Phonetics class


Linguistics illuminates patterns and variety in the structure and use of language, providing a foundation for language development work of all kinds.

Understanding Language

Linguistics - the study of language in all its aspects - has been a central activity of SIL since its beginning. Besides the intrinsic value of understanding the intricate complexity of human language in general, whether spoken or signed, the study of a particular individual language serves also as a tool used in language development projects of different kinds such as:

SIL workers living in a language community for any extended period of time generally learn that language, aided by the tools of linguistics. Language is intimately tied to society and culture, and the study of linguistics with respect to these constitutes another important aspect of understanding language.

Working Together

Working in partnership with language communities, SIL linguists have been and continue to be involved in a great variety of linguistics projects. Just as each language is unique, so also is each language program unique; there is no single profile of a language program. Much depends on the particular language community and their own goals for the development of resources for their language, but in virtually every case, linguistic research and analysis adds to the sense of value of each language in addition to providing practical insights and foundational understanding for quality language work.


SIL linguists serve host governments and institutions as well as the worldwide academic community by publishing the results of linguistic research. Many SIL linguists belong to professional associations and participate in those academic communities. There are numerous – sometime competing – linguistic theories, and practitioners of most of them can be found among SIL linguists. SIL has no corporate commitment to a particular theory of language or linguistics. SIL partners with academic institutions around the world to provide training in linguistics and related fields.


In addition to other academic publications, SIL produces the Ethnologue, a “catalog” of information about languages of the world, building on over 75 years of research. SIL also develops software tools specific to linguistic analysis and which support language development. Notably, SIL fonts, both legacy and Unicode, are widely used.