Linguistic Creationists

By Paster, Mary | Skeptic (Altadena, CA), Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Linguistic Creationists


Paster, Mary, Skeptic (Altadena, CA)


L. Kirk Hagen's "Creationism's Expanding Universe" (Vol. 10, No. 3) is an excellent heads-up to a disturbing trend among creationists towards publishing in the humanities and social sciences to sneak their agenda into the public school curriculum. As a student of linguistics, I was unaware that my own field was being used for this purpose, and I thank Hagen for bringing the issue to light.

However, I wish to defend an organization I feel may be the victim of "guilt by association" in Hagen's article: the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL). Hagen writes that "The SIL has been a mixed blessing to linguistics, to say the least" (p. 66). While some might argue that the group's Christian missionary efforts are a 'mixed blessing' to society, I think that most linguists (even atheists such as myself) would agree that SIL's work has yielded an overwhelming net benefit to the field of linguistics.

Almost every linguist I know has made use of SIL's free fonts (designed to include special characters not found in standard fonts that are needed to transcribe speech sounds phonetically), free software for acoustic speech analysis, a free online database called Ethnologue that is probably the most comprehensive listing of the languages of the world, and grammatical descriptions of an enormous range of languages. Many of these descriptive grammars document endangered languages and are the only references available (now, and possibly forever) on these languages, perhaps because SIL sends its researchers to places where dedicated missionaries, more so than academics, are willing to go for their work. …

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