"If your God is so mighty, why doesn't He speak my language?"
A Cakchiquel (Guatemala) man to SIL founder William Cameron Townsend
SIL International is a non-profit, scientific educational organization of Christian volunteers that specializes in serving the lesser-known language communities of the world. Its members live among the people of these communities while seeking to understand their cultures and learn their languages. SIL specializes in the application of linguistic research to the literacy and translation needs of the minority language community. In partnership with these communities, SIL helps to develop in them the skills and capacity to preserve their cultures and languages in a way that serves the people best.
Training for the work of SIL International is generally the responsibility of the SIL schools at various sites worldwide. Anyone with the appropriate educational background can enroll in the SIL training. See elsewhere for full details on training in SIL.
SIL members are volunteers who raise their own financial support. In addition to fieldworkers in applied linguistics many technical people also assist the organization. A number of international advisors in linguistics, literacy, sociolinguistics, anthropology and translation also help SIL.
For work overseas, various national organizations recruit members who serve under SIL. For more information see http://www.wycliffe.net
In most cases, SIL works under some department of the government, such as education, social services or, in a few cases, religion. It also maintains reporting relationships to various national universities, and national organizations.
In 1934 Mr. William Cameron Townsend began linguistics and anthropology courses for students interested in fieldwork overseas. They were held in the summer at a small community in Arkansas. In 1942 the summer program was moved to the University of Oklahoma and remained there for many years. Because of this seasonal schedule, Townsend labeled the training the Summer Institute of Linguistics. Over time the full name of the organization was dropped and the initials SIL became the name of recognition in many places worldwide. SIL International has recently been adopted officially as a public name. Operational entities may still adapt their names according to the appropriateness of the particular country in which they work, e.g., Latin American and Francophone countries employ Spanish and French names.
The SIL International headquarters is located in Dallas, Texas. SIL has also been incorporated in Australia. Addresses for other SIL offices are listed elsewhere.