At only 29 years old, Ross Perlin has an impressive stack of accomplishments to his name. What’s more impressive is the effect his work is having, from media empires in Manhattan to tiny villages in southwest China.
A graduate of Stanford University, Cambridge University, the University of London and the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, New York native Perlin has split his time between researching endangered languages and writing about issues relating to labor and public policy, both in America and abroad.
For three years he studied the Tibeto-Burman language of Trung in Yunnan Province, China, and is putting the finishing touches on the first Trung dictionary, which will help its speakers preserve their native tongue. At the same time, Perlin’s 2011 book, “Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy,” which was reissued in paperback this year, has sparked a conversation about the ethics of unpaid internships and influenced three high-profile class-action lawsuits against Fox Entertainment Group, Hearst Corporation and Charlie Rose Inc.
Along the way, Perlin has found time to work for an Internet startup in San Francisco, do research for German director Werner Herzog on an as-yet unproduced film, help the Folksbiene-National Yiddish Theatre recruit new members and create a popular series of Yiddish travelogue videos for the Forverts (for example here and here). In Perlin, the Yiddish tradition of sticking up for the little guy is clearly at work, whether it’s on behalf of speakers of marginal languages or college grads trying to get a fair deal in a tough economy.