SIL International

SIL International

SIL International (the official name of what was originally the Summer Institute of Linguistics) is a worldwide U.S.-based non-profit evangelical Christian organization whose main purpose is to study, develop and document lesser-known languages in order to expand linguistic knowledge, promote literacy and aid minority language development.

SIL International is the sister organization of Wycliffe Bible Translators, an agency dedicated to translating the Bible into minority languages. The organization provides a database of its research into the world's languages through its Ethnologue, a database of the world's languages. It has more than 6,000 members from over 50 countries.


SIL International started as a small summer training session in the U.S. state of Arkansas in 1934 to train missionaries of what later became Wycliffe Bible Translators in basic linguistic, anthropological and translation principles. The founder was William Cameron Townsend (1896-1982), a former Disciples of Christ missionary to Guatemala. Its headquarters are located in the southern section of Dallas, Texas.

From the 1950s to 1987, SIL training was hosted by the University of Oklahoma in Norman. The agreement between the university and SIL was terminated in 1987 after a controversy about SIL being involved in missionary activities and its relationship with Latin American governments. SIL training is now offered in many locations around the world.

One of the students at the first summer institute in its second year 1935 was Kenneth L. Pike (1912–2000), who was to become the foremost figure in the history of SIL. He served as SIL's President from 1942–1979 and then as President Emeritus until his death in 2000. He worked at the University of Michigan for many years. SIL's current president is Dr. John Watters, who took the office in 2008, after serving as Executive Director 2000-2007.

Affiliated bodies and other offices

Besides the headquarters in Dallas, SIL has offices and locally incorporated affiliated organizations in a number of countries: [ [ SIL International Worldwide] ]


* Cameroon: Yaounde (central office), Bamenda (regional office), Maroua (regional bureau for the north of the country)


* Brazil: Cuiabá
* Colombia (1962-2002)
* Mexico: Instituto Lingüístico de Verano (Mexico), based in Tlalpan (Distrito Federal)
* Peru: Instituto Lingüístico de Verano (Peru), based in Lima
* Suriname (1968-2001) []


* China: cooperation with a number of research organizations and government agencies. [ [ SIL East Asia Group: Chinese partnerships] ]
* Philippines: Manila


* Papua New Guinea: Ukarumpa


SIL's principal contribution to linguistics has been the data that has been gathered and analysed from over 1,000 minority and endangered languages [ [ Endangered Language Groups ] ] , many of which had not been previously studied academically. SIL endeavors to share both the data and the results of analysis in order to contribute to the overall knowledge of language. This has resulted in publications on languages such as Hixkaryana and Pirahã which have challenged the universality of some linguistic theories. SIL's work has resulted in over 20,000 technical publications, all of which are listed in the SIL Bibliography [ [ Ethnologue Bibliography] ] . Most of these are a reflection of linguistic fieldwork [ [ Linguistics fieldwork in SIL ] ] .

SIL's focus has not been on the development of new linguistic theories, but tagmemics, though no longer promoted by SIL, was developed by Kenneth Pike, who also coined the words etic and emic, more widely used today in anthropology.

Another focus of SIL is literacy work, particularly in indigenous languages. SIL assists local, regional, and national agencies that are developing formal and informal education in vernacular languages. These cooperative efforts enable new advances in the complex field of educational development in multilingual and multicultural societies [ [ About SIL International ] ] .

SIL provides instructors and instructional materials for linguistics programs at several major institutions of higher learning around the world. In the USA these include Biola University, Moody Bible Institute, Houghton College, University of North Dakota, Bryan College, University of Texas at Arlington, the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics and Dallas Theological Seminary. Other universities with SIL programmes include Trinity Western University in Canada and Charles Darwin University in Australia.

SIL also presents the fruits of some its research through the International Museum of Culture. [ [ The International Museum of Cultures ] ] Located in Dallas, Texas, it was developed by linguists and anthropologists associated with SIL International for the purpose of celebrating peoples of diverse cultures in an effort to promote greater appreciation and understanding of cultural differences.

International recognition

SIL holds formal consultative status with UNESCO and United Nations, and has been publicly recognized by UNESCO for their work in many parts of Asia. [ [ APPEAL: SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics) International ] ] SIL also holds non-governmental organization status in many countries.

SIL's work has received appreciation and recognition in a number of international settings. In 1973, SIL was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding. This foundation honors outstanding individuals and organizations working in Asia who manifest greatness of spirit in service to the peoples of Asia. [ [ 1973 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for International Understanding - Summer Institute of Linguistics ] ] Other notable examples include a UNESCO award and the 1979 International Reading Association Literacy Award for literacy work in Papua New Guinea [ [ Handbook of Texas Online - SUMMER INSTITUTE OF LINGUISTICS ] ] .

Ethnologue and the SIL code

The Ethnologue, the most comprehensive guide to the world's languages, is published by SIL. It assigns three-letter codes to languages, which are widely used by other linguists. The 15th edition of the Ethnologue was published in 2005 and generally uses the ISO 639-3 standard. SIL is the registrar for the ISO 639-3 standard.

Controversy and SIL's Response

Missionary activities


In the book, "Confessions of an Economic Hitman" by John Perkins, (Page 141-143) he states that the Ecuadoran President accused SIL of working with US based oil companies in order to persuade the local tribes to deed over the rights to their lands to the oil companies for oil exploration. He alleged that the food baskets they dropped to the native tribes were bugged so the oil companies could eavesdrop on them, so when people became sick the missionaries mysteriously came up with a cure and that laxatives were put in the food and the missionaries later turned up with medicine. They would then move to camps where they would have to be dependent on SIL for food and medicine. (No further data to support this claim). See SIL Response to Perkins. []

SIL has been accused of being involved in moving indigenous populations in South America from their native lands to make way for exploitation schemes of North American and European oil corporations. The most well known example is the case of the Huaorani people in Ecuador, which resulted in many deaths and the moving of the people into reservations controlled by the missionaries.Fact|date=February 2008

In 1975, thirty anthropologists signed "The Denouncement of Pátzcuaro", alleging that SIL was a "tool of imperialism", linked to the CIA and "divisions within the communities that constitutes a hindrance to their organization and the defence of their communal rights".Fact|date=February 2008

In 1979, SIL's agreement with the Mexican government was officially terminated, but it continued to be active in that country [Clarke, p. 182] . The same happened in 1980 in Ecuador [Yashar 2005, p. 118] , although a token presence remained. Remnants of SIL presence were protested in every subsequent Native South American uprising [Cleary/Steigenga 2004, p. 37] . In the early 1990s, the newly-formed organisation of indigenous people of Ecuador CONAIE once more demanded the expulsion of SIL from the country [Yashar 2005, p. 146] .

At a conference of the Inter-American Indian Institute in Mérida, Yucatán, in November 1980, delegates denounced the Summer Institute of Linguistics for using a scientific name to conceal its religious agenda and capitalist worldview that was alien to indigenous traditions [Bonner 1999, p. 20] .

Opponents have alleged Weasel word|date=February 2008 that SIL was financed initially by expatriate coffee processors in Guatemala, and later by the Rockefellers, Standard Oil, the timber company Weyerhauser, and USAID. By the 1980s, [SIL] was expelled from Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, and Panama, and restricted in Colombia and Peru [Cleary/Steigenga 2004, p. 36] .

Today, according to SIL's annual report, it is funded by donations from individuals, churches, and other organizations, channeled to SIL by the Wycliffe Bible Translators []


External links

IL website

* [ SIL international]
* [ Kenneth L. Pike]
* [ the SIL computing catalog]
* [] Freely available complex scripts technology, Unicode fonts and documentation from SIL's Non-Roman Script Initiative
* [ Breaking the Language Barrier] SIL launches free open-source software at World Summit on the Information Society. Software to bridge the digital divide for ethnic minority languages (SIL International Media Release)
* [ Facts on File] SIL Response to Errors in "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man"

Criticism of SIL activities

* Carmelo Ruiz: [ Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil] Book review of "Thy Will Be Done, The Conquest of the Amazon" by Gerard Colby and Charlotte Dennett (Harper Collins 1995, ISBN 0-06-016764-5). Background of the work of SIL in the Amazon region.
* Cedric Muhammad: [ On The CIA And Christian Missionaries] ("BlackElectorate", May 13, 2001)
* Nikolas Kozloff: [ Evangelicals in Venezuela] Robertson Only the Latest Controversy In a Long and Bizarre History ("Council On Hemispheric Affairs", September 19, 2005)
* Paul Heggarty: [ This ( Site’s Views on Missionary Work]

Other sites

* JAARS : JAARS has its headquarters in Waxhaw, North Carolina. Its purpose is to provide technical support services to Wycliffe Bible Translators and to SIL International.
* Kittipong Thavevong: [ Helping minority people type in their own scripts] ("The Nation", Bangkok, via the German presence at the World Summit on the Information Society)


*Ruth Margaret Brend, Kenneth Lee Pike (eds.): "The Summer Institute of Linguistics: Its Works and Contributions" (Walter De Gruyter 1977), ISBN 90-279-3355-3.
*Gerard Colby, Charlotte Dennett: "Thy Will Be Done: The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil" (Harper Collins 1995), ISBN 0-06-016764-5. This book contains allegations of Rockefeller's use of American missionaries, and in particular, the Summer Institute of Linguistics, who cooperated in conducting surveys, transporting CIA agents and indirectly assisting in the genocide of tribes in the Amazon basin.
*John Perkins: "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" (Plume Publishers 2006), ISBN 0-452-28708-1. Contains several references to SIL missionary activities and displacement of indigenous peoples in South America.
*W. A Willibrand: "Oklahoma Indians and the Summer Institute of Linguistics" (1953).
*Søren Hvalkof, Peter Aaby (eds.): "Is God an American? An Anthropological Perspective on the Missionary Work of the Summer Institute of Linguistics" (A Survival International Document, International Workgroup for Indigenous Affairs, Copenhagen/London 1981), ISBN 87-980717-2-6.
*Eni Pucinelli Orlandi: Sprache, Glaube, Macht: "Ethik und Sprachenpolitik / Language, Faith, Power: Ethics and Language Policy", in: Brigitte Schlieben-Lange (ed.): "Zeitschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Linguistik 116, Katechese, Sprache, Schrift" (University of Siegen / J.B. Metzler 1999) The author presents a discourse analysis of the practices of SIL.
*Laurie K. Hart: "The Story of the Wycliffe Translators: Pacifying the Last Frontiers". In: "NACLA's Latin America & Empire Report", vol. VII, no. 10 (1973). This article describes SIL's collaboration with US oil corporations and military governments in South America in the 1950s and 1960s.
*Michael Erard: "How Linguists and Missionaries Share a Bible of 6,912 Languages". In: New York Times, July 19, 2005.
*Peter Gow: "An Amazonian Myth and Its History" (Oxford University Press 2001), ISBN 0-19-924195-3 / ISBN 0-19-924196-1.
*Colin Clarke: "Class, Ethnicity, and Community in Southern Mexico": Oaxaca's Peasentries (Oxford University Press 2001), ISBN 0-19-823387-6. []
*Arthur Bonner: "We Will Not Be Stopped: Evangelical Persecution, Catholicism, and Zapatismo in Chiapas, Mexico" (Universal Publishers 1999), ISBN 1-58112-864-9.
*Edward L. Cleary, Timothy J. Steigenga: "Resurgent Voice in Latin America: Indigenous Peoples, Political Mobilization, and Religious Change" (Rutgers University Press 2004), ISBN 0-8135-3461-5.
*David Stoll: "Fishers of Men or Founders of Empire? The Wycliffe Bible Translators in Latin America. A US Evangelical Mission in the Third World" (London, Zed Press 1983), ISBN 0-86232-111-5. Criticism of SIL missionary activities.
*Norman Lewis: "The Missionaries" (London, Secker and Warburg 1988; McGraw-Hill Companies 1989), ISBN 0-07-037613-1.
*Richard Pettifer, Julian Bradley: "Missionaries" (BBC Publications 1991), ISBN 0-563-20702-7.
*Deborah J. Yashar: "Contesting Citizenship In Latin America. The Rise of Indigenous Movements and the Postliberal Challenge" (Cambridge University Press 2005), ISBN 0-521-82746-9.
*Castro Mantilla, Maria Dolores: "El Trabajo del ILV en Bolivia", 1954—1980, Informe Final ("The Work of SIL in Bolivia, 1954-1980, Final Report"; La Paz, Ministerio de Desarollo Humano 1996). This report in Spanish contains a detailed chart of SIL activities in Latin American countries.
*Cobbs, Elizabeth A. "Thy Will Be Done: The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil - book reviews" ("Christian Century", Nov 1, 1995) []

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