SIL International has a new academic domain called "Language Technology", and I am serving as the International Coordinator of Language Technology Use. In SIL, there are domains for each discipline that is required in a language development project. You are probably aware that my personal motivation is to see God's Word available in every language of the world. Yet, one does not just go in to an area that has no writing system and start translating the Bible. There are numerous disciplines involved in developing the language and understanding the cultural context. For this reason we have an anthropology department, a linguistics department, a literacy department, and many others--now including the language technology department.
Language technology is a latecomer to the table because it wasn't needed 20 years ago. People used computers to help in their normal tasks. Rather than type on a typewriter, you would type in a word processor because it gave certain advantages. But as computers developed and offered to do more and more of the menial tasks, it soon got to a point where the computer was no longer a tool to help accomplish one's strategy, but became part of the strategy itself. Here is a case in point:
Years ago, you could have two translation projects working in related languages that were similar, but different enough to require separate translations. As technology improved, we began to experiment with ways to use the computer to adapt from one language to another, minimizing the work. The computer could be used to create a rough draft translation in the related language, and the speakers of that language would just need to go through the text and make stylistic changes. When you've gone this far, you approach the point at which the technology is driving the strategy rather than the other way around. Today, we wouldn't recommend separate teams working in two related languages. Instead, we would recommend one team that would use the technology to translate into both languages simultaneously. The rapid pace of technology has now mad it a major player when we determine our field strategy.
In each of the five areas of the world (as SIL has divided it for administrative purposes), we now have Area Language Technology Coordinators whose goal it is to make sure that new technology is being integrated into SIL's and our partners' field programs, and to provide the training in those technologies in order for people to succeed.
That is why it was such a joy to hear that Eurasia held its first meeting to train the trainers in language technology, and that Asia will be following suit in January. We have new software that has been created by teams of developers both in the US and abroad to speed up the work of Bible Translation, yet without the efforts of these Area Coordinators to promote and train the fields in its use, people will continue to waste time struggling with difficult tasks that have been rendered simple through technology.
We also thank God that the Africa program is continuing strong, now in its fifth year with many training events across the continent. Some of you have supported us and this effort in your prayers faithfully and we thank God for your involvement. May you continue to pray and to cheer as God's kingdom advances and as we redeem technology for His glory.