HIGHLIGHTS

  • The Institute pursues its mission by placing a pair of missionary-linguists among each non-literate people in five Asian and 20 other countries on five continents. Members of an international fraternity of 3,000 scholarly missionaries representing 18 nationalities remain in the communities until concepts and customs are mastered and the language recorded.
  • In the remote posts of the Institute in the Philippines, they regularly administer first aid and assist in epidemic outbreaks. Field workers are sustained and tribal folk given emergency care by pilots, five aircraft and 30 stations of their unique Jungle Aviation and Radio Service.
  • The Institute is supported voluntarily by individuals, church groups and communities. Foundations and government agencies have given grants for specific projects and lent their facilities.
  • The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “its inspired outreach to non-literate tribes people, recording and teaching them to read their own languages and enhancing their participation in the larger community of man.”

 CITATION

For the Manobos of Mindanao whom legend credits with illiteracy because a hungry ancestor ate their alphabet, and 35 other Filipino ethnic minorities, the SUMMER INSTITUTE OF LINGUISTICS is unlocking doors to knowledge. To this end, among each non-literate people it now reaches in five Asian and 20 other countries on five continents, the INSTITUTE places a pair of missionary-linguists. Members of an international fraternity of 3,000 scholarly missionaries representing 18 nationalities, they remain until concepts and customs are mastered and the language recorded.

The INSTITUTE pursues its mission of research and service to nonliterate minorities with broad creativity. Employing the science of descriptive linguistics, primers are prepared with glossaries in the tribal tongue, the main regional and national languages and English. Apt pupils are trained as teachers and help conduct literacy classes for adults and youth. Dictionaries, folk stories, songbooks, simple readers on arithmetic, hygiene and Christian scriptures all become vehicles for new ideas that spur social and spiritual change and national integration.

As in other countries, INSTITUTE personnel in the Philippines—numbering 150—cooperate with the departments of Education, Health and Defense, as did their predecessors who first came to work here two decades ago. Filipino linguists and the Institute of National Languages are principal beneficiaries of their research. At their remote posts they regularly administer first aid and assist in epidemic outbreaks. Field workers are sustained and tribal folk given emergency care by pilots, five aircraft and 30 stations of their unique Jungle Aviation and Radio Service.

The SUMMER INSTITUTE OF LINGUISTICS was established in 1934 to provide qualified personnel for the growing ministry that William Cameron Town sends began in 1917 by translating the Bible for the Cakchiquel Indians of Central America. A sister organization, the Wycliffe Bible Translators, manages missionary activities. Special INSTITUTE linguistic courses are given at universities in the United States, Australia, Great Britain and West Germany. A jungle training camp in Mexico and a rugged arctic school in Canada ready volunteers for hardship.

Underwritten by no government or denomination, the INSTITUTE is supported voluntarily by individuals, church groups and communities. Foundations and government agencies have given grants for specific projects and lent their facilities. Nonsectarian believers in Christ, members complete they’re linguistic work in five, ten or more years and go, leaving behind a base for education. Respecting differences of language and culture, they provide avenues for modernization that yet allow individual and communal stability in the transition from isolation to full citizenship.

In electing the SUMMER INSTITUTE OF LINGUISTICS to receive the 1973 Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding, the Board of Trustees recognizes its inspired outreach to nonliterate tribespeople, recording and teaching them to read their own languages and enhancing their participation in the larger community of man.

 RESPONSE

It is with a particular sense of appreciation and encouragement that the SUMMER INSTITUTE OF LINGUISTICS accepts the 1973 Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding.

My first contact with the late President Magsaysay was in March 1952 when he phoned from Manila to thank me for a copy of Cameron Townsend’s biography of the Mexican leader, Lazaro Cardenas, which I had mailed to him.

When my wife and I reached Manila in October of that year, I had the privilege of meeting Magsaysay personally, thus beginning a friendship which continued without interruption until his untimely death in March 1957.

President Ferdinand Marcos, from the very start of his administration, has continued the tradition of attention to needs of the cultural minorities and of unstinting help to the SUMMER INSTITUTE OF LINGUISTICS. Earlier this year, on the twentieth anniversary of the INSTITUTE’s work in the Philippines, President Marcos graciously gave renewed expression of his interest at a special function at Malaca?ang.

My colleagues and I in the SUMMER INSTITUTE OF LINGUISTICS begin to see the heartening results of the work we have happily volunteered to do in the hinterlands of this Republic. Provision of literacy materials in the Botolan Sambal language of Zambales is now well along. Speakers of that language should experience little difficulty in sustaining, through their own human resources, the momentum toward universal literacy and learning of the national language.

Cultural minorities in all parts of the Philippines are achieving dignity as literate, articulate citizens. A T’boli, for example, is supervising 22 other T’bolis in a highly successful program of teaching members of their group to read. One of the Tausug supervises an important dictionary project with only occasional help from an outside linguist. An Isneg is training to be an airplane pilot.

A Subanun, with only two years of schooling, has learned touch typing and been made barrio secretary in spite of having lost a finger on his right hand. One of the western Bukidnon Manobo, though he has had only three years of schooling, is a voluminous writer of original compositions designed to promote literacy among his own language group. Similar gratifying developments are transpiring among the Sarangani Manobo, Ilianen Manobo, Balangao, Kasiguran, Dumagan, Samal, Kalinga, Gadang and Bilaan.

Since this is an Award for work in Asia, I will only add that our efforts in four other Asian countries—Papua New Guinea, South Vietnam, Cambodia and Nepal—are proceeding in a like pattern to that of the Philippines, with the preparation of alphabets and literacy materials for a large number of linguistics minorities.

In closing I would like to share with you three verses of Matthew 20:25 to 28 that I took the liberty of having printed on one occasion for President Magsaysay. He read them aloud to his aides: “You know the rulers of the people have power over them, and their leaders rule over them. This, however, is not the way it shall be among you. If one of you wants to be great, he must be the servant of the rest; and if one of you wants to be chief, he must be your slave—like the Son of Man, who did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life to redeem many people.” As he finished reading, the President said: “That shows me the kind of man I ought to be.”

It also is a reminder which the SUMMER INSTITUTE OF LINGUISTICS takes to heart again in accepting with deep gratitude this recognition.

 BIOGRAPHY

The SUMMER INSTITUTE OF LINGUISTICS (SIL) comprises, in its own words, “a small band of men and women who have taken on the gigantic task of reaching the unreached tribes living in some forgotten comers all over the world,” in recording their languages, translating into them the Bible and other “works of a high moral worth,” and then teaching these tribal peoples to read the materials prepared for them.

SIL began by accident. In 1917 in the midst of World War I, William Cameron Townsend, 21 and a junior at Occidental College in Los Angeles, Califomia, overheard an old woman charge that those going off to war were “cowards” because they left the missionary work for women. He quit school and joined the Bible House of Los Angeles. Earning his own passage money by loading fruit crates on the docks, he sailed to Guatemala with a salary of $25 a month and a trunkload of Spanish-language Bibles.

He was a good salesman but he found his market limited: over three-fifths of the people in Guatemala could neither understand nor read Spanish. The Cakchiquel Indians who made up this group of illiterates were formerly a powerful and skillful tribe. They had been reduced to servitude because they did not speak Spanish and were therefore shut off from the mainstream of Guatemalan life.

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)