SIL celebrates 60 years at the University of North Dakota

Signed languages are a special focus of the SIL-UND program. Most of the SIL-UND linguistics courses include coverage of signed languages, and the program offers a training track focused on the analysis and acquisition of signed languages. Some courses for this track are conducted in American Sign Language with translation into English. Most summers, Deaf people are involved as students and staff. ASL-English interpreters are provided whenever needed.

(August 2011) SIL at the University of North Dakota is celebrating its 60th year of linguistics courses, a relationship which began with UND’s invitation. This independent program is affiliated with the University of North Dakota’s College of Arts and Sciences and Graduate School. There were 117 students enrolled in this year’s session.

SIL-UND offers more than 20 different courses in the areas of linguistics, translation, community-based literacy, language survey, writing systems and language learning. The program carries full university accreditation and provides training in undergraduate and graduate credit up to an MA.

Sign languages are a special focus of the SIL-UND program. Albert Bickford, director of SIL-UND since 2004, points to the fact that sign languages have many of the characteristics of spoken languages, such as established grammatical patterns. “For example, American Sign Language is very different from English, but similar in some respects to languages such as Chinese and Hebrew—it’s got its own unique mix of grammatical structures.” The world’s signed languages differ from each other primarily in lexicon. The grammar and syntax between all signed languages worldwide do not vary as much as with spoken languages.

SIL-UND prepares students to serve internationally in the varied aspects of language development work. “Around the world, SIL members do language description and basic linguistic research,” says Bickford. “We publish dictionaries, grammars and other linguistic references, and we help people develop writing systems.”

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