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Our History


The principal founder of SIL International was William Cameron Townsend (1896–1982). He began cross-cultural work with the Mayan Cakchiquel people of Guatemala in 1919. By 1929 Townsend’s vision had broadened to include other peoples also needing language development. SIL International (then known as the Summer Institute of Linguistics) came into being in 1934 as a summer training program in Arkansas, USA, with two students attending. The enrollment of these summer classes grew each subsequent year.

Kenneth L. Pike (1912-2000) was one of the five students in the 1935 course. He began work on the Mixtec language in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. This work launched Pike into his life-long work in linguistics and the study of language in the context of human behavior. Dr. Pike served as President of SIL until 1979.