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Sociolinguistics in SIL

Sociolinguistics in SIL has to do with helping those working with languages better understand the factors and issues relevant to their work. It is foundational to effective projects and to making good planning and strategy decisions. Sociolinguistic expertise is an important resource for planning, resource allocation and partnering. All of those involved in translation, literacy, linguistic analysis and multilingual education must understand how sociolinguistic factors and considerations impact the best practices of what they are doing.

Sociolinguistics in SIL also has to do with helping assure the cross pollination of current advances, understandings, models, best practices, and other useful considerations between the larger sociolinguistic community and SIL. Sociolinguistics is a large and vital academic field. It is discovering knowledge and insights valuable to the work of SIL. And in SIL, we want to continue to profit from, and contribute to, that useful knowledge.

The activities of sociolinguistic specialists in SIL include:

One special concern is the ethnolinguistic vitality of the languages of the world. Many of the languages of the world are endangered. This happens when speakers start to prefer to use other languages spoken in their communities; languages that they think will be more valuable to them and their children. Wherever there is more than one language in a community, there exists the possibility of language shift and loss. SIL is involved in assessing language vitality, and is available to assist communities in their efforts to stabilize or revitalize their community heritage language(s).

SIL also applies sociolinguistic expertise in assisting other aspects of community based language development. Community based language development is the result of the series of on-going, planned actions that language communities take to ensure that they can effectively use their languages in their efforts to achieve their changing social, cultural, political, economic and spiritual goals. Many language communities around the world are minority language communities; minority in that they have limited participation in their own governance and the governance of the nation, limited opportunities in that they don’t speak the language(s) of power and opportunity, limited resources in that they have limited access to occupations and economic development, and they are under pressure to assimilate to more dominant languages and cultures. SIL fieldworkers are available to work with such communities to assist them in forming realistic language related goals and developing practical strategies to reach those goals.