William Cameron Townsend*
Stimulator of linguistic research among ethnic minorities and champion of their cultural dignity
Compiled by Calvin Hibbard
"Not since the third century has there been a man like Cameron Townsend who attempted so much, and saw so many dreams realized in his lifetime," declared Kenneth L. Pike, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee. He called them "dreams" but they were more on the order of hard-nosed intentions. One objective was to stimulate the study of every single minority language in the world not yet analyzed or recorded. Another was to enable every people, wherever they were, to establish and control their own communal identities. Townsend saw tremendous progress toward accomplishing both goals in his lifetime. What follows is only a keyhole glimpse into the story.
As for the first "dream," the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), which Townsend founded, has in the last half of the twentieth century published academic materials describing and analyzing 1,724 languages and is currently working on 1,053 others. As for the second, to Townsend equally as important as the first, he with his colleagues worked vigorously with appropriate local governmental and educational agencies to help all these peoples acquire self-esteem, dignity, and national identity.
contribution to the academic community and his encouragement to members of
small ethnic groups to understand their own personal worth cannot be
measured. The world of science along with multiplied segments of humanity owe
great gratitude to Townsend.