What is SIL International?
SIL International is a faith-based nonprofit organization committed to serving language communities worldwide as they build capacity for sustainable language development. SIL does this primarily through research, translation, training and materials development. Founded in 1934, SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics, Inc) has grown from a small summer linguistics training program with two students to a staff of over 5,500 coming from over 60 countries. SIL's linguistic investigation exceeds 2,590 languages spoken by over 1.7 billion people in nearly 100 countries. The organization makes its services available to all, without regard to religious belief, political ideology, gender, race or ethnolinguistic background.
Faith and 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. Thus, SIL’s service is founded on the principle that communities should be able to pursue their social, cultural, political, economic and spiritual goals without sacrificing their God-given ethnolinguistic identity. Though faith-based, SIL limits its focus of service to language development work. SIL does not engage in proselytism, establish churches or publish Scriptures.
SIL works with ethnolinguistic minority communities as they build their capacity for the sustainable development of their own languages. Language development is the 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 and multilingual education and literacy.
Over 950 of SIL's workers hold advanced degrees, and many regularly present papers and publish their research. Through its extensive language survey efforts, SIL is a leader in the identification and documentation of the world's languages. Results of that research are published in Ethnologue: Languages of the World, a comprehensive catalog of the world's more than 6,900 living languages. SIL has produced over 40,000 publications—adding an average of 1,000 new titles annually—with more than 20,000 listed online.
Building Capacity and Training
SIL offers technical expertise and training to support local communities' decisions about how to maintain their cultures and use their languages in new ways to address their changing needs. To do this, SIL assists with multilingual education programs—for both children and adults—to help students learn effectively through both their mother tongues and other languages.
In addition to working with communities at the local level, SIL is an acknowledged leader in formal academic programs for the components of cross-cultural language development work. SIL works in partnership with more than 20 institutions around the world to offer classroom and online training in applied linguistics.
SIL training prepares the student to:
- work with sensitivity alongside members of another culture
- learn to speak unwritten languages and work alongside speakers of these languages to develop practical writing systems
- record and describe the sound system, the grammar and the lexicon of a language
- conduct ethnographic research and apply it to language development
- translate content that is accurate, natural and communicates meaning so that it is readily understandable to the intended audience
- promote sustainable multilingual education programs for children and adults
- assist ethnolinguistic communities, government agencies and other partners in planning and executing language development strategies
- equip communities to produce a body of literature in the indigenous language (such as educational literature, folk histories and legends, a dictionary, grammatical description, Scripture texts and health manuals)
- pass on the above skills to others, especially to speakers of the indigenous languages
SIL works in partnership with local speakers to develop new written and oral materials in their mother tongue. The kind of 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, textbooks, health and hygiene guidelines, games, history, etc. In addition to new materials, local workers are trained to adapt or translate literature from other languages on subjects such as nutrition, farming, health (including HIV/AIDS) and Scripture texts. SIL also works with communities to foster the effective use of these materials.
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 to be able to translate the materials of particular interest to them
Materials that SIL helps to translate include 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 SIL’s working agreements and where translation of Scripture texts has been identified as a needed resource for spiritual development. The translation goals for each language are decided in close interaction with communities and partner agencies, thus Scripture translation is not always included in SIL’s language development services.
Technology for Language Development
Technology brings much of the world together, yet can also be a barrier to participation of ethnolinguistic minority communities in the global community. For this reason, SIL facilitates the use of non-Roman and complex scripts on computers so that language communities and the people who work with them are able to work effectively and productively regardless of the writing system used in a given community. SIL also develops software to facilitate collecting, analyzing and archiving language data.
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.
At the international level, as a nongovernmental organization, SIL has special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and is an official NGO partner (consultative status) of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). 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.
SIL's history of engaging with communities in language development has given SIL insight into policies and structures that support local efforts. SIL engages in advocacy with and on behalf of partners to influence the decisions of governments, groups and individuals whose policies or practices can promote and facilitate language development. SIL's language research documentation and promotion of language development also helps preserve those languages and cultures in danger of disappearing.
The international headquarters for SIL is located in Dallas, Texas, USA, with additional regional administrative offices on five continents. The organization is incorporated as the Summer Institute of Linguistics, Inc (SIL), a Texas non-profit educational corporation, and is recognized by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service as exempt from income tax under Section 501(c)3 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code. An international Board of Directors with 12 members from seven nations provides governance to SIL.
7500 W. Camp Wisdom Road
Dallas, Texas 75236-5629 USA