Of the more than 6,900 reported languages in the world today, a little less than half still need to be studied by language surveyors. Put simply, language survey is hands-on language research.
This step is foundational to translation work and shows where the need is most critical. Surveyors travel to towns and villages, listening to and recording different languages and their dialects.
By working in small groups, surveyors are able to tap into each of the talents needed to accomplish the task. Teams also provide the diverse perspective needed to understand unfamiliar languages and cultures.
By studying the information gathered by language surveyors, governments, missions, churches and non-governmental organizations can make good decisions as to where to allocate resources for translation and literacy work.
In many areas people speak more than one language. "In fact, a multilingual environment is part of the daily experience of the vast majority of people in the developing world," wrote linguist Clinton D. W. Robinson. In some cases, a people group may be adequately bilingual in a language that already has a Bible translation. If this is the case, translation may not be necessary.
Interested in working in language survey?
You can do language survey for two years or more in many countries around the world.
Real Survey Reports: SIL Electronic Survey Reports (SILESR) are published by SIL International. These reports highlight sociolinguistic surveys carried out by SIL field members and others. They are usually preliminary work papers and not presented as polished research. They are based on field notes and are in some cases the work of young sociolinguists with minimal training.