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Category Archives: Projects

Endangered Alphabets

There is much talk and much belated worry in our field about the striking rate of language endangerment and death. As many as half of the world’s 6-7,000 languages will become extinct in the next century, and many, far too many, of these have never been documented. Many have never been written either, and so it is mainly spoken language that there is a great rush to revitalize in rare cases, and document in others.  You can read more about that here, here or here if you’d like.

Now someone, neither a linguist nor an anthropologist, has reminded us that when a language that has been written dies,  so may its entire system of writing:

A professor of writing and a woodworker, Tim Brookes researches ancient scripts, and he carves them into wood:

Balinese script of the word "words"

     The Endangered Alphabets Project, which consists of an exhibition of fourteen carvings (each with the translated text of Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) and a book, is the first-ever attempt to bring attention to this issue.  Scripts exhibited thus far include Inuktitut, Baybayin, Manchu, Bugis, Bassa Vah, Cherokee, Samaritan, Mandaic, Syriac, Khmer, Pahauh Hmong, Balinese, Tifinagh and Nom.  You can help him complete the project and take it to the countries where these scripts are used by visiting this site.

For more about the world’s writing systems, visit Omniglot.