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SIL partner marks fiftieth anniversary with development conference

GILLBT Director Dr. Paul Opoku-Mensah co-chaired the conference and led a panel discussion on future directions for language development in Ghana. GILLBT Director Dr. Paul Opoku-Mensah co-chaired the conference and led a panel discussion on future directions for language development in Ghana.

(May 2012) “Language and Culture in National Development” was the theme of a conference that recently took place in the West African nation of Ghana. The gathering was jointly sponsored by the University of Ghana’s Institute of African Studies and the Ghana Institute of Linguistics, Literacy and Bible Translation (GILLBT). This was one of several events planned for 2012, the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of both institutions and of their collaboration for language development in local communities.

GILLBT has its roots in a December 1961 cooperative agreement between SIL and the University of Ghana, the first such agreement for SIL in Africa. Although GILLBT is now an independent organization, partnership with SIL continues. SIL representatives in attendance at the conference included Dr. John Watters, SIL President; Dr. John Hollman, Director of SIL Africa Area; Dr Gary Simons, Chief Research Officer and Dr. Mike Cahill, Director of Editorial Services. Representatives from the University of Ghana included Professor Emeritus J.H. Nketia, the first director of the Institute of African Studies, and Reverend Professor Gilbert Ansre, founding director of the Language Center, both of whom were part of the discussions leading to the signing of the agreement fifty years ago.

During the conference, Professor Florence Dolphyne, former chair of the Linguistics Department and the first female pro-vice chancellor of the University of Ghana, spoke of the importance of languages in national development: “honoring people's languages makes them feel that they belong to the country.”

Presentations included:

Reflecting on the conference, GILLBT Director Paul Opoku-Mensah observed:

Although the overall environment for the development of Ghanaian languages is positive, including a constitutional provision for their development, significant work remains to be done to ensure the integration of Ghanaian languages into critical domains of national life. Against this background, the conference decided to act to further develop the [relationship between GILLBT and the University of Ghana], and to build a national coalition for the purpose of supporting the development of our languages through research and advocacy…This anniversary conference seems to have become the moment in Ghana when the development of our languages was given a much needed boost, with a number of critical actors and institutions all committing to work together for this purpose. For GILLBT, it has provided a new opportunity and impetus for our language development work.

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