An Inevitable Vocation

When Dr. Kreeft Peyton attended her first-ever SIL LEAD board meeting in 2011, the board members went around the room to say why they were excited to be serving on the board. She went first (“Unfortunately—you know how that goes, since you can’t hear what everyone else has said and adjust”), and she said, “I am so excited to be here because I love language. I am passionate about language. I think about language in every situation that I am in.”

“It’s like the Georgetown University Linguistics Department t-shirt,” she continued, recounting her alma mater: “Analyzing your every utterance since 1949.” She laughed, remembering both the t-shirt and her slight embarrassment at everyone else’s (to her) more noble-sounding reasons for serving on the SIL LEAD board.

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But there’s nothing more noble than a person driven by love, and the force of Dr. Peyton’s enthusiastic love for language clearly translates to her work with SIL LEAD and the many, many ways she actively serves the global community.

It makes you wonder at her parents’ prescience in naming her “Joy.”

Joy was born in Michigan, and quickly showed both an interest in and facility for language. She began to learn Spanish in fifth grade while living in San Antonio, Texas, and by the time she’d hit ninth grade, now back in Michigan, had taken the last year of Spanish available to her. After college she moved to Saskatchewan, Canada, where she taught Spanish and English in middle and high school. Later she received a full scholarship to American University in Washington D.C., for a Master’s degree in Spanish and Linguistics and taught Spanish to undergraduates, while still getting her Master’s.

 Working with a Chinantec language speaker in Comaltepec (Juventino Lopez, 1978)

Working with a Chinantec language speaker in Comaltepec (Juventino Lopez, 1978)

Her first summer while getting her Master’s she went to Mexico to study Spanish with a program run by Reformed Bible College, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The following year she was asked to teach in the program in Mexico and then to work as an assistant to an SIL translator (Judy Lynn Anderson), who was working with Chinantec speakers in the village of Comaltepec, near Oaxaca.

After she received her Master’s at American University and taught at Reformed Bible College (RBC), her path overlapped with SIL even more as she found that the endless theory she was throwing at her students (Noam Chomsky, and other theoretical linguistic theories and approaches) wasn’t at all what they needed—what they really needed were the techniques she’d witnessed being used by those working with Wycliffe Bible Translators and SIL. Joy learned about a course being offered by a former Wycliffe member, now a professor at Baptist Bible College up the road. So for one crazy semester, she spent her days driving like mad to the college to take that course, then rushing back to teach her students at RBC what she had learned.

The professor suggested that Joy attend the SIL summer program in Norman, Oklahoma. So for two summers she went and studied with Ken, Evie, and Eunice Pike and Joe Grimes, incredibly knowledgeable and creative linguists who were leaders in the field.*

 With Fellow students rick & melanie floyd, in norman (1980)

With Fellow students rick & melanie floyd, in norman (1980)

Everything Joy loved and everything she was passionate about seemed to be driving her toward becoming a member of SIL.

She started asking what she needed to do to join, and Dr. Grimes told her that what SIL really needed was people who had PhDs and were trained to do language surveys, so she headed off for a doctorate at Georgetown University. Joy’s love of languages had brought her to D.C. (where she met eventual SIL LEAD team members Clare O’Leary and Debbie Hatfield), and she was going to jump right in and join SIL. It was perfect!

Love, it seemed, had other plans.

The man she met and married in 1984 had his own career as a policy analyst in D.C., and wasn’t interested in chasing and documenting languages in foreign countries. So instead of joining SIL, Joy worked as a research assistant with Dr. Roger Shuy at the Center for Applied Linguistics, where she went on to serve as Vice President for 16 years.

She and her husband supported the work of SIL/WBT and hosted people who came to visit D.C., but for years, she grieved the loss of what she had come to believe was meant to be her life’s vocation—working with SIL. When SIL LEAD was founded and Clare O’Leary became the chair of the board and asked Joy to become a member of the board, she leaped at the chance.

This connection has allowed her opportunities to work in Ethiopia, Nepal, and Gambia, where she helped teams to use Bloom to develop leveled readers in seven national languages and English, a project she spoke about this month—May 10 and 11—at the United Nations Symposium on Multilingualism in International Organizations and in International Cooperation.

Her passion, love, and yes, joy for language have brought her full circle, with the opportunity to use her skills and abilities to have a global impact.

 At the symposium on Multilingualism in International Organizations and in International Cooperation, sponsored by the Study Group on Language at the United Nations, May 10-11, 2018, United Nations Plaza, New York City.  L to R: Ari Sherris ~ Humphrey Tonkin ~ Joy Kreeft Peyton ~ Francis Hult ~ Joel Gómez

At the symposium on Multilingualism in International Organizations and in International Cooperation, sponsored by the Study Group on Language at the United Nations, May 10-11, 2018, United Nations Plaza, New York City.

L to R: Ari Sherris ~ Humphrey Tonkin ~ Joy Kreeft Peyton ~ Francis Hult ~ Joel Gómez

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*Side Note: SIL LEAD executive director Paul Frank’s parents were at SIL in Norman, Oklahoma at the time, so Paul and she crossed paths. A bit of random serendipity that might get someone humming the tune of “It’s a Small World.”