SIL Annual Update Expanding possibilities for people to flourish in community using the languages they value most

Languages Matter

SIL is pleased that 2019 has been declared the International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL) by the United Nations. For us, every year is a year to celebrate languages. That’s because researching, revitalizing and promoting the use of lesser-known languages is at the heart of who we are and what we have been doing for the past 85 years.

“Humanity and its cultural diversity is at risk if nothing is done to celebrate and promote the indigenous languages of the world.”

— Dr. Michel Kenmogne, SIL Executive Director

Why is IYIL important?

Our languages matter to each of us. They help us express our uniqueness as human beings, access information, share our thoughts, and interact and cooperate with other people.

Many people today use more than one language for these basic activities of life. But our first language—sometimes called our mother tongue—does even more than that. Our first language connects us to our identity in a way no other language can.

It is my desire and hope that as a global community, we will use the opportunity of this International Year of Indigenous Languages so that this generation will be known as the one that intervened for languages, so that the world’s linguistic tapestry and cultural diversity was preserved.

Won’t you join us?

Executive Director | Dr. Michel Kenmogne

Health and Well-being

Health information is too often given only in major languages. When public health campaigns do not take into account less-known languages, remote and oftentimes marginalized communities cannot access information to protect themselves from serious threats or make positive decisions about their health and livelihoods.


SIL believes in lowering barriers to education. That’s why we work with hundreds of local communities and agencies to establish mother tongue-based literacy and multilingual education programs for all ages of minority language speakers.


Ethnoarts connect people across generations to their history and heritage through sights, sounds, smells, textures and tastes tied to their unique culture. They can help address issues that cultures may consider taboo to convey in more common ways and can affirm a community while addressing deeply painful events.

Foundational Knowledge

Unique patterns of thought, expression, knowledge, and memory come under threat as the diversity of world languages continues to decline.

“You can’t think as widely and as broadly and as creatively when everybody just talks and thinks the same.”

— Dr. Gary Simons


Cultural identity is strongly linked to place; local geography and resources shape a community’s stories, economy, traditions and language. This is especially true for the Ambai of Papua, Indonesia, who call themselves “Sea People” because their traditional way of life depends on the ocean.

Justice and Equality

Small language communities often find themselves isolated and excluded from the wider social, political and economic world because of language and social barriers. This severely limits their capacity to fully realize their potential for community development, self-advocacy and vitality. However, through language and social awareness programs, important justice and equality issues can be addressed.

Digital Tools

With more than four billion people around the world using the Internet, SIL International is striving to make sure non-dominant language communities are not left behind. Because the unique alphabets used by many of these languages can be difficult to display with standard software, SIL supports the writing systems of under-resourced languages as one way to include them in today’s growing global digital arena.

SIL International is a faith-based nonprofit organization committed to seeing people flourishing in community using the languages they value most.

More than 5,000 people from 89 countries of origin are affiliated with SIL, 250 of whom hold PhD degrees. SIL staff are involved in 1,664 active language programs, representing 1.07 billion speakers.

SIL has been an official NGO partner with UNESCO since 1993 and has had special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) since 1997.

© SIL International 2019 | Audited financial statements: sil.org/financial-information SIL International | 7500 W. Camp Wisdom Road, Dallas, Texas 75236-5629 USA | Phone: 972-708-7400 | Contact: info_sil@sil.org

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Photo: Alan Hood, Evan Falk, Marc Ewell, Kirby O'Brien

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