This Tiny Coin Contains a Microscopic Archive of 1,000 Different Languages

Illustration for article titled This Tiny Coin Contains a Microscopic Archive of 1,000 Different Languages

If you want to ensure your files are safe, it’s a good idea to back them up in multiple places. And that’s the basic idea behind the Rosetta Wearable Disc. Printed in microscopic text on one side is an archive of 1,000 different human languages used in 2016. By producing multiple copies, language enthusiasts can ensure that there’s a better chance this archive will survive for centuries.

Advertisement

Spearheaded by the Rosetta Project—whose goal is to create a modern version of the famous Rosetta Stone that provides future generations with a tool they can use to translate modern texts—the disk is designed to last all the way to the year 12,000 AD. That’s assuming we’re all still around by then, of course.

Illustration for article titled This Tiny Coin Contains a Microscopic Archive of 1,000 Different Languages

Made from nickel, the Rosetta Wearable Disk, measures just 0.78-inches across and is manufactured using a similar process used for making microchips. Tiny bits of nickel are attracted to a glass plate featuring the 1,000-pages of language documentation printed on it, and the resulting disk ends up looking like all of the information has been embossed on its surface. You can use a magnifying glass to look at the individual pages, but to actually read the text you’ll need to reach for a laboratory microscope capable of magnifications up to 150X.

Illustration for article titled This Tiny Coin Contains a Microscopic Archive of 1,000 Different Languages

So how can you get one? You’d think that if the Rosetta Project were trying to distribute as many of these tiny disks as possible for redundancy’s sake, they’d make them cheap and easily accessible. But to put one around your neck you’ll need to make a donation of at least $1,000 to the language archival initiative, and availability will be very limited. The cost is partly due to the manufacturing process that allows so much visible data to be crammed onto such a tiny surface. But compared to just dumping a text file onto a microSD card, there’s little doubt these archives will still be accessible centuries from now.

Advertisement

[The Rosetta Project via Laughing Squid]

DISCUSSION

zuludaddy
zuludaddy (says Bravo Zulu)

This is...odd. First, there are said to be somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 languages still alive, though some are down to very few or even a single remaining native speaker. So, someone is making a decision on which languages can be included. Second, one may be able to note the grammar and syntax of a given language, and collect x amount of the lexical items [’words’], but it would be nearly impossible to encode or transcribe the sense of the language that a native speaker would have - metaphors and turns of phrase, etc... The Germans, of course, have a word for this: Sprachgefül...

Finally, insofar as the defining characteristic of all language is constant change, what we have here is at best a blurry snapshot of what many languages look like at a certain point in time. I’ll say with some confidence that English will look and sound unrecognizably different in a few hundred years, let alone 12,000. This may be a good tool for translating ancient texts, but not for resuscitating a dead one, as many of those collected here will certainly be in less time than you think.