Mien language and writing systems began in China and have been interpreted and modified by different groups and individuals in Laos, Thailand, and the United States. The government, educators and missionaries made several attempts to create different versions of a writing system for the Mien. However, none of the previous scripts that were written in Chinese, Lao, Vietnamese, Thai or Roman symbols were widely accepted by the Mien since those scripts were far too complex for ordinary Mien people to learn. Since the vast majority of Mien people did not any formal literacy training, learning how to read and write even in their own language was a great challenge. For many of the poor farmers, being able to read and write in Mien was not necessary as people did not see it as a reliable source of knowledge to bring income into the family. Being a hard and diligent worker was the primary skill and knowledge that one must have in order to survive and provide for his family. Therefore, the richness of the Mien culture and language has been preserved and passed on from generation to generation mostly through oral communication.
“The Mien language is part of the Mienic branch of Hmong-Mien language family and is spoken by the largest constituent ethnic group within the branch,” Purnell 2012. As Mien people migrated from central and southern China into Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and various third countries, including the United States, they not only have adopted new cultural traits, norms and values but also experience the convergence of language. Those who live in Laos have incorporated Lao words or phrases into the Mien language for words or phrases that do not exist in the Mien language. The same issue happens to those who live in Thailand, Vietnam, the United States and elsewhere.
The Mien Romanized orthography became unified between the Mien the U.S. and China in 1982, led by Dr. Purnell and some key Mien leaders from Washington, Oregon and California states to China in discussing the adoption of new writing system. The outcome of the meeting resulted with a unanimous decision and strong favor to accept the new Mien orthography as created and proposed by the United State Mien delegation. Thus, the Mien Romanized script became unified in 1984. Shortly after some literacy materials were developed by Lois Callaway, an overseas missionary to Mien people, Mien literacy classes began to take place in various churches and community settings, and many Mien individuals and groups began to study and use them to write letters and songs.
Mien hymnals were written into several versions and a complete Mien Bible was printed in 2007. Both the hymnals and Bible are now being used globally by Mien people. Both Christians and non-Christian Mien begin to communicate with each other through letters, emails, Face Book and texting.
The first Mien dictionary was published by Lombards and Purnell in 1968, Yao-English Dictionary, published by Cornell University Southeast Asia Program. The second Mien dictionary was published by a Mien person, Mr. Smith Pan in 2001. The third and most comprehensive and thorough Mien English dictionary was completed by Dr. Herbert Purnell, an American missionary and linguist. The “An Iu-Mienh-English Dictionary With Cultural Notes” a wonderful and valuable piece of scholarship project took 26 years to complete, published in December 2012, contains 855-page compendium of more than 5,600 entries, 28,000 subentries, and more than 2,100 cultural notes laced with myths, poetry and ceremonies.