It is estimated that there are some 7,000 spoken languages in the world, of which nearly half are in danger of extinction and are likely to disappear in the next hundred years. Most of these endangered languages have less than a few thousand speakers left, and with no documentation. Nearly five hundred languages have fewer than ten speakers and are very likely to vanish very soon. Other languages are lost gradually when they are overwhelmed by a more dominant language at school, in the marketplace and on television.
The Rosetta Project is an effort to preserve all of these languages—numbering some 1,500— that have a high likelihood of extinction before this century is over. Inspired by the original Rosetta Stone, the idea of the Rosetta Project is to create a key that would allow future generations to decipher the lost languages.
The original Rosetta Stone, which was made in 196 BC, had the same basic text inscribed in three different scripts. By working back through known languages and scripts, scholars were able to decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic writing, thereby unlocking the encoded history of an ancient civilization.
The Rosetta Project aims to create a modern version of the historic Rosetta Stone. At its core is a set of "parallel" information—the same texts, the same set of vocabulary, the same kinds of description—for over 1,500 human languages.
One of their first prototype of a very long-term archive is The Rosetta Disk—a three inch diameter nickel disk with nearly 14,000 pages of information microscopically etched onto its surface. One side of the disk contains a graphic teaser. The text begins at eye-readable scale and spirals inwards in ever-decreasing size till it becomes too small to read. But the text actually continues getting smaller and smaller and requires a microscope capable of magnifying up to 500 times to read. The other side of the disk contains the actual preserved data.
The disk rests in a sphere made of stainless steel and glass which allows the disk exposure to the atmosphere, but protects it from casual impact and abrasion. With minimal care, it could easily last and be legible for thousands of years.
Recently, the Long Now Foundation—the brilliant minds behind the project—released a Rosetta Wearable Disk, which is a pendant-sized disk, much smaller than the first edition, but containing much of the same valuable information.
Only a limited number of copies are available. You can have one by making a donation to The Long Now Foundation of $1,000 or more.
Close ups of the archive.
Close ups of the archive.
The wearable disk.
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