Wycliffe Bible Translators has become acclaimed as the world’s arch Bible adaptation organization, and William Cameron Townsend is able-bodied accepted for his role as its founder. Yet this is alone bisected of the story. Townsend additionally founded the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) which has played an important allotment in Wycliffe’s success. SIL—known today as SIL International—is a accurate as able-bodied as a faith-based organization. The adventure abaft SIL’s acceleration and of Kenneth L. Pike, the key appearance in that rise, is one of the best absorbing episodes of the avant-garde missionary movement.
In 1917, Townsend accustomed in Guatemala as a Bible salesman. The accepted convenance of affairs Spanish Bibles to the Kaqchikel, K’iche’, Mam, and added aboriginal peoples who batten little or no Spanish accepted frustrating. Townsend after recalled that Guatemala’s aboriginal citizenry kept asking, if not in these exact words, article like: “If your God is so powerful, why doesn’t he allege my language?” Staggered by the implications of this question, Townsend blazed a new aisle in missions.
Against the admonition of adept missionaries, the independent-minded Townsend translated the New Testament into Kaqchikel, commutual it in 1930. He additionally started a academy that acclimated the aboriginal accent to alternation built-in pastors. From these adventures flowed Townsend’s threefold eyes that would anatomy the amount of SIL.
Firstly, the move abroad from Spanish accent admiral to Kaqchikel admiral and adaptation adequate and broadcast the aboriginal church. Townsend begin that Bible adaptation into the mother argot was not alternative but acute if aboriginal peoples were to accept its bulletin and anatomy applicable aboriginal churches.
Secondly, Townsend apparent that accepted aboriginal languages were not simple or archaic but rather acutely circuitous and able of cogent the abounding ambit of animal anticipation and emotion. Faced with an awfully circuitous grammatical structure, he assured that the afresh developed science of structural linguistics captivated the key to arise the mysteries of these languages. He accordingly approved out the admonition of Edward Sapir, a arch linguist at Yale University. By enlisting accurate assay in abutment of Bible translation, Townsend was on the aisle to creating an absolutely altered affectionate of mission.
Thirdly, active in abutting acquaintance with Guatemala’s aboriginal communities, he became acutely acquainted of these peoples’ acute abjection and disability due to benightedness and amusing marginalization. For Townsend, extenuative souls was not enough. A accurate Christian acknowledgment included amusing uplift. He was assertive that association development was an capital basic of Christian missions.
For an evangelical missionary in the 1930s, the embrace of Bible adaptation was fitting, but science and amusing affair were hardly the being of evangelical missions. In the deathwatch of the modernists-fundamentalists controversies, bookish pursuits and the activity of the mind—not to acknowledgment amusing ministry—were in austere abatement in bourgeois evangelical circles. After all, it was from aural the academy that change and agnosticism were emanating. In adjustment to accompany the three strands of admiral he envisioned, Townsend was accountable by accident to begin his own organization, appropriately the Summer Institute of Linguistics.
Townsend aboriginal set his architect on anti-clerical and advocate Mexico. Since the country was bankrupt to acceptable missionaries back he above the bound in 1933, he resourcefully alone his missionary character and entered Mexico as an ethnologist and educator. Clearly, alike at this aboriginal date, he envisioned creating article added than the accepted evangelical acceptance mission. During his two-month, 5,000-mile assay trip, Townsend met a cardinal of key figures, of which the best important was Mexico’s administrator of rural education, Rafael Ramírez, who opened the way for him to abstraction the nation’s educational system.
Mexico hardly bare linguistic assay to advance the country’s abounding accepted aboriginal languages afore absolute educational assets could be made. Mexico’s advocate leaders additionally remained balked in their efforts to accession the aboriginal citizenry out of cutting poverty. Townsend was adventurous to the point of audacity. Despite accepting no money or workers, he proposed to Mexican admiral a “three point affairs of Bible translation,” cooperation in “scientific research,” and acceptable “the government in its abundance program” on account of the aboriginal peoples.
Townsend was a abundant salesman, and he assertive Mexican apprenticeship admiral that SIL could accomplish a accepted accurate and altruistic contribution. They were alike accessible to admittance Bible adaptation in adjustment to accretion the linguistic and association development aid promised by this audacious American. SIL would be like no added mission. Motivated by religious purpose, it was yet absolutely accurate and pursued altruistic aims. “In fifteen years,” Townsend exclaimed, “we will accomplish the scientists sit up and booty notice.”
Townsend envisioned sending adolescent evangelicals into Mexico with his anew formed Summer Institute of Linguistics. Once there, they would backpack out linguistic assay and broadcast the after-effects in bookish journals. They would additionally advance alphabets, aftermath grammars and dictionaries for accepted languages, construe the New Testament, and undertake association development and educational projects. It was a alpine order, one that would crave a new affectionate of distinctively accomplished missionary: the translator-linguist.
In 1934, Townsend accustomed a summer linguistic advance in rural Arkansas for training these translator-linguists. The aboriginal summer advance was inauspicious. Alone two acceptance angry up for classes at the alone farmhouse Townsend busy for apartment the “school.” The abutting summer Kenneth Pike, a angular adolescent man afresh alone by the China Inland Mission (CIM), accustomed for the summer advance forth with four added students. The CIM had rebuffed Pike because of his agitation and disability to accent Chinese. After declining as a CIM candidate, Pike had alternate to Gordon Academy breadth he took a alum advance in Greek, and it was there that he abstruse of Townsend’s summer school. If he couldn’t be a acceptable missionary, conceivably he could be a Bible translator? As black as Pike appeared, Townsend had aloof calm his aboriginal linguistic genius.
In Mexico, with a bald ten canicule of phonetic training beneath his belt, Pike accepted he had the adequacy of a competent linguistic scientist. He progressed rapidly in his assay of the Mixtec language, into which he would construe the New Testament with the advice of Angel Merecias. He bound grasped the accent of the linguistic sciences for both the adaptation and altruistic aims of SIL. In 1937, Pike wrote his ancestors that “Townsend has his plan of activity actuality in Mexico aloft the base of accurate research. In the arrangement we will of advance plan to do the advice which is our goal. But we do not appetite to masquerade as linguists and be annihilation abroad but that. The alone acknowledgment is to become linguists, in fact, not theory, and bear the absolute goods.”
Townsend took agenda of Pike’s adeptness and in 1937 beatific him to the University of Michigan, breadth anniversary summer the Linguistic Society of America captivated a “Linguistic Institute.” Leonard Bloomfield and Edward Sapir, the two arch linguists of the day, were present at the Linguistic Institute in 1937, and Sapir was afflicted with Pike’s antecedent assay of Mixtec.
Pike alternate to the Linguistic Institute in 1938. After lecturing on his Mixtec linguistic analysis, he was offered an befalling to accompany doctoral studies at the University of Michigan. After commutual his doctorate in 1942, Pike abutting the adroitness at the university breadth he eventually became a tenured assistant and remained until his retirement as assistant emeritus in 1977. Pike additionally developed his own linguistic theory, tagmemics, which was acclimated to assay abounding ahead accepted languages. In the end, he would accord added than 20 books and 200 accessories to the bookish literature. It is a abstruse actuality amid American Christians that Pike was not alone an evangelical missionary and Bible translator but additionally one of the world’s top linguistic scientists of the 20th century.
Providence smiled on Townsend. In 1936, accession linguistic prodigy absolved through the door. Eugene Nida, who had advised Greek and linguistics at UCLA, was a apprentice for alone a few weeks afore Townsend placed him on the summer academy faculty. Nida was SIL’s additional PhD, admission from the University of Michigan in 1943. For assorted reasons, Nida would move to the American Bible Society full-time in 1953, breadth he would become able-bodied accepted for developing the Bible adaptation approach of activating equivalence. In the aboriginal two decades of SIL’s existence, these two men were abundantly amenable for advancing the alignment in a absolutely bookish and bookish direction.
SIL grew apace and by 1941 numbered about a hundred associates confined in Mexico. Although Townsend had assertive Mexican admiral of SIL’s continuing as a bona fide accurate institution, as a academy dropout he had alone a bleared abstraction of what was appropriate to accomplish this. By the aboriginal 1940s, Pike and Nida knew that some abundant appropriation was appropriate if SIL accepted to accumulate up with the added adult and circuitous conduct of linguistics.
When the befalling to accomplice with the University of Oklahoma at Norman in 1942 arose, the two men accurately saw it as a way to advancement SIL’s bookish credentials. SIL’s linguistic courses, accomplished by SIL personnel, became allotment of the university’s accepted curriculum. This accommodating affairs placed absurd ache on SIL at a time back evangelicals tended to abstract from civil academia. Moreover, as Pike himself was able-bodied aware, American evangelicals were not absolutely acclaimed for accurate prowess. Indeed, they generally prioritized the affection over the mind.
Both the SIL adroitness and evangelical acceptance struggled with the university setting, and Pike and Nida were affected to avert the program. An abnormally advancing point was the bottomward of classroom adoration to board the civil university setting. However, by the backward 1940s, it was acceptable axiomatic that the bookish claim of the accommodating affairs outweighed any perceived airy costs. Indeed, SIL associates begin that they could rub amateur with non-Christians in academia after accident or harming their faith.
The advance of SIL led to accession battleground accident that took abode in 1942—the founding of Wycliffe Bible Translators in the United States as a sending bureau to ability the assignment that SIL was accomplishing in the field. It would accept been difficult for the scientifically aggressive SIL to chronicle to the Christian accessible in North America. Appropriately the added religiously aggressive Wycliffe was formed for this purpose. The bifold anatomy was at times account for accusations of duplicity, but the aggregate was able in that it accustomed anniversary article to focus on its own breadth of expertise.
From the time that Pike affected the admiral of SIL in 1942, he affected to body SIL into a full-fledged accurate organization, while advancement the founder’s threefold vision. In accession to bearing a New Testament, anniversary SIL adaptation activity additionally conducted linguistic and animal research. By the aboriginal 1980s, the organization’s translator-linguists were active in 761 aboriginal accent projects and SIL associates had appear over 9,000 accessories and books. Pike additionally clean-cut a growing core of able linguists in SIL by auspicious the organization’s best minds to accompany doctoral degrees at top universities about the world. By the time he retired as admiral of SIL in 1979, the alignment had added than 100 associates with becoming doctorates.
Had Ken Pike not happened aloft the scene, it is best ambiguous SIL would accept accomplished such bookish stature. Time and again, alike in the awful bookish SIL, Pike had to acknowledge the abode of scholarship and its axiological accent to bearing acceptable translations of the Bible back evangelistic activism threatened to accroach bookish assembly and bookish rigor. Evangelicals could, and should, he emphasized, serve God with their affection and mind. Scholarship, abacus to the world’s knowledge, was a accepted way to serve God. Pike modeled this throughout his career, self-identifying both as a missionary and a academic until his afterlife on December 31, 2000—all the while demonstrating that evangelicals could finer serve God with both the affection and the mind.
From its founding in 1934, SIL has developed from a baby summer linguistics training affairs with two acceptance to a assorted all-embracing agents of about 5,000. SIL has accomplished over 20,000 acceptance in assorted aspects of linguistics, literacy, and added cross-cultural assignment through a arrangement of training programs that now involves 26 institutions in 18 countries. Today SIL works alongside speakers of added than 1,600 languages in 100 countries, and added than two actor bodies accept abstruse to apprehend and address as a absolute aftereffect of SIL’s articulacy efforts. SIL’s Accent and Culture Archives houses over 60,000 works of assorted kinds, including bookish publications, Bible translations, and colloquial articulacy abstracts in accession to SIL’s flagship publication, the Ethnologue—an online database of the world’s added than 7,000 active languages.
SIL continues to comedy a key role in the all-around Bible adaptation movement. Not alone does SIL anon facilitate Bible adaptation on a ample scale, it additionally contributes through basal assay into the world’s languages and cultures, as able-bodied as through activated assignment in developing alphabets, dictionaries, bounded literatures, and programs of articulacy instruction. Additionally, it serves the accomplished movement through basal services—like consulting and software development—which abutment all these tasks.
When Townsend founded SIL to be a assay organization, he saw it as an important action for accepting above the gaps in ability that were adverse ministry. With an ever-changing apple that does not cease to present new challenges, this action is aloof as accordant today as it was then. In acknowledgment to this on-going need, SIL has afresh accustomed the Pike Center for Integrative Scholarship. Its mission, afterward the archetype set by Pike, is to body the accommodation of the Bible adaptation movement to use bookish assay as a apparatus in affair the challenges it faces. The ancestry of Townsend and Pike is animate and able-bodied in the SIL of the 21st century.
Boone Aldridge (PhD, University of Stirling, 2012) is the SIL Corporate Historian; his book, The Development of the Wycliffe Bible Translators and the Summer Institute of Linguistics, 1934–1982, is in columnist with Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Gary Simons (PhD, Cornell University, 1979) is SIL’s Chief Assay Officer and administrator of the Pike Center for Integrative Scholarship. The authors accept ahead collaborated on an ebook that tells abundant of this adventure at greater length: A Threefold Purpose: Rediscovering the Affection of SIL.
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