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Papua New Guinea celebrates 50 years of language development

Ukarumpa, Papua New Guinea, 21 April 2006: His Excellency Governor-General Grand Chief Sir Paulias Matane represented the government of Papua New Guinea (PNG) at a 50th anniversary celebration that recognized the many years of partnership in language development with SIL International.

Sir Matane told the gathered dignitaries and guests about various aspects of SIL's service over the past 50 years. "Hundreds of Papua New Guineans have been trained as vernacular literacy specialists. These have included provincial elementary trainers, local language literacy program supervisors and teachers. Thousands of men, women and children throughout Papua New Guinea have learned to read in vernacular literacy programs.

"Thousands of shell books, learning-to-read materials and other tokples (mother tongue) books have been produced. These books include health and HIV/AIDS education materials. Hundreds of alphabets have been designed with the help of local communities. Sociolinguistic surveys have been conducted all over the country, giving SIL a clearer picture of the complex linguistic and cultural heritage of Papua New Guinea.

"From the bottom of my heart, I salute SIL for the good work that they have done—and are doing in Papua New Guinea—and I mean what I say. Happy 50th or Golden Jubilee celebrations."

The PNG Ministry of Education posted the above congratulations notice in one of PNG's newspapers, the Post-Courier on Monday, 24 April 2006.

The event, held at SIL-PNG's centre in the Eastern Highland Province, hosted many Papua New Guinea government officials, diplomats from several nations and representatives from nongovernmental organizations and educational institutions. Also in attendance was SIL President Carolyn Miller.

During the day's celebration, Sir Paulias Matane presented a copy of a book he had authored to SIL International President Carolyn Miller

Various aspects of SIL's service to the nation over the past 50 years were highlighted throughout the day's festivities. Although the core of SIL's service and training programs focus on language development, linguistic research, literacy and translation, there are other areas of expertise in which SIL is currently involved, including non-print media, community development and aviation.

For 50 years SIL personnel have been privileged to work alongside 337 of the nation's ethnic minority languages in their efforts in language development, literacy, multilingual education and translation. Part of the day's pageantry included a procession of Papua New Guineans—mostly SIL-PNG national staff—who carried into the auditorium translated publications in 159 different languages. These books completed a visual representation of the partnership of SIL with the people of PNG. Then another procession entered, representing all of SIL's ongoing language development programs throughout the country which totals nearly 200.

Hundreds of Papua New Guineans, mostly SIL-PNG national staff, take part in the opening procession.


Several displays of published vernacular literature and documented academic research were available for guests to view.

The program included recognition of SIL's Alex and Lois Vincent, who arrived in PNG in 1956 and 1957, met and were married in 1958, and since then have continued to serve the people of PNG. For nearly 50 years they have worked alongside the Tairora people, assisting language development in several of the Tairora dialects, conducting literacy classes, facilitating teacher training courses and translating scripture portions.

Text Box: Early photo of Alex Vincent and a friend reading a book in the Tairora language.

Lois and Alex Vincent receive a plaque in recognition of their 50 years of service to the people of PNG.

In recognition of SIL personnel Sir Matane said, "To these people, I pay tribute and express my sincere thanks, my appreciation and gratitude."

A local band entertained dignitaries and guests.


In January 2006, PNG issued six postage stamps to illustrate various aspects of SIL’s service to the nation over the past 50 years. Although the core of SIL’s service focuses on language development, linguistic research, literacy and translation, there are other areas of expertise in which they are currently involved, including non-print media, community development and aviation. The stamps in this collection represent only a segment of SIL’s commitment to serving the people of PNG.

Related links of interest

Language Facts

Timeline of SIL work in Papua New Guinea

1956 – SIL-PNG begins work in Papua New Guinea
1957 – First SIL language team begins work among the Tairora people
1960 – PNG government’s Director of Education asks SIL-PNG to train government officials
1969 – SIL-PNG receives UNESCO award for its work in literacy
1973 – SIL-PNG Advisory Committee begins with eight prominent Papua New Guineans
1974 – SIL-PNG begins teaching courses in linguistics and translation at University of PNG
1976 – Government and SIL-PNG personnel conduct first community development workshop
1978 – SIL-PNG begins teaching national translator training course at University of PNG
1979 – SIL-PNG receives its second UNESCO award
1983 – SIL-PNG offers its first literacy course to train national literacy workers
1988 – Partnership with the Department of Education initiated through Memorandum of Understanding
1989 – SIL-PNG seconds three literacy specialists to the national government
1994 – SIL-PNG develops the STEP course (Strengthening Tokples Education in PNG) to train national literacy workers; graduates of STEP since 1994: 165 men and women from 98 languages
2006 – Papua New Guinea’s government recognizes SIL-PNG’s 50 years of service