GOOD

Help Build a Vibrantly Multilingual World

This tremendous richness of human linguistic diversity took thousands of years to develop, yet it is rapidly disappearing.


Most people don’t know this, but there are a lot more languages spoken in the world than the ones we hear every day. In fact, there are around 7,000 different languages, and each one tells a part of the story of our human experience on Planet Earth.


This tremendous richness of human linguistic diversity took thousands of years to develop, yet it is rapidly disappearing. Linguists expect that within the next century we will lose up to 90 percent of the world’s languages as we converge on a few of the mostly widely used ones for global communication and commerce.
It seems almost impossible that such a sweeping and dramatic shift in global human interaction could be affected by any kind of planned intervention. Yet we will propose several ways that by working together, we can collectively help define our multilingual future, both on and offline.
At this point, we would like to introduce you to two different projects that are developing strategies to promote and build resources for the world’s languages. Both are projects of The Long Now Foundation, which aims to creatively foster long-term thinking in the framework of the next 10,000 years.
The Rosetta Project\n
The Rosetta Project was created by The Long Now Foundation to build a library of all human languages to last for 10,000 years. Such a library would be a testament to our human cultural diversity in the 21st century, as well as a key (like the original Rosetta Stone artifact) to decoding any information we leave for the future in human language form.
One side of this goal is building an open collection of documents and recordings (audio and video) for all human languages—the Rosetta Project makes these available for anyone to access at the Internet Archive. We have also developed the Rosetta Disk—a very long-term analog backup of the collection that can last for thousands of years. The Rosetta Disk is a thin disk made out of nickel with around 14,000 pages of language information on it (like pages from a book), and you can read it with a microscope.
The PanLex Project\n
This past year, Rosetta was joined by the PanLex project at The Long Now Foundation. PanLex seeks to help all of the world’s languages flourish over the long term, by providing the means of translating from any language into any other language. To do so, PanLex is building a huge database of all of the words of all the world’s languages.
By searching the PanLex database, you can find known translations between languages, but by using artificial intelligence, PanLex will also give you inferred translations into many, many languages where no documented translations exist.
How You Can Help\n
In 02013, we will offer several different ways for you to get involved with the Rosetta and PanLex projects, and help us build a stronger multilingual future. Some of the projects will be quick and easy, and some will be fun and challenging and require time and planning. Our goal is to engage you as “citizen scientists” helping us collecting data and resources for the world’s languages. Stay tuned.

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This is part of a series of posts examining the idea time and imagining our collective future. Tell us your wish for the future here and we'll bury it in a time capsule.

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Illustration by Tyler Hoehne

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