Mind your language. Seriously.

The Rosetta Project

Forget beaming proof of our existence to little green men. With the advent and rise of globalisation (which was a supremely fucked-up idea to begin with!) it looks like we have to undertake a similar task – for ourselves.

Scientists at the rather profoundly-named Long Now Foundation believe that the world’s languages (7,000 at last count) are not just connected to individual cultures but are, in fact, repositories of cultural diversity and human history. Now here’s the scary/true part. These scientists foresee that we may lose as much as 90% of the world’s linguistic diversity within the next century i.e. globalisation is killing languages.

But the white coats have given it a thought. And their long shot – oh, it’s a good one – owes as much to technology as it does to the stone ages.
The Rosetta Project is a monumental global undertaking to develop a contemporary version of the original Rosetta Stone. In other words, to survey, document and create a near-permanent archive of the planet’s languages. To be digitally archived and made available to the public – progressively – via DVDs. But primarily to be transferred and physically inscribed, for posterity, on to nickel disks.

Nickel disks are micro-etched (the project is underway) with each language’s meta information, phonology, grammar, numbers, dictionaries and various related texts. Over 13,000 pages on to a single side, with contents viewable under magnification. Why nickel? Because the metal, although reactive by nature, is slow to react in air under normal conditions of temperature and pressure – due to the formation of a protective oxide surface (it’s used for alloys because of this). Apart from being corrosion-resistant, nickel also exhibits endurance under magnetic fields.

The Rosetta Project scientists argue that such a disk could withstand a variety of extreme environmental conditions and become part of a definitive, analogue representation of each of the planet’s languages. I’ve been following this project for some time now. And if you’re interested, head over to those websites to see how far they’ve taken this awesome task.

P.S. While you’re at it, maybe you should reconsider the LOLs, BRBs and the Hinglish/Benglish/Tanglish or whichever customised language you’ve been using lately. Personally speaking, no complaints. Just a thought :-).

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