SIL completes 68 years at University of North Dakota

Staff Photographer at SIL
Dr. Michel Kenmogne, Executive Director, SIL International, addresses staff and students during the closing session of SIL at UND.

The Summer Institute of Linguistics at the University of North Dakota (SIL-UND) program recently concluded its 68th and final session offering courses in linguistics, literacy, language survey, and related subjects on the University of North Dakota campus. The cooperative program began at the University's invitation in 1952, and gradually expanded from initially offering only two courses per summer to about twenty courses in recent years, with an option to earn an M.A. in linguistics from UND. 


This summer, over 200 people participated in the program, including students, faculty, staff, and their children. Most lived together in a university residence hall, providing a unique learning community which greatly facilitated the intensive nine-week summer of study. Students, teachers and support staff shared their lives not only in classes and academic activities, but also informally, eating meals together at the university dining hall, playing sports, and participating in community activities in Grand Forks.


SIL-UND's faculty and staff come with wide-ranging experience with languages and cultures in countries as diverse as Mexico, the Netherlands, Russia, Chad, Singapore, and East Timor. SIL supports local language communities in these countries through linguistic research, literacy, translation and advocacy. The focus is on supporting local people's aspirations to use their languages more effectively, through training, consulting, and direct participation in their communities.

Above left: Tim Matzke leads a campus wide colloquium on Using Vernacular Languages in Education | Above right: Dr. Kristine Trammell engages student participants in the Literacy Megacourse. | Below: Drs. Karla Smith, Literacy Megacourse Coordinator; Albert Bickford, SIL UND Director and Michel Kenmogne, SIL Executive Director present certificates of completion and participation.

[Click photos to enlarge]

This past year, a decision was made jointly by UND and SIL to bring the program to a close, due to budgetary constraints and changes in strategic directions at UND. SIL's Executive Director, Michel Kenmogne, visited the campus during its closing days to thank UND officials for their long-running support of the program, and to encourage and applaud SIL faculty and staff for their many years of service to the program.


Current M.A. students will be able to complete their degrees over the next couple of years through a combination of online classes, independent study, and transfer courses. SIL will continue to support the program with its faculty until all have finished, and UND will continue its administrative, curricular, and library support during this concluding phase. Most or all students should be able to finish by May 2021.


SIL-approved courses continue to be available in over 30 locations around the world. In North America, Dallas International University (formerly GIAL) is starting a new summer program in 2020, and the Canada Institute of Linguistics (CanIL) also offers summer courses. Both institutions provide classes year-round and offer graduate degrees in linguistics and related fields. 


A key element of the SIL-UND program in recent years has been inclusion of sign languages alongside SIL's intense historical experience with spoken languages. Four deaf people participated as faculty and students in 2019, and 15% of the community knew one or more sign languages. Some courses were focused specifically on sign languages. All classes were conducted in English and/or ASL, with interpreters as needed, to provide full comprehension and participation for everyone. Dallas International University is seriously considering incorporating this unique element into their educational program.