Linguistics in SIL Cameroon focuses on researching undocumented national languages, training field linguists, and providing resources to assist in linguistic data collection and analysis.
Through its fieldwork, SIL Cameroon documents the undocumented languages of Cameroon and Equitorial Guinea.
The main priority of SIL linguistics fieldwork is researching, documenting, collecting, analysing in order to support the development of lesser-known languages. SIL's field linguists work in partnership with mother-tongue speakers. Together they engage in the collection, analysis and organization of language data. SIL endeavours to share both the data and the results of analysis in order to contribute to the overall knowledge of language.
Archiving and publishing of language data are a high priority for SIL Cameroon. As part of this effort, we are preparing an increasing amount of language data for electronic accessibility.
Linguistics training focuses on field-tested procedures and techniques for analysing unwritten languages.
SIL Cameroon offers specialised training in linguistics throughout Cameroon and the region. The branch also hosts the francophone i-DELTA program in Yaounde. Linguists are sometimes available for training in Central and West Africa. In addition, participatory workshops are held in various local communities. The sets of linguistics courses offered are both theoretical and applied, but application is the focus.
The courses teach the crucial skills needed for describing languages, even those which are unwritten. Skills learned include the recognition and representation of the speech sounds of Cameroonian languages, orthography development, and descriptions of grammars. Courses are based upon proven techniques drawn from more than 80 years of research in more than 2,500 languages around the world.
SIL produces textbooks and reference materials and makes software and fonts available to help researchers carry out linguistic fieldwork.
SIL makes resources available to assist linguists in their fieldwork and research. These resources include textbooks, electronic and printed reference materials, software for linguistic data management and analysis, and fonts. SIL Cameroon also partnered with local universities to host the first National Symposium on Cameroonian Languages in 2018, which provided a platform for sharing linguistic research and encouraging language development.
Examples of SIL publications that support linguistic fieldwork:
- SIL Textbooks: The textbooks published by SIL have a particular focus on practical application in the field.
- Ethnologue: A resource on all the languages spoken in the world today.
- French/English Glossary of Linguistic Terms: Contains thousands of linguistic concepts in both French and English.
- Linguistic Glossary: An online glossary of over 950 technical terms with cross-references and sources.
- SIL Electronic Working Papers: A serial publication of papers on language and culture, especially as related to lesser-known and endangered languages. Besides linguistics, subject areas include sociolinguistics, anthropology, translation, literacy, language learning and computing.
- SIL Bibliography A list of linguistic fieldwork research that has been carried out on Cameroonian languages.
Dictionaries - Storehouses of Cultural Knowledge
A major milestone in the development of a language is the creation of a dictionary. Not only does a dictionary serve to guide the native speaker in the proper writing of his language, but it serves as a storehouse of cultural knowledge for those who speak the language and those who do not. The data management in creating a dictionary is complex. For this reason, SIL has created over the years different computer programs to collect and organise dictionary data in a systematic way, of which “FieldWorks” is the latest version. Making a dictionary takes many years and, in a sense, is never complete because the language keeps changing and growing.
The Mofu-Gudur dictionary is a case in point.
The Mofu dictionary has as its basis several word lists including, for example, an extensive corpus collected by priests at the local mission, a list based on language and cultural learning gathered over 30 years, and a list of bird names. An ad hoc committee of Mofu men reviewed and added to these lists of words and their French equivalents. Others spent weeks cross-checking and adding the Fulfulde equivalents. As the ad hoc committee worked on editing and compiling the dictionary, they decided illustrations were needed. SIL staff then worked with the the Kay Williamson Educational Fund (KWEF) to typeset and publish the Mofu-Gudur dictionary.
Recognizing that a dictionary by itself cannot adequately reflect the richness of a language, the Mofu-Gudur dictionary also contains an introduction to the Mofu-Gudur people and their language, an orthography statement, appendices on Mofu counting, Mofu musical instruments, instructions on how to read Mofu, irregular verbs and maps. You can purchase this dictionary here, if desired.