SIL – Partners in Language Development
SIL International is a faith-based organization focused on the role of language and culture in effective development. SIL is committed to the empowerment of indigenous communities worldwide through language development efforts. Its members share a Christian commitment to service, academic excellence and professional engagement through literacy, linguistics, translation, and other disciplines. SIL International makes its services available to all without regard to religious belief, political ideology, gender, race or ethnic background.
Faith & Service
SIL’s service with ethnolinguistic minority communities is motivated by the belief that all people are created in the image of God, and that languages and cultures are part of the richness of God’s creation.
SIL is founded on the principle that communities should be able to pursue their social, cultural, political, economic and spiritual goals without sacrificing their ethnolinguistic identity. As a faith-based nonprofit organization, SIL works alongside language communities as they discover how to harness the power of their language to address challenges and reach their goals.
SIL works with ethnolinguistic minority communities as they build their capacity for the sustainable development of their own languages.
Community-based language development involves a series of ongoing planned actions that a language community takes to ensure that its language continues to serve its changing social, cultural, political, economic and spiritual needs and goals. SIL’s expertise related to language development includes training and consulting for activities such as linguistic analysis, orthography and writing systems development, literature development, multilingual education and literacy.
SIL works in partnership with local speakers to develop new written and oral materials in their mother tongue.
The format of mother-tongue materials is determined by the community and might include print, audio or video items. Content covers a variety of subjects such as primers, folk stories, schoolbooks, health and hygiene guidelines, games, history, etc. In addition to original publications, local translators often adapt educational materials from other languages on subjects such as nutrition, farming and health (including HIV/AIDS). SIL also works with communities to foster the effective use of these resources.
Over 950 of SIL’s workers hold advanced degrees, and many regularly present papers and publish their research.
Through extensive language survey efforts, SIL is a leader in the identification and documentation of the world’s languages. Results of this research are published in Ethnologue: Languages of the World, a comprehensive catalog of the world’s 7,000+ living languages.
SIL has over 48,000 resources in its Language and Culture Archives and is adding an average of 1,700 new items annually. Online, SIL provides citations for 28,500 of these resources and approximately 4,100 of these resources are available for download. The other resources cited may be available upon request through SIL International Publications.
SIL offers training in a variety of disciplines relevant to sustainable language development.
SIL offers training in fields of study that support language development such as linguistics, literacy and multilingual education, anthropology, translation and learner-directed language and culture learning. SIL training is available for members of minority language communities, for policymakers and educators concerned with minority language issues, and for those who wish to assist communities in their language development efforts.
Training is available in numerous formats, from short courses and workshops to full degree programs offered in cooperation with universities and educational institutions worldwide.
SIL’s primary partnerships are with local language communities and with other agencies serving them.
In many locations, SIL has agreements to provide expertise, training or consulting for language development with universities, government departments or local organizations involved in education, development or Christian service.
SIL has been an official NGO partner with UNESCO since 1993 and has had special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) since 1997. SIL is a founding member of Maaya, the World Network for Linguistic Diversity.
SIL also partners with other faith-based organizations that are committed to the social and justice needs of minority peoples. SIL is a member of the Micah Network and the Forum of Bible Agencies International. Primary partners for funding and volunteer staff are organizations affiliated with Wycliffe Global Alliance.
Technology for Language Development
Technology brings much of the world together, yet can also be a barrier to participation of some communities in the global community.
SIL software supports fieldwork in linguistics and anthropology by streamlining collection, analysis and archiving of language and culture data. SIL facilitates the development of fonts for non-Roman and complex scripts so that language communities and people working with them are able to use their writing systems with technology such as computers and mobile devices.
A project of SIL International’s Non-Roman Script Initiative, ScriptSource, provides valuable information about the world’s scripts and alphabets. It currently provides access to information on over 170 scripts used for the writing systems of thousands of languages.
SIL is involved in translation work in partnership with more than one thousand language communities around the world.
SIL provides training and technical support for community-based translation of materials such as books and booklets for educational programs, stories related to culture and folklore, health and community development resources and scripture texts. SIL facilitates the translation of scripture in contexts where such activity is within the scope of local working agreements and where translation of scripture texts has been identified by the community as a desired resource for spiritual development. The translation goals for each language are decided in close interaction with communities and partner agencies.
Translation in SIL focuses on:
- research and development in translation theory and practice
- academic training programs related to translation
- consultant and technical support for producing quality translations of texts
- building capacity within ethnolinguistic minority communities for translation of materials of particular interest to them
A history of engaging with communities in language development has given SIL insight into policies and structures that support local efforts.
SIL serves as an advocate for ethnolinguistic communities, assisting them in raising awareness of their needs to governments, organizations and individuals whose policies and practices can promote and facilitate language development. Through language research, documentation and promotion of language development, SIL contributes to the preservation of languages and cultures in danger of disappearing.