conference 1, Summer Institute of Linguistics, Horsleys Green, England, May 1989. Revision in Notes on Linguistics 65:4-21 1994.
  22. ‘“Reached” without the Scriptures?’ International Journal of Frontier Missions 7:2.41-47. 1990.
  23. ‘Notes on oral proficiency testing (SLOPE).’ 1992. Windows on Bilingualism, Eugene H. Casad, ed. A Publication of the Summer Institute of Linguistics and the University of Texas at Arlington, No. 110. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics, pp. 53-60.
  24. ‘From every language.’ Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader. Revised 1992. Pasadena: William Carey Library. pp. C-95-C-98.
  25. ‘From every language’ (revised). Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader. Third edition, 1999. Pasadena: William Carey Library. pp. 559-561.
  26. Oxford International Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Topic editor for minority languages with Joseph E. Grimes. 1992. New York: Oxford University Press.
  27. Review of Oliver Sacks, 1988. Seeing voices: A journey into the world of the deaf. Berkeley: University of California Press. Notes on Linguistics 67:51-55 1993.
  28. Review of William Stokoe and Rolf Kuschel, 1979. A field guide for sign language research. Silver Spring, Md.: Linstok Press, Inc. Notes on Linguistics 64:57-58 1993.
  29. ‘Evaluating the Hawaii Creole English Situation.’ Presented at the International Language Assessment Conference 2, Summer Institute of Linguistics, Horsleys Green, England, June 2-9, 1993. Notes on Literature in Use and Language Programs 39:39-60 1994.
  30. Grimes, Barbara F., Joseph E. Grimes, Malcolm D. Ross, Charles E. Grimes, Darrell T. Tryon. 1995. Listing of Austronesian languages. In Darrell Tryon, ed. Comparative Austronesian Dictionary: an introduction to Austronesian studies. 4 Parts. Trends in Linguistics, Documentation 10. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. Part 1, Fascicle 1:121–279.
  31. The English Bible and Hawaii Creole English. Submitted to The Bible Translator.
  32. The Ethnologue, language surveys, and sociolinguistics. In Memories and reflections, Christina Bratt Paulston and G. Richard Tucker. 1997. Dallas: SIL, pp. 285-294.
  33. Kinds of data needed for the Ethnologue: Languages of the World. 1998. Notes on Sociolinguistics 3.1:59-67.
  34. Global Language Viability. 2000. In Osamu Sakiyama, Ed., Lectures on Endangered Languages: 2, From Kyoto Conference 2000, Endangered Languages of the Pacific Rim Publication Series C002, pp. 45-61.

Publications (Huichol):

  1. ‘Ïquisica ‘esarica (recipes in Huichol and Spanish), 1953.
  2. Nepititerïva (primers 1-3 in Huichol), with Joseph E. Grimes, 1952.
  3. Scripture calendar, in Huichol 1953.
  4. ‘Aixüa tepüteu’erie (health book in Huichol), with Joseph E. Grimes, 1961.
  5. Synopsis of Job, in Huichol, 1962.
  6. Synopsis of the Pentateuch, in Huichol, 1963.
  7. ‘Üxasi Quesusi hetüa mieme (Huichol Old Testament summary) 1965.
  8. Scripture selections on the family, in Huichol 1979.
  9. Reading Primer in Huichol 1979.
  10. Four Things God Wants You to Know, in Huichol 1979.