"If your God is so mighty, why doesn't He speak my language?"

A Cakchiquel (Guatemala) man to SIL founder William Cameron Townsend

Facts and Figures

SIL Cameroon Statistics:

40Years in Cameroon!
286The number of languages listed for Cameroon (Ethnologue, 16th Edition)
279are living languages,
3are second language without mother-tongue speakers,
4are extinct
Over 200Active personnel
15Nationalities of SIL Cameroon staff

SIL International Statistics:

6,909Languages spoken in the world (Ethnologue, 16th Edition)
2,550Total languages researched (over 1.7 billion speakers)
1,998Active language projects (1.2 billion speakers)
Over 1,000Active literacy programs
Over 2 millionNumber of readers trained
35,000Published works
Over 6,000Active personnel
Over 60Nationalities of SIL staff

Introduction - From Biafra civil war to Cameroon

In mid 1967, civil war erupted in Nigeria. Three SIL teams were working in languages in South East Nigeria, which were also spoken in Cameroon. They had to leave as they were in the war zone. John Bendor-Samuel who since 1960 has investigated the linguistic needs in Africa starting in Ghana, was in Cameroon a year earlier to attend the West African Languages Congress in 1966. He came again in October, this time to seek permission for these teams to continue their work from Cameroon but also in Cameroon. The three languages were: Ejagham, Mambila and Yamba. He was able to have then the first agreement with the Federal University of Cameroon. Just after that agreement, new teams were assigned to Cameroon to do linguistic work in specific languages. These included: Lamnso’ in Kumbo, Dowayo in Poli and Fali in Pitoa.

Milestones of the past

The life expectancy in Cameroon is not that long. We can humbly say that most people who have lived for 40 years have spent more than half of their life time. It is expected that the account such a person will give of his past years would be full of important events that have marked his history. In 40 years in Cameroon, some milestones have marked the history of SIL:

On February 6, the first agreement was signed between John Bendor-Samuel representing SIL and the Federal University of Cameroon. This agreement marked the official beginning of linguistics and language development work by SIL.

SIL work has started in up to 14 different languages.

SIL became more recognized in Cameroon. A new ONAREST (Office National de la Recherche Scientifique et Technique) for linguistic research in Cameroon. That later became DEGERST (Délégation Générale à la Recherche Scientifique et Technique) and even later, MINREST.

In July and August the first Writers’ Workshop (with 10 languages involved) and the first Primer Workshop (5 languages) were held at Nkol Nda

SIL is recognized as a Cameroonian association by the Ministry of Territorial Administration.

The land to build the Cameroon Training Centre is purchased.

The first Discover Your Language training is given to Cameroonians mindful of developing their own mother tongue.

SIL and the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research signed the Scientific Convention.

By the end of the eighties, SIL played a very important role in the creation of two national organizations; NACALCO to help local initiatives for language development and CABTAL to help churches with Bible translation.

The Rain Forest International School is opened providing an accredited high school level of education to the children of SIL members.

On December 3, MINREST and SIL signed the Technical and Scientific Research Convention.

In April 2002 the Ministry of External Relations and SIL signed a head quarters’ agreement.

SIL Cameroon Directors & Administrators

1967-1974 John Bendor-Samuel
1972-1972 Ron Thwing (administrator)
1973-1974 Ron Gluck (administrator)
1975-1979 David Maranz
1979-1981 Karl Grebe
1981-1986 Clinton Robinson
1987-1989 Ed Ubels
1990-1994 Bob Creson
1994-1998 Bob Chapman
1998-2000 Paul Haken
2000-2008 George Shultz
2008-now Nelis van den Berg

In 1976 the first series of training courses were held at Nkol Nda
Group picture of Translation Principles Course in 1977