Summer Institute of Linguistics marked its 60th year in the Philippines last month with a lively program celebrating its work with language development in the country. What wondrous work the organization has done.
In those 60 years SIL, in partnership with Philippine government and private organizations, provided linguistic research and vernacular materials in almost 100 languages of the country.
SIL is a volunteer non-profit organization that began work in the country on the invitation of the late President Ramon Magsaysay. The formal agreement between the Department of Education and SIL was signed on Feb. 28, 1953. That year the first linguists arrived in Manila – distinguished educators and bright college graduates from different disciplines who received training in linguistics, and who raised funds abroad for their salaries – a practice that continues to this day.
SIL members carry out linguistic research documentation of Philippine indigenous languages. They also promote literacy health and community development projects among speakers of those languages as well as translation of materials of high moral value into the vernacular. They have translated some books of the Holy Scriptures into different Philippine languages.
In 1973, 20 years after signing the first MOA with DepEd, SIL received the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding.
At SIL’s 50th anniversary in 2003, the nation issued a series of commemorative postage stamps featuring ethnic designs of the cultural communities with which SIL has partnered over the years.
At the anniversary program held at the DepEd headquarters in Pasig, booths displayed publications produced by SIL linguists and Filipino partners. These included dictionaries, grammar books, anthologies and essays in different Philippine languages.
Some of these publications had put down in writing previously unwritten oral stories which could have been forgotten in time.
SIL information materials note that with more than 170 documented languages, the Philippines “has a rich and diverse linguistic and cultural heritage. Unfortunately, many languages and cultural practices are being lost.
“Language and culture loss undermines the identities of language communities, often resulting in social problems. Humanity also loses the unique knowledge and perspective these communities might otherwise contribute.”
SIL notes that while a number of Philippine languages can boast of hundreds of thousands – even millions – of speakers, many of the country’s languages evidence signs of language endangerment, a worldwide trend noted by many linguists. When last surveyed, 75 languages of the Philippines had 5,000 speakers or fewer; 19 of these languages had 200 or fewer speakers.
Jason Griffiths, the new SIL Philippines director, said there are 181 Philippine languages. Of these, 153 are “healthy”; 14 are “in trouble,” 10 are “dying,” and four “extinct.”
Language development efforts, SIL notes, can play a role in improving the outlook for endangered languages. In the Philippines, appreciation for the value of mother tongue-based multilingual education has grown and communities are taking advantage of opportunities for teacher training and resources for material development and curriculum planning.
At SIL’s 60th anniversary, Education Secretary Armin Luistro praised SIL’s work in partnership with DepEd and other organizations, in language development.
He said it is “important for us to embrace, for all lovers of Filipino languages, because it is important for us to recognize our roots and how we speak and communicate with each other, and to rediscover our soul. When the Department of Education pushed for mother tongue-based multi-lingual education we knew that we would need so many partners, that is also precisely the reason this is not only a celebration but a call to arms, an invitation to each of you to be intensely involved in developing, documenting, ensuring that Filipino languages would continue to survive.
“We are a nation on a journey,” Luistro said. “Even at this stage, we are still trying to discover the Filipino soul, and what better way to be in touch with that soul by being rooted in our native language? Of the 177 languages of the Philippines being documented (from 181), maybe other researchers will document a few others.
“Not being a linguist myself, I thought that pursuing MTB-MLE was just about language. It was only after I visited a few of those classes taught in the mother tongue, that I realized it was about the Filipino soul, it was about young people speaking from the heart, the dreams of the indigenous people being expressed in a learning environment. It is about a nation in search of its own identity.”
Former SIL director Glenn Stallsmith said at the anniversary program that when SIL linguists enter communities, “we work with the local speakers to develop orthographies . . . grammar, syntax, reading classes, writing systems, and translate materials.
“The 91 languages that SIL has been involved in, there are very few of these languages where we worked alone, many of the research was done with others. It’s been a privilege to enter these 90 languages. “
In addition to DepEd, SIL partners with Translators Association of the Philippines, the Linguistic Society of the Philippines, the University of the Philippines, Central Mindanao University, De La Salle University and Philippine Normal University.
SIL’s most well-known publication is the Ethnologue. This is theworld’s primary catalog for the world’s languages. According to Stallsmith, SIL has the ISO standard. This means the descriptions are the standard for how the languages of the world are described.
In addition to the Ethnologue – weighing about 5 kilos!_ people interested to know SIL volunteer linguists’ work may order a slew of SIL materials from SIL Academic Publications, PO Box 2270 CPO, 1099 Manila, Philippines, or by email firstname.lastname@example.org or tel. no. 7226186. These include grammar books , essays, and dictionaries in the Yakan, Agta, Manobo, Ibatan and Tausug languages, among many others.
Griffiths talked about language development. “What do we mean by developing languages? One is that every language has value, a language is not just words, a language has great value, every language community has a right to develop their own language. Language development is a series of ongoing planned actions a language community takes so that a language meets their needs.”
The spunky Education Secretary Luistro said DepEd will be the biggest user of whatever research materials SIL will be working in in terms of Philippine languages. The department will not just end up as recipients of whatever projects SIL will be undertaking, as teachers are beginning to be engaged. Since the MLB-MLE was started, some 2,000 stories in various languages were written.
DepEd will be using much of SIL materials in the new K-12 curriculum that students need to learn, “but it’s critical that we contextualize them in their languages. I hope that as we move into higher grades, even science and math can be contextualized in the environment where our students are.”
* * *
Congratulations to our friend Gina (Manay Gina) P. de Venecia for her reelection as 4th District, Pangasinan representative. At her proclamation she thanked President Benigno Aquino III for immediately responding to her request and that of Belen Fernandez for an enlarged extended seawall to protect north-western Dagupan and the Bonuan Boquig, Bonuan Binloc areas from flooding and work to commence within 60 days.
She pointed out strong legislation with pragmatic provisions is needed to stop or reduce money politics in the Philippines, reintroduce the movement for state subsidy for political parties which had been initiated by her husband, former Speaker Jose de Venecia, who is currently trying to promote it in Asia to reduce political corruption dominating politics.
* * *