In SIL, language development involves working with speakers of less well known languages to help them achieve their goals as a community through language planning and intercultural development efforts. In some cases this means the development and promotion of written forms of their language and the production of literature.
No language is "undeveloped" in the sense that it is less capable than another of expressing whatever a speaker wants to communicate. All languages have about the same level of structural complexity overall and all are capable of allowing their speakers to describe the world in which they live.
However, giving a language new uses (such as in books) requires that a new form be found to suit the new function. Alphabet development requires linguistic research to determine the sounds of the language that will need to be represented. It also requires a knowledge of psycholinguistics and literacy theory so that the written forms that will be chosen will aid the speaker in the acquisition of reading skills and in reading fluency. Furthermore, alphabets represent the identity of a social group and will be more or less acceptable to the degree that they accurately reflect the attitudes of the group about themselves and their neighbors.
In addition, as societies become exposed to other groups and to modern, urban life, they will encounter many technologies that are not part of their traditional world. Often, they will simply borrow words from another language in order to talk about these technologies. In some cases they will create their own terms by redefining existing terms or by resurrecting old terms that are no longer in use and giving them new meanings. Many communities which are in contact with others fear that the use of loan words will erode their language and culture and so attempt to keep their language pure.
Communication is enhanced when standard ways of writing and spelling and standard terms for technological phenomena are agreed upon and used within a speech community. In some cases, a standard simply develops. In other cases, an agency, committee, or "language academy" is identified and given the responsibility to standardize language usage. These norms are then taught in schools and codified in grammar and spelling books or in dictionaries.
SIL views its role in language development as one of partnership with the local community, providing knowledge about language and culture to help communities make decisions and plan how they want their language developed.
See the reports of the conference on Language Development, Language Revitalization and Multilingual Education in Minority Communities in Asia, especially the Current Language Development, Language Revitalization, and Multilingual Education Activities for examples of how SIL works in partnership in the area of language development in Asia.