News / USA

Rosetta Project Preserves Key to Endangered Languages

Rosetta Project Preserves Key to Endangered Languagesi
X
July 30, 2013 7:06 PM
There are about 7,000 languages in the world, and half of them could disappear by the end of the century. An effort called the "Rosetta Project," however, is preserving a key to understanding them for future generations. Mike O'Sullivan has more from San Francisco.
Rosetta Project Preserves Key to Endangered Languages
Mike O'Sullivan
There are about 7,000 languages in the world, and half of them could disappear by the end of the century. An effort called the "Rosetta Project," however, is preserving a key to understanding them for future generations.

These two American linguistics students can speak multiple languages, including French. They are among a dozen taking part in a summer internship with the Rosetta Project - working with professional linguists to expand a digital record of endangered languages. It's inspired by the Rosetta Stone, which contained an ancient inscription in Greek and two different Egyptian writing systems - providing scholars with the first key to understand Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Started by a nonprofit group called the Long Now Foundation, the project is creating an online archive and is also preserving parallel texts on an optical disc - a kind of Rosetta Stone for linguists in the future. The small hand-held disc is etched with tiny print and plated with nickel. There are 13,000 pages, sampling 1,500 languages in microscopic text, according to the foundation's Alexander Rose.

“A single parallel text, a description, a map of where it's from, these types of things that just give you enough that you can compare to another language that you know or have studied or scholars have figured out, you can start pulling parallels between the two and reconstruct the basics of a language,” said Rose.

A recent demonstration of endangered languages sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington featured the Hawaiian language and other vanishing tongues, including Tuvan, which can still be heard in southern Siberia.

Many languages like this are spoken by small groups, said Rosetta Project director Laura Welcher.

“They're spoken by thousands of people or even smaller-sized groups, and a lot of those languages are in remote parts of the world. They haven't been well documented," she said.

Linguists at universities and research institutes are in a race against time to record these languages before they die out.

Welcher said that linguists and students at the Rosetta Project are doing their part.

“The idea is to purposely create a massively parallel linguistic collection that is broadly representative of all of our human languages, that can be that kind of secret decoder ring for human languages and what we leave for the future,” she said.

And it may be the key to helping reconstruct today's dying languages.

You May Like

ASEAN Ministers Set to Push for South China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
July 30, 2013 10:36 PM
Parallel texts, good idea. I wonder how long the disc would work. Rosetta stone is more than two thousands years old. How about the disc? And how should we adress endangered languages which have no characters? Ainu language spoken by native Japanese Ainu is also included in this catalog?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs