News Articles and Stories On Location International Year of Indigenous Languages

Languages matter … to SIL International

As the Executive Director of SIL and first-language speaker of Ghomálá’, Dr. Michel Kenmogne says IYIL gives him a sense of hope, because it brings focus to the plight and worth of non-dominant language groups in a globalizing world that often marginalizes them. “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

Languages Matter … building foundational knowledge benefits language vitality

SIL Chief Research Officer, Dr. Gary Simons, found in a recent study that language death has accelerated, with the world currently losing nine languages each year on average. By the end of the century, Simons projects that the rate of loss will rise to 17 languages annually. SIL is committed to building foundational knowledge in order to document the world’s languages, archive language information for future generations and help communities formulate strategies to pursue their language development goals.

Languages Matter: software innovation provides greater digital access and tools

With more than four billion* people around the world using the Internet, SIL International is committed to making 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 is working to support the writing systems of under-resourced languages as one way to include them in today’s growing global digital arena. SIL’s Writing Systems Technology team regularly creates fonts and other digital language resources to continue providing technical support for all aspects of language development globally.

Documenting and preserving lesser-known languages – Barayin of Chad in Africa

Until recently, little was known about the Barayin language. This began to change when this small African community began research and documentation efforts in partnership with SIL and other organizations. Today, the Barayin have developed a writing system for their language, produced literacy materials for children and adults, and begun education programs in their mother-tongue. "The current generation has lost a good number of words, so imagine what it will be like in future generations,” he explains. “The research has allowed a revival of the customs of our people and the lost vocabulary, and it creates a love for the language.”

Addressing Together the Threat of Losing the World’s Language Diversity

SIL Executive Director, Dr. Michel Kenmogne, hopes to see world languages protected as both a professional and personal stakeholder in today’s growing language crisis. In his role leading an international linguistics organization, Dr. Kenmogne recognizes the struggles lesser-known language communities face to preserve this important part of their cultural identity in the midst of increased globalization and multilingualism. As an indigenous speaker of a lesser-known language in Cameroon, Dr. Kenmogne is keenly acquainted with the depth of expression and emotional significance intrinsic to one’s mother tongue.

Documenting and preserving lesser-known languages - Dza of Nigeria in Africa

About 100,000 Jenjo people live along the north bank of the Benue river and speak the Dza [jen] language. As part of his studies for an M.A. in language documentation and description, Nlabephee Othaniel, who is a Dza speaker, has significantly boosted language development efforts among the Jenjo people. One of his most well-received Dza documentary projects is a short video about the endangered traditional art of mat-weaving, and creating the video has even helped Othaniel become more familiar with his language.

Documenting and preserving lesser-known languages - Kamasau of East Sepik Province in Papua New Guinea

About 900 people live in this lowlands language area, but many of the children under 20 years old do not speak the language. If the people lose their language they will no longer have words for the 100 species of birds in the area, each of which have their own Kamasau name. The flora and fauna of the area is rich and with the loss of this language the ability to talk about the amazing diversity will be lost as well.

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

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SIL Communications


Photos:  Martha Matski | R.M. Nunes |  Filipe Frazao | Marc Ewell | Zeke du Plessis 

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