Celebrating 60 years of partnership in the Philippines

President Magsaysay receives a copy of the biography of Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas authored by SIL founder William Cameron Townsend, leading to an invitation for SIL to begin research and language development in the Philippines.

(February 2013) This year marks the 60th anniversary of SIL’s entry into partnership with the government of the Philippines to work together for the country's language communities. With more than 170 distinct ethnolinguistic communities, the island nation is a colorful mosaic of languages and cultures. Since 1953, SIL staff members have been involved in language development efforts with many of these communities.

SIL’s partnership with communities, government agencies and other NGOs in the Philippines began with the February 1953 signing of an agreement with the country’s Department of Education (DepEd). Later that year, the first SIL linguists began arriving.

In addition to DepEd, other SIL partnerships include Translators Association of the Philippines and the Linguistic Society of the Philippines. Partnerships with the country’s academic institutions have included the University of the Philippines, Central Mindanao University, De La Salle University and Philippine Normal University.

Pittman and President Magsaysay; SIL staff arriving in 1953SIL’s Richard Pittman (left) with Philippines President Ramon Magsaysay; the first SIL staff members begin arriving in 1953.


In cooperation with these partners, SIL staff members have carried out linguistic research and documentation in many indigenous languages of the Philippines. As appropriate to the language community, SIL also promotes literacy, health, and community development projects among speakers of those languages, as well as translation of materials into the vernacular.

Ramon Magsaysay award medalSeveral prominent Philippine leaders have recognized the value of SIL’s work through the years: Ramon Magsaysay, Zosimo Montemayor, the Hon. Carlos P. Romulo and the Hon. Sedfrey A. Ordoñez. In 1973 SIL received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding for accomplishments in translation, language and culture benefiting many minority groups. At the time of 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. 

While a number of Philippine languages can boast 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, seventy-five languages of the Philippines had five-thousand speakers or fewer; nineteen of these languages had two-hundred or fewer speakers. Language development efforts 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 materials development and curriculum planning.

SIL International Director Freddy Boswell, Education Secretary Armin LuistroAt a January meeting with several SIL leaders, including Executive Director Freddy Boswell, Secretary of Education Armin Luistro expressed appreciation for the role that SIL plays in sustainable language development within the Philippines and the ways that SIL connects various stakeholders in the language communities.

Secretary Luistro engaged with the SIL leaders about how SIL can further partner with DepEd to further the educational and language development goals of Philippine communities. Luistro expressed that he is eager for SIL’s compilation of Philippine language data, collected through 60 years of fieldwork, to be readily available in accessible formats. With the recent redesign of the SIL website, information on nearly two thousand items related to the language communities of the Philippines is now available through the SIL Language & Culture Archives.

Above: SIL International Executive Director Freddy Boswell (left) and Secretary of Education Armin Luistro

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