Working together to nourish language communities

By Deb Fox  |  Wycliffe Today  Christmas Edition 2023 |

Dr Michel Kenmogne has been the Executive Director of SIL International since 2016. He is from Cameroon and is the first non-Western person to fill the role. Michel’s experience as someone from a minority language group has given him insights into how we can support and equip translation projects. On his way home from the SIL Connect –Pacific meetings in Papua New Guinea, Michel travelled via Kangaroo Ground in Melbourne to speak with Wycliffe Australia and SIL Australia. Michel shared with great emotion about the impact that having the Bible and other literature available in his own language has made in his own life:

I myself am a speaker of a minority language. I know what it means to have one’s language acknowledged, put on the map and translated into Scripture. It enables people to feel as if they are sharing in equal dignity with other peoples around the world.

Michel encouraged everyone that working together as close organisational partners is continuing to be a blessing to the 1635 language projects with SIL involvement currently underway throughout the world. While Michel says that trained expatriate translation facilitators and advisors will still be required to support the work of minority language projects, local mother-tongue translators are increasingly the primary implementers. He also said that a focus on greater localisation is creating pathways for engaging with churches and establishing more projects for languages still without any translated Scripture:

Our language engagement is growing as a result of projects becoming more localised in many contexts. Local staff are receiving greater training opportunities to help programs become more self-sustaining. SIL’s initiative to become ‘locally rooted’ is not just about participating in a country as a foreign intervention but really seeking to be connected to the local church, to embrace the local culture, governance and whatever enables us to be seen as a natural expression of the locale in that context. We need to recognise that, theologically, it doesn’t make sense for organisations involved in the mission of God to not have an effective relationship with the Church.

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Everything is connected to language

Michel Kenmogne, Executive Director

Michel Kenmogne, Executive Director of SIL International, explains that language plays an important role in forming our identity and place in the world:

Our first language connects us to our identity in a way no other language can. My first language is Ghomálá’, one of the 283 languages spoken in Cameroon. Words in Ghomálá’ don’t just convey a message to my brain. They evoke deep memories, touch my emotions, and remind me who I truly am.

Over the years, I have had the painful experience of needing to deny myself, and the language I spoke at home, in order to access education and to enjoy a better socioeconomic status. This is the tragedy faced by speakers of many lesser-known languages of the world.

As the cultures and languages of the world continue to be impoverished, the quality of human life will be endangered as well. That is because language is tied to our emotions, and our identities, and all social, political and economic aspects of our lives. Everything is connected to language.

It is my desire and hope that as a global community, we will use the opportunity of this International Year of Indigenous Languages so that this generation will be known as the one that intervened for languages so that the world’s linguistic tapestry and cultural diversity was preserved.

Dr Michel Kenmogne
Executive Director SIL International

Source: SIL International’s website (2019)


Thanks for your patience...

Waiting is hard, isn't it. But imagine waiting 2000 years for Scripture in your language! Thanks for your patience. And thanks for your generous support which will help bring the long wait to an end...