History may only just be beginning, but we already have a lot of data stashed away as a species, and as we know, it’s always good practice to back it up.
But if you’re thinking in terms of centuries or millennia, it might also be a good idea to record information about our languages so that future historians won’t have to contend with undecipherable writings, like Rongorongo, due to linguistic drift.
The Long Now Foundation has created a modern day Rosetta Stone to help solve this problem, here is a description from Kevin Kelly’s website:
One side of the disk contains a graphic teaser. The design shows headlines in the eight major languages of the world today spiraling inward in ever-decreasing size till it becomes so small you have trouble reading it, yet the text goes on getting smaller. The sentences announce: “Languages of the World: This is an archive of over 1,500 human languages assembled in the year 02008 C.E. Magnify 1,000 times to find over 13,000 pages of language documentation.”
This graphic side of the disk is pure titanium. A black oxide coating has been added to the surface. The text is etched into that, revealing the whiter titanium. This bold sign board is needed because the pages of genesis which are etched on the mirror-like opposite side of the disk are nearly invisible.
This business side of the disk is pure nickel. Picking it up you would not be aware there were 13,500 pages of linguistic gold hiding on it. The nickel is deposited on an etched silicon disk. In effect the Rosetta disk is a nickel cast of a micro-etch silicon mold. When the disk is held at the right angle the grid array of the pages form a slight diffraction rainbow. You need a 750-power optical microscope to read the pages.
Kelly’s description of the project is fascinating, and it seems like a wonderful project, both in practical terms and in artistic terms.
3 thoughts on “Backing up languages”
Long Now is Loooooooooooooong
Thanks for this post. Languages are one of our most precious, and neglected, treasures. Amazing-sounding project.
The entire Long Now project is awesome.
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