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ISSUES THAT ARISES IN SIL
Summer Institute of Linguistics International is composed of different nationalities working together for the common goal of
supporting language development among the world’s minority communities. To achieve that, they work in partnership with
governments, educational institutions, other NGOs and groups who support minority communities to facilitate language
development through research, translation, literacy programs and training materials.
Some of the issues that SIL is trying to address are the Millennium Development Goals through local languages. They said that
many of the poorest of the poor speak their mother tongue and not the national more so the international languages.
In the interview that we conducted, of the four key people that we were able to talk to the nationalities are: American, Canadian,
European and Filipino. Through observation, the accent of which they speak is already an issue in cross-cultural communication.
Sometimes, what one says is not easily or clearly understood. It takes repetition or spelling out of the words before the meaning
can be well defined. This is an issue in cross-cultural communication because it can constrain people of other nations to relate to
one another. On the other hand, deep relationships cannot be wrought if this issue persists. In the case of SIL, being able to
effectively communicate well with one another is premium. What they do involves one-on-one, reaching out to people so they
can achieve their goals.
More than accent, the context of their meaning is also an issue. Take the example of Mr. Strawser. He said that Indonesian
words and Filipino words are almost the same. In our country, white is “puti” while there, it is “putih.” However, sometimes the
say we use language, despite the similarity of words, is different. We might use the same words but we mean differently. SIL
members travel 30-70% of the time and in different headquarters, they encounter different set-up. Sometimes, they get things
mixed up and it might cause conflict.
We learned later that in the Philippines, there are about 19 nationalities working for SIL. Even when you are of the same
country, Mr. Strawser noted that “people understand that when they go to a country, they hear a different language, they quickly
realize they are in a different country. But you could also go from northern Philippines to southern Philippines to Cebuano or a
provincial language and it’s still very different and very culturally different.” With this, Ms. Geri Harm was right in saying that any
multicultural organization has a problem with communication.
In language development, as what they do in SIL, connecting with people is important. He said, “we could study all languages in
the world but unless we connect to the people, we’ll never understand those languages, and we’ll not be able to do effective
research.” Communication is more than just talking, it is also connecting. When you connect with people, you share part of your
In relating with people, especially cross-culturally, one issue can be the perception of the people towards other people of different
culture. It becomes a problem because especially for the Americans, their perception of Filipinos is not at all good. 90% of what
they watch in their television of Filipino news is about crime, massacre ect. So that doesn’t give a good impression of the
country. On the other hand, when we see Americans or Westerners, we feel so awed with them because of what we see in
movies and television. What we see are images from Hollywood films or international TV series. This becomes an issue because
you already give a stigma to one culture.
There are also issues in translating language. Finding the right way to express something is hard especially cross-culturally. Ms.
Geri believes that every language has a way of saying something. There is always a cultural bridge.
When the volunteers of SIL go out of the field, they sometimes encounter sick kids. How would they respond to that or seek
help? Will they go to a witch-doctor? To a god? Or a medical doctor? As Christians, it would be God who would be their first
choice. But other religion has tribe doctors. When they come to a place they see them as doctors. As Ms. Geri relates it, people
come to them when somebody is sick. Ms. Elen furthers that when they do their job, people don’t understand the reason they are
there. As she relates it, “They need to situate you in a kind of a role, some kind of a function, so doctor is that kind of function.
For me too, I’m not a doctor but I do know a few things. And there are a few things I could to and help.” Sometimes, if these
things are not set right, people’s expectations of the SIL volunteers might not be right and their goal in communicating with them
might not be fully realized.
Mr. Strawser also related many outside issues but when asked about the internal issues, he said that it is almost the same. He
travels most of the time. At the same time, he loves his external relations job. He said that 80% of us have trouble engaging to
people. He related, “I see a lot of our staff have the same kind of conflict because he’s from the north, she’s from the south.
She’s a girl, he’s a guy. So a lot of it is I don’t think is cultural, as much as they are general personalities of people.”
He also related a long before issue on preference of work day. “We had a situation where most of our staff work in a standard
Monday to Friday. But another one works Tuesday to Saturday. I got to talk with him and the law says that for him his Monday is
his day off. But unfortunately, many times, as you know, the President wakes up and says, Ah Monday’s gonna be the holidays.
It can be Wednesday or Thursday, but she changes it to Monday. So for him, that was his day off, he didn’t get any pay. The rest
of them got pay. So I confronted, I talked to him about it. Usually he is pretty laid back, easy going, all of a sudden he was telling
me, he was willing to quit. Because of that issue.”
Potential Problems or Issues in Intercultural Communication
In Samovar and Porter’s book, potential problems or issues in intercultural communication were named. First is seeing
similarities where it is said that you often gravitate to people who are similar to you. When SIL members go out to the field to
study a community language, they might not be accepted in an instant because he/she is not from the sphere. Of course, the
people will be constrained to welcome them freely. On the other hand, for the part of the volunteers, when situated in a new
place, lack of security will definitely confront them especially when they don’t have a common language. Ms. Geri related to us a
situation when they don’t have a common language with the people in the community. That instance can be the ignorance
mentioned by Samovar. It was definitely hard but they have to observe to learn the language. In the end, after two months or so,
they were now able to speak words. However, it wasn’t yet that good.
It was also mentioned that “your inclination to solicit friends and acquaintances that mirror your personality should be obvious.”
Take for instance the relationship of Mr. Strawser and Ms. Lourdes Siyoc. Ms. Siyoc is a Filipina from Bahtad and therefore,
based on our culture, we are usually reserved. When we want to say something, we tend to obscure it. We are also not so much
of an extrovert. However for her case, unlike us, she is very outgoing, much like the attitude of the Americans. This mirroring of
personality is what might made the relationship of the two members get strong. In each other, they found similar attitudes.
In seeking similarities, problem arises when “the pull of similarities is at the exhaustion or even the elimination of those who are
different.” Each one of us would fight for our own known norm. What is right for us, because we already have in deeply rooted
from our culture, might not be wrong for other people. When we assert it, it might lead into an issue when not mitigated. Unless
one would step down and understand the cultural issues surrounding the situation.
The second problem where an issue might arise is uncertainty reduction. Its assumption says that “when strangers meet, their
primary concern is one of uncertainty reduction or increasing predictability about the behaviour of both themselves and others in
the interaction.” Uncertainty is also even magnified when you talk about crossing cultures. This can be characterized by fear,
dislike, and disgust. In SIL’s job, it is important to reduce uncertainty in initial interaction because if it not, the probability of
communication between people will not take place. It is a challenge for SIL volunteers to be able to connect to other people even
people of other cultures. This is crucial because SIL members need to build a relationship first before they can successfully learn
the community’s language. It will take a lot of interaction, a lot of sharing things and most especially trust to be able to do that.
Problem on Translation
In connection with this, the problem on translation and equivalence also enters when SIL relate to the people of the community.
One difficulty mentioned is lexical equivalence, and it was said that “translators need to deal with nuances and with words that
have no equivalents in other languages.” The nuances with words can be gained through constant communication and figuring
out the non verbal expressions of the people. This can also be gained by asking the people what it is or what is that? As
uncertainty is reduced between the two groups, the more SIL would succeed in language translation.
Idiomatic and slang equivalence is also hard to determine and it needs deep understanding of the language before it can be
easily understood. Let’s take the example of Mr. Strawser and Ms. Liyoc. Mr. Strawser, although he knows well enough Filipino,
he would not be able to understand Ms. Liyoc if she speaks some words in idiom because it cannot be translated as it is. In this
aspect, seeking similarity comes in.
In grammatical-syntactical equivalence, “difficulties may arise when there are no equivalent parts of speech.” In a language as
hard as English, some SIL volunteers might be having a hard time constructing words using the right syntax. However, it is an
integral part in learning language.
Another thing that makes translation hard is experiential-cultural equivalence. This entails immersion in the community for culture
cannot be learned in a flick of a finger. This might also be the reason why SIL members really immerse themselves in the
community. The length of time spent by the SIL volunteer to the community can also lessen the uncertainty between them.
The next problem related by Samovar is withdrawal. It was said that first when the two are not satisfied, there is a tendency for a
person to withdraw. One example from Mr. Strawser is his officemate who works on Tuesday to Saturday. Because of difference
on preference brought about by culture, the officemate now wants to quit. Quitting is a sign that the other party doesn’t want
communication from the other side anymore. Meanwhile, Samovar in his book said that withdrawal, given the connection that
people are making in the world through technology, can have devastating effects. It is impossible for a person not to
communicate. One cannot forever withdraw himself from the world.
Stereotyping or “the complex form of categorization that mentally organizes your experiences and guides your behaviour toward
a particular group of people” is also a problem in intercultural communication. In our interview with Mr. Strawser, he first asked us
to say what we perceive about the Westerners. He said that every time they enter the room, they have like a sign posted on their
heads. Of the things that we said, are “puti”, vocal, disciplined, proud and they are not shy and liberated. On the other hand, he
enumerated what his countrymen think about the Philippines. He wrote violence, rape, murder, calamities and Maguindanao
What is wrong with stereotyping are, still according to Samovar, first the culture-specific information that it gave assumes that
this applies to the whole pie. Samovar also related that, “culture is one of the characteristics that determine attitudes, values,
beliefs, and ways of behaving. The book also enumerated the second where it says that it keeps one from being successful as
communicators because it is over generalized, oversimplified or exaggerated. Third, they appear or repeat and reinforce beliefs
until they often are takes and truth. Finally, the author stressed that it can serve for self-fulfilling prophecies. It tends to confirm a
behaviour that might not really there.
In SIL’s job, it is hard to have prejudice over their subject. Open flow of communication will not happen if there is a pre-conceived
image of the subject that is not good. Undermining the subject can also have an effect on translating language. Since context is
important in SIL’s work, self-fulfilling prophecies might hinder the SIL volunteer to see experiential-cultural equivalence.
Meanwhile, another problem is prejudice. It is a common thing like branding a culture with so and so. In Samovar’s book,
prejudice was “defined as the emotional component of people’s reactions to groups. It involves not only set of beliefs but it is
also deeply felt set of feelings about what is good and bad, right and wrong, moral and immoral and etc.”
There are also the functions of prejudice. First is ego-defensive function where it “allows people to hold prejudice without having
to admit they possess these beliefs about the member of the out-group.”
It was mentioned that SIL in the country has 19 nationalities in it. Some came from a culture that has superiority complex; those
who thinks that they are better than the other. It might pose a conflict especially when there is a heated conversation already.
This attitude definitely won’t make the other win.
Another one is the utilitarian function. From the word itself, you see other people as instruments to reach your goal. It allows to
people to believe that they are receiving rewards by holding on to their prejudices. Meanwhile, there is also what they call the
value-expressive function where people try to believe that their attitudes are expressing the highest and most moral of all culture.
Mr. Elen said that when Americans come in the country, they have with them solutions to our problems. However, we whom their
solutions are geared to, do not know that we have a problem waiting to be solved. They come in because they think that they can
solve all the problems in the world with their scientific approach. On the other hand, it might also be that they perceive
themselves as important in the civilization of the world that if are not around, chaos will ensue.
The other one is knowledge function. In this case, the person is able to categorize, organize, and construct their perceptions of
other people in a manner that has sense to them, that is, as stressed in book, even if the sense making is not accurate.
Sometimes, here comes out the war between whose culture is better or the superiority complex. As what Ms. Elen said, to
reiterate, Westerners always come up in the country with solution, however, sometimes the people themselves do not know what
their problems are.
The last one is racism where it is defined as the belief that one racial category is innately superior to another. There are some
forms of racism starting with where the belief of the person is so strong that other groups are inferior. Symbolic racism
meanwhile is characterized by the feeling that the out-group is interfering with important aspects of culture. Tokenism meanwhile
is someone who does not admit that he has racist remark or negative views. Lastly, there is the arm’s-length where people
choose to whom they want to be friendly.
In a group like SIL where the sensitivity of the people are hard to gauge one by one, communication becomes a degree harder.
In terms of social customs and relationships can also be a subject on issue. As Samovar relates it, “language serves to maintain
and enhance appropriate social status and relationships between and among members of a culture.” Problems are inevitable in
SIL especially that most of them are Westerners and being that, their personalities are all strong. They say whatever they want to
say especially when their emotion is strong. Indeed, the manner which emotions are expressed is subject to cultural diversity.
In terms of non-verbal communication, which is important in cross cultural communication for its functions are the following:
repeating (where gestures and words have a similar meaning and reinforce one another); complementing (where information is
added through this); substituting (performing actions instead of speaking); regulating (where communication is managed by using
some form of non-verbal communication) and lastly, contradicting (sending signals opposite from the literal meanings contained
in verbal messages), in our interview, we have also observed its use.
When we were telling our impressions on the Western, Ms. Liyoc shouted a term that Mr. Strawser doesn’t know. He asked her
to clarify it, and when she explained what it was and when Mr. Strawser, understood it, he said that he kind-of guessed what Ms.
Liyoc was trying to say. He was able to read that in Ms. Liyoc’s non-verbal gestures.
To wrap things up for the issues, if people of the same culture can have arguments, the more that people of different cultures are
susceptible to misunderstanding. However, communication is a tool that must be used in maximum because it minimizes the
tendency of rift between each other. Especially in an organizational setting where they have a mission and theirs, of Summer
Institute for Linguistics.
If there are problems, there will always be solutions available to mend it. Communication is still one of the best solutions to mend
it. That is, even if SIL has 19 nationalities to treat. This wouldn’t be quite hard for SIL because they are an organization of faith-
based to achieve their mission of translating native languages to a much common language.
In terms of the issues, it was beforehand mentioned that the diversity of culture brings about issues in SIL. The transfer of
communication becomes slower because of this. However, simple resolutions are done to mend it. One is the continued
repetition of the conversation or the talk until it becomes clear to both parties. This does not only apply to the people working for
SIL but also to the communities in which they serve. One on one communication or face to face interaction is essential is in
building relationships that transgresses culture. The beauty of being able to communicate to people of different culture is that you
gain vicarious experience from them and you get to be able to have a glimpse of what it is like living in their part of the world.
In relation to that, the context of which they communicate and their accent becomes an issue for cross-cultural communication
inside SIL and to the communities of which they relate to. They might be able to understand the words but the context might be
different. Thus, if they won’t be able to see that, they might produce misleading studies.
Difference in personalities was also mentioned to be an issue. This is given since inside SIL, they came from different places. It
creates conflict and they argue about it at times however, at the end of the day, they talk it over. As Ms. Lourdes relates,
“normally Filipinos, we’ll ask somebody to tell the person that we were hurt. And of course, for this friend also, for her to fix this
problem, she can’t even ask for your permission to say to the person. But sometimes, they will not talk with you, and then we
would feel, that we did something. It’s hard for us Filipinos because we can go confront them. We are not that way. Our culture is
not that way. For us we go to the other person. From them I’ve learned that even like now, they can confront each other, then
later they are good. We are having two ladies before, they were arguing about something early in the morning, but after 10
o’clock, they were already taking coffee.” This means that no matter how different people are from each other, it can be mended.
On the other hand, connection with the people is, as stressed, very important. When you do that, you share your culture and it is
also a way of educating the person you are relating with about the norms there.
As a way to mend this issue, SIL takes time and diligence to really study not just their language but their culture. They every well
know that communication is not just a factor of being able to speak but also translating meaning in the words used. Through in-
depth study and immersion in the community, they are able to know the context of which their subjects speak and not just the
It was also earlier mentioned that a social stigma to other cultures are created because of some issues. We might perceive
people the wrong way. What we also see on TV might just a small chunk of the bigger picture. It might also not hold true. It
doesn’t define the whole and it shouldn’t be a tag for them. Mr. Strawser said that we must always presume goodwill and give
them the benefit of the doubt. He furthered that we are all children of God, no matter what language you speak or what culture
you are in. For SIL, they still try to engage appropriately especially that it is important. In the first place, when thy volunteer for
SIL, they know that they will be relating to people of different culture or of people different from them.
Since every organization has a problem with communication, what they do to resolve this kind of issue is communication still. Ms.
Elen Earrington said that when she came in the country, she didn’t expect to have some problems with co-workers because she
was very prepared to adjust to the Filipino culture. In that same way, you can resolve this kind of issue when you condition
yourself of what to prepare in the field and in your office with diverse cultures.
In terms of translating language, one must always put to mind that it is always meaning-based. What do you mean? You have to
ask. It is more than just looking for the right word, as what Ms. Geri said.
On the other hand, on the issue of them perceived as having a different role to take, or as what they often encounter, as a
doctor, it is not really a problem that is too big. In fact, it gave them a way in the community. Because of this, it grounds a good
relationship between the two groups of people. The community then understands why they are there. In turn, it will help in
achieving their goals in the community.
In Mr. Strawser’s problem with a co-worker who prefers to work Tuesday to Saturday even if here, we do it from Mondays to
Fridays. It wasn’t resolved in a way that it should be because he wanted to quit in the end. However, we can see that
communication was important and the co-worker was able to express what he wants.
Resolution for Potential Problems or Issues in Intercultural Communication
Next is finding resolution for the potential problems or issues in intercultural communication based on Samovar and Porter’s
book. Seeing similarities was discussed and it says that gravitate to people who are similar to you. When SIL members go out to
the field to study a community language, they might not be accepted in an instant because he/she is not from the sphere. Ms.
Geri, as also mentioned above, related to us a situation when they don’t have a common language with the people in the
community. It was definitely hard but they have to observe to learn the language. In the end, after two months or so, they were
now able to speak words. Although they weren’t able to speak it perfectly at that time, they have devised a way to solve the
situation they are in.
It was also furthered that in seeking similarities, problem arises when the different one is tried to be eliminated. Each one of us
would fight for our own known norm, and that is normally. However, a good understanding on what are the usual problems in
cross cultural communication will lead to longer patience and understanding of the other party. It needs stepping and rethinking
again of their motivation in volunteering for SIL.
Uncertainty reduction meanwhile was also discussed especially that when crossing cultures, this is magnified. For SIL, when
relating to other people and even their co-workers, it is important to reduce uncertainty as what have said. It will take a lot if
interaction and a lot of sharing time, stories and especially trust to achieve their goal.
Resolution on Translation
Meanwhile, issues on translation as part of work also enter. In lexical equivalence, the nuances with words can be gained
through constant communication and figuring out the non verbal expressions of the people. This can also be gained by asking
the people what it is or what is that? As uncertainty is reduced between the two groups, the more SIL would succeed in language
On the other hand, in idiomatic and slang equivalence, the solution also is the same. SIL really has to go and immerse in the
community and speak to them. Although this one is quite hard to know full if there’s a short time involved. As like in the English
language which we are studying and speaking since our formative years, there are still some idiomatic expressions in that
tongue that we do not know.
Same thing goes for grammatical-syntactical equivalence. This one, although can be resolved through formal training. However,
in the case of SIL, the most that they can do, and probably the most effective since some of the community’s language cannot be
studied formally, is face-to-face communication and constant interaction with the people.
Same thing goes for experiential-cultural equivalence. Your own culture is hard to be erased in your system so experiencing
others especially something that you cannot relate in your own will be a challenge in understanding. This can be placed in the
same analogy as of Filipinos being very fond of pasalubongs: “when she goes home (referring to Lourdes), she’ll lose a fortune
because she needs to buy pasalubong. That didn’t make sense to me...”
Going back to the problems, another one is withdrawal. It is hard for the members of SIL to be working with other people of
different culture. Especially if no one there is of the same nationality as you do. “Looking for similarity” is a way of mending things
up. Just like what Mr. Strawser and Ms. Liyoc did. “I guess to me, I’m like Lourdes, I’m an out-going person. I like engaging
people. And I am passionate about what I do in external relations and building relationships... Geri is much more of an extrovert.
Elen is much more of an extrovert too. But 80% of us have trouble engaging to people... But Lourdes and I are so extroverted.
It’s hard for us to get things done. Cause we like to talk and engage people. But that is also our strength and that is our
weakness. So many comes to mind especially in the cross-cultural environment.”
Stereotyping also poses a problem. We all, at one point in time, have judged people and attributed to them the collective qualities
of their nation’s people as a group. Mr. Strawser always stresses that we must always give a person the benefit of the doubt and
must always assume goodwill.
In terms of prejudice, SIL should employ an open flow of communication to eliminate the negative or preconceived image that is
The last one is racism where it is defined as the belief that one racial category is innately superior to another. As related earlier,
Americans come in third world countries to try their solutions. They already have the solution even if the community does not
know that they have a problem. Often times it fails because the community does not support it.
However, for SIL, they believe in the participatory method where the community helps in finding solutions to their own problem.
They get involved. Ms. Elen said, “rather than saying you need this and this and this, we say, What are the strengths of the
community? Appreciative inquiry. What people appreciate. So we ask them, What are the strengths? What are the best things
about your community? What are your resources? Why do you like living here? What makes you feel happy in your community?
That’s the appreciative part. Even in a very poor community, they would have inquiry that is good. And then we start talking
about what are the problems you encounter? How can you community be improved? What would you like your community to
look like in 10 years? And that will help us know, to have a vision for their children. That’s one thing of bridging culture, and you
don’t say, ‘Okay I can do this for you.’ You say, ‘okay, who’s going to work on this problem?’ And you say, ‘I’ll go with you.’ But
it’s their community, it’s their problem, they are helping themselves.”
Here, the interaction becomes deeper as SIL does not mandate what to do but they become the pathways in which the
community people’s vision will be realized.
Social customs and relationships were also a subject on issue. As always, communication is a great tool for them to fix their
problems. It might be either inside the organization, among themselves as co-workers but also to the community they serve.
Non-verbal communication, is in itself a means for the two groups of people, who are culturally different, to understand each
other. Through repetition, complementing, substituting, regulating and contradicting, the two parties get to affirm or negate
whether what the other is saying is in line with what they are thinking. Meanwhile, non-verbal communication enhances the way
people communicate with each other. It enlivens the interaction between people.
Through non-verbal communication, the community of which SIL is interacting with will be more motivated to communicate
because there are cues already.
Non-verbal communication helps in judging internal states. According to Samovar, people use this message system to express
attitudes and opinions. So, it expresses your internal states. As what also said in his book it is an important tool in expressing
your emotional and relational feelings towards another person.
In the community, SIL members will know how much they are accepted by the community not only through verbal communication
but also through non-verbal. They get to see the reaction or the internal states of the people. Although sometimes this is hard to
determine since people might be obscuring what they really want to feel and say.
It also creates impressions. “In most instances, non-verbal messages arrive before the arrival of the verbal and influence the flow
of interaction.” You approach people who seem to be attractive and approachable and others that are not, you don’t. This helps
in such a way that SIL members get to target those who are most likely to help them in their goals. Not really that they are
employing utilitarianism since in the long run, the people in the community will benefit it.
As what have said too, it manages interaction. It was said to be the most important use of non-verbal communication. It offers
your partner clues in the interaction.
It facilitates what response the other side will give. With that, the uncertainty of the other group is lessened. As time passes by
too, when the people get to understand how the other gives non verbal communication, interaction becomes easier then.
However, non-verbal communication can be ambiguous at times, next is that it is more than the culture and lastly, it seldom
operates in isolation.
To wrap things up for the resolutions, communication is a tool that must be used in maximum because it minimizes the tendency
of rift between each other. However communication alone is not enough because you need to have a full grasp of what is cross
cultural communication. You also need to have broad and open understanding that people have their own personalities added
with cultural difference that is why sometimes, it is hard to jive.
It is good that Summer Institute for Linguistics was able to tell find resolution in their issues and conflicts at the time and they are
still continuing to find ways of managing these things.
With their mission to develop language and as God being their greatest motivator, the challenges that they are and will be facing
will not be as hard to solve. On the other hand, through communication, despite difference in ways, customs, issues and culture,
everything can be mended for as long as both parties are open to solve it.