ELL: New SIL Alias

J. DIEGO QUESADA dquesada at chass.utoronto.ca
Tue Sep 21 22:02:51 UTC 1999

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Date: Tue, 21 Sep 1999 15:02:51 -0700
From: "J. DIEGO QUESADA" <dquesada at chass.utoronto.ca>
To: endangered-languages-l at carmen.murdoch.edu.au
CC: marilia at acd.ufrj.br
Subject: Re: ELL: New SIL Alias
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Dear colleagues:

I want to reiterate that the intention behind my posting was not to
create SIL-phobia; after all, as Trond Trosterud accurately pointed out,
it makes no sense to keep barking at the moon (a bit of that is what we
find in Mathews' postings, I am afraid) because it will always be there
(unless, of  course, the end of the world is to occur).

The reason for my posting was that, during my last visit to the field,
the people told me that one of the SIL-linguists who had been there in
the seventies [a decade in which Panama got -at least on paper- assured
that the Canal would go to Panamanian hands this upcoming Dec. 31; and a
decade in which General Omar Torrijos -who practically made the US sit
at the bargaining table over the Canal- started to become a bit of a
pain in the neck for the CIA. No wonder, he was assassinated in 1980 or
81, I do no remember correctly, I am not from Panama. Rumors as to why
SIL left (or was made leave) the country abound.] was seen as Nuevas
Tribus came (back?) to Panama. I personally did not see her, and all I
know is that SIL is also back in Panama. For the people in the community
at least they are the same people: "los gringos de la religion aquella"
('the Americans of that religion'). And other colleagues working in
other countries in Latin America insist that there is a connection. A
reliable source at the University of Panama, told me they are the same,
only that now they are not concerned with linguistic studies but with
translation of indoctrination material (alias Bible). In Brazil there is
an organization called ALEM (Associacao Linguistica Evangelica e
Missionaria), whose members are also SIL members, I've been told. In
addition, the simple fact of being two formally different organizations
does not mean much. The White House and the CIA are two separate
institutions, are they not? When push comes to shove, its the common
interests that count. The general believe is that Nuevas Tribus, ALEM,
the so-called Sociedad Linguistica Internacional, etc. are "branches" of

If the scenario that emerges after all this is that indeed an
organization changes its name (especially after events that happened in
the past) in order to gain entry into otherwise "forbidden" territory,
then we have a new element in language endangerment, which as I said the
other day is nothing but to 'fool the people' by making believe 'we are
not those, we are somebody else'.  Well, at least in Panama, it has not
worked because for the people in the community they are the same anyway.
Anyway, too, it is too much of a coincidence that both organizations
arrived practically at the same time.

Thus, going back to my original posting and to folow up on Trond's
suggestion, I will rephrase my point:

	    If there is a connection of any sort, be it spiritual or
	    "inspirational" -again both groups appeared at the same time
	    there- the
	    people in the community should be told the truth -which I
	    understand is
	    one of the things that the 'gentiles' are 'taught' at the onset of
	    work. In terms of endangerment, anyway, a single message is being
	    conveyed there: be it A or be it B, your beliefs do not count,
	    either A
	    or B is here to help you get read of your essence.

As linguists in the field, there is very little we can do because it is
not up to us to get involved in local disputes (in the case of the
community where I work, I simply cannot take sides, but by remaining
silent guess who is profiting). So, I must admit that to counter these
forces (and the power behind them) only institutional work is possible.
In Panama the government invited SIL to leave in th elate seventies; it
left. It was not the community. In other words, individual linguists
alone can't do much; it must be linguistic institutions (e.g. LSA, FEL
-Nick, are you there?-, etc.) that have some hope of getting some
international presence to stop that. That is, it is an
'organization-vs-organization-thing'. That is a starting point:
recognizing the real dimension of the situation instead of 'tearing
individual missionaries to shreds'.

J. Diego Quesada

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