ELL: clarification about SIL from an external point of view

Jeff ALLEN jeff at elda.fr
Wed Mar 17 13:27:57 UTC 1999

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Date: Wed, 17 Mar 1999 14:27:57 +0100
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From: Jeff ALLEN <jeff at elda.fr>
Subject: ELL: clarification about SIL from an external point of view
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At 14:47 17/03/99 +0700, Matthew McDaniel wrote:
>I would also like to comment on the e-mail about SIL(Wycliffe Bible
>I still think that as holding a huge vault of knowledge regarding
>language as taken from the indigenous, which is an indigenous product of
>knowledge, SIL might address the issues of its reputation from the
>perspective that it is the same organization as Wycliffe ...

I am sorry to feel the need to post another clarification point on this
point, but it seems necessary.  I am not an SIL or Wycliffe member,
but I am familiar enough with these organizations to reply to this point.

SIL and Wycliffe Bible Translators are not the same organization.
They are sister, yet quite separate, organizations. In fact, you
forgot to include the third sister that is called JAARS.  Their
roles are different and it is quite important to distinguish between
them because not everyone who is affiliated with SIL is concerned
with the promotion of translating the Bible into vernacular languages.

1. Wycliffe Bible Translators is a missionary organization that
    sends missionaries from various countries to other countries
        for the purpose of translating the Bible into various languages
	    depending on the needs determined by in-depth surveys.
	        Members of Wycliffe must apply to be missionaries from their
		    host countries.

2. SIL (the Summer Institute of Linguistics in English and the
    Societe Internationale de Linguistique in French) is a linguistic
        training and research organization.  It offers intensive training
	    in all aspects of linguistics from articulatory phonetics to
	        sociolinguistics and literacy.  Members of SIL are trained
        It is important to recognize that temporary affiliated individuals may
	    simply be students taking undergraduate or post-graduate courses
	        for credit on state university campuses (University of Oregon,
        of North Dakota, University of Texas-Arlington) where SIL members
	    and other non-SIL professors teach the courses.   I was invited to
	        develop and teach a new Sociolinguistics program and head the
		    Sociolinguistics Dept at the French branch of SIL because
    of my
        expertise in sociolinguistics and because I spent many years studying
	    and conducting research in this field for 2 advanced degrees at a
        state university.  I know of many other university professors that
        their time on a volunteer basis, or through teaching during the
        at their home institutions, in developing and teaching linguistics
	    for SIL.  SIL also has external advisory members who evaluate work
	        done by SIL members.  These external members have nothing to
        with Bible translation, but are rather quite concerned with providing
	    adequate and quality linguistic training and research results to
        wider linguistics community.  It is therefore very important to
	    between SIL and Wycliffe.  There are many undergraduate and
	        post-graduate students who have benefitted from quality,
        linguistics training (much as I did as an undergraduate student 10
        ago) in order to pursue advanced degrees, but who have nothing to do
	    with Wycliffe and its mission.  There are many university
    professors and
        researchers who provide their counsel as external advisors for
        issue to SIL, but who also are not concerned with Bible translation.
	    Lumping Wycliffe and SIL together as the same organization
        for these reasons.

	3. JAARS is the support branch (computers, materials, avionics) for
	    1 and 2 above.

	    There are many missionaries who members of both Wycliffe and SIL
	    they conduct linguistic research for the purpose of Bible
	    translation, and
	    some of them teach SIL courses because they have practical
	    fieldwork experience that is useful for teaching courses.  In such
	    it is necessary to refer them as members of the 2 organizations.

	    There are also missionaries with Wycliffe who are not SIL members
	    (for example, teachers of missionary kids in missionary schools).

	    The fact that I offer my free time once in a while to compile
	    for SIL courses, and to provide consultation as an external expert
	    the field, is an issue of wanting to see a good linguistics
	    program and
	    organization become better with time.   SIL members have
	    my counsel and I have benefitted in working with SIL
	    linguists. The
	    benefit is mutual when I have in need of information and have had
	    answers come back from SIL linguists within a period of 24-48

	    >In addition, considering the glowing report for how helpful SIL
             is on

	     It is not the issue of a "glowing report" but a factual report
	     from an
	     outsider who has been invited to give courses at their
	     schools because they did not have the internal expertise at the
	     time.  From that opportunity, we have been able to develop a
	     modular program and train SIL members to teach it.

	     >why did they flatly refuse to assist on a wide based non
	     >partisan literacy project for the Akha ...
I have no idea with regard to this.  All I can say from a personal
point of view is that language politics are a sticky issue.  I myself
in the past have avoided being affiliated with certain projects
because of political issues that I did not want to get involved in.
Maybe SIL has chosen to do the same on this.  Only SIL could
really answer you more accurately on this point.

All in all, please make the distinction that is necessary in referring to
missionary and linguistics organizations, since it implies labels
and affiliation points that are not quite true.

Best regards,

(who just spent his lunch hour writing this message)

Jeff ALLEN - Directeur Technique
European Language Resources Association (ELRA)  &
European Language Resources Distribution Agency (ELDA)
(Agence Europ.enne de Distribution des Ressources Linguistiques)
55, rue Brillat-Savarin
75013   Paris   FRANCE
Tel: (+33) (0) - Fax: (+33) (0)
mailto:jeff at elda.fr
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