A Brief History of SIL Senegal


SIL logoSIL has had a presence in Senegal, The Gambia and Guinea Bissau since 1982. In 1984 a memorandum of understanding was signed with the Government of Senegal, followed by one with the Government of Guinea-Bissau in the same year. SIL has no official presence in the Gambia but has an impact through cross-border initiatives.

SIL International aims to serve as a partner in language development, to build capacity for sustainable linguistic development, and to serve the people of the world through research, translation, training and materials development. According to this vision SIL began to take stock of the languages present in the country in the 1980s, conducting language surveys in Soninke and the Tenda languages to the east, the Cangin languages around Thiès and the Bak languages of the Casamance. Based on the results of these surveys, in 1987 SIL pursued four language programs across the country: Podor in the north, Sindian in the southwest, Bakel in the east and Tambacounda in the center. SIL withdrew from Guinea-Bissau in the 1980s. It has never renewed an official presence, but SIL International supports language development activities through agreements with local organisations.

In 1989 the SIL office near Colobane in the industrial area of Dakar was inaugurated by Ms. Ndiaye, Minister of Social Development. The office is still located there and was significantly enlarged in 2001. By 1994, SIL was working in the following languages: Jola Fonyi, Kasa, Kerak, Kwatay, Ndut, Noon, Pulaar, Saafi-saafi, Wamey, Soninke and Wolof.

Since its inception, SIL has sought to partner with local communities to support the development of minority languages with literacy classes, technical training (such as an "Introduction to Linguistics" teaching basic concepts in phonetics, phonology and morphology), management training, the creation and editing of written materials, and the translation of parts of the Bible. The print shop prints hundreds of vernacular titles and hundreds of thousands of copies of didactic material. The audio-visual service (VMS) produces recordings in a range of media formats. Experts in ethnomusicology help integrate traditional music and singing, especially in the creation of new songs for the church.

In 2000, SIL International underwent a radical shift towards a more direct focus on the training and empowerment of others. Since the late 90s, three translation programs have been led by Senegalese nationals. SIL supports informal adult and children’s literacy work in partnership with local organisations, which take increasing responsibility in all areas as they are trained and mentored. SIL continues to strengthen ties with the State as well as with partners such as NGOs, churches, missions and local associations in Senegal.

Since 2008 SIL has been exploring the important strategy of Multilingual Education and the contribution of the "mother tongue" language to formal education. SIL also supports the Beersheba project in the region of Mbour, which is primarily an agricultural project but has many other components.  It includes a year-long apprenticeship program covering aspects of appropriate farming techniques as well as relevant skills for daily living. The apprenticeship program is conducted using local languages. A follow-up after the formal training is in place as well.

In 2013, SIL was directly supporting linguistic research, literacy or translation in Bandial, Jola Fonyi, Gusilay, Karon, Laalaa, Mankanya, Manjaku, Palor, Noon, Ndut, Oniyan (Bassari), Saafi-saafi, Serer-Sine and Wamey (Konyagi). Thousands of titles in local languages have been published since 1984. As a result of literacy programs, thousands of people have learned to read and write in their own language. For those who have never been to school, this is an enormous personal achievement. For those who are already educated, it is a consolidation of their ethnic heritage and a statement of the important contribution that each language and culture makes to the development of the nation of Senegal.