A message from the Executive Director
For more than 85 years, SIL has worked alongside local communities and partners to celebrate and support the vibrant diversity of the world’s more than 7,000 languages. Each of these languages represents a community. Each of these languages is someone’s mother tongue. And each of these languages matters—because people matter.
This understanding began to take shape for SIL nearly 100 years ago when our founder, Cameron Townsend—inspired by his faith—set out on a journey to live alongside the Kaqchikel people of Guatemala. Hoping to connect with the local Kaqchikel community, Townsend began learning their language. In doing so, he observed how the freedom to use the languages they value most, particularly the mother tongue, allows people to build the connections needed to thrive in their physical, emotional and spiritual lives. A century later, it is that revelation that continues to guide us.
As we approach the Decade of Indigenous Languages, which begins in 2022, we look forward to working alongside local and global partners in continued celebration of the value each community, language and culture brings to the world. Together we pursue language solutions that expand possibilities for people to flourish using the languages that matter most to them.
2019: The International Year of Indigenous Languages
This commemorable year began with SIL Executive Director Michel Kenmogne attending the official UNESCO launch of the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages. As a featured speaker and indigenous Cameroonian, Dr. Kenmogne addressed those gathered from around the world to initiate this year dedicated to promoting and protecting indigenous communities: “When we talk about languages, it’s not only about signs and symbols, it’s . . . about real people.”
Our founder, Cameron Townsend, recognized this a century earlier while living among the Kaqchikel people. His Kaqchikel guide and friend, Francisco “Frisco” Díaz, invited Townsend into local community life and forged an illustrative partnership that formed the model for generations of SIL linguists. In November, SIL representatives joined the local community and many organization partners in Guatemala to celebrate how the work alongside the Kaqchikel has expanded into collaborations with thousands of communities worldwide.
Serving Endangered Languages
South America’s Orinoco Basin is the traditional home of the Piaroa community, whose language is reported as ‘threatened’ in Ethnologue. However, an important resource created in September now helps protect this vulnerable language—a digital Piaroa language keyboard. This essential tool was produced and made available to users worldwide through SIL’s keyboard creation software, Keyman.
Buying, communicating and learning online is an increasing global trend, but less than 8.5% of the world’s 7,117 languages are supported for web use. Technologies—like keyboards, fonts and publication tools—play a pivotal role in opening opportunities for people to use their languages in online spaces. More than 4.3 billion internet users estimated in 2019, and an even higher demand generated by recent 2020 COVID-19 events, makes bridging the online language gap more important than ever to the future and health of under-resourced communities.
855+ Million People Impacted
As of February 2020, SIL works alongside 1,366 communities in 104 countries. The work we do together makes language solutions available for more than 855 million people worldwide.
SIL’s 532 consultants contribute a variety of language-related knowledge and expertise to language programs worldwide.
Depending on need and context, SIL plays a variety of roles in each language program, as shown by the graphic.
Through software development, SIL partners with communities to support their languages for use online. Nearly 40 SIL software tools are currently available and include: