Log in

No account? Create an account
Previous Entry Share Next Entry
A modern Rosetta Stone

You are working with an organization which is taking a proactive approach towards future archaeology: they plan to take a whole bunch of information about current society and science, print it out on a stable medium (such as etched into ceramic sheets, or stamped into gold-plated aluminum sheets, etc), and make stashes around the world to be found by archaeologists thousands of years into the future.

You have been tasked with designing the "cover sheet", as it were. Taking inspiration from the Rosetta Stone, they want to have a single text with parallel translations in multiple languages, so that knowledge of one "ancient" language could be used to unlock the lost "ancient" languages on the cover sheet (in much the same way that knowledge of ancient Greek unlocked the Demotic and Hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone).

Space is limited. All told, you probably have only about a square meter (about 16 A4/Letter-sized sheets) to work with.

How many languages would you choose, what are they, and what text would you use?

  • 1
One "language" isn't really getting inline with the whole "Rosetta Stone" concept.

The original Rosetta Stone had the same text written in three languages/scripts: ancient Greek, Demotic Script, and Hieroglyphs. 19th century linguists mostly knew ancient Greek, but were less certain of Demotic and had only poor reconstructions of Hieroglyphs. The structure of the Rosetta Stone allowed them to use their knowledge of Greek to figure out how to read Demotic and Hieroglyphs they found elsewhere.

So the idea in this challenge is to come up with a small set of languages, and a text, such that if knowledge of only one or two of the languages survived, future linguists could use the parallel texts to figure out how to read the then-lost languages.

"Pictographic" doesn't quite do it.

I was throwing it out there as one of the options.

I'd use the six official languages of the United Nations: English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and Arabic. For the text, I might use the UN "Declaration Of The Rights Of Man (sic)"

I think I'd include a map of the planet, with something indicating which languages were used in which places. That might give the people downline a way to work out the relationships between the languages of their time and the archaic languages of ours.

Modern International English -- which is largely British-based, Classical Latin, Modern Greek, Pre-Simplification Chinese, Modern Hindi, Koranic Arabic, and Modern Spanish Spanish, each in their own writing system.

Hm. Then what text. That's harder. The Bible (Old Testament) and most of Shakespeare exists in all those languages. So, i think i'd go for a carefully chosen excerpt from the Song of Songs (Psalms), possibly excerpts from Genesis, or excerpts from Love's Labour Lost.

I was thinking you would end up getting specially-made translations of whatever text you chose, with the translators working to maintain the parallel structure between the versions of the text. So you wouldn't be limited to existing translations.

One concern I had in mind for choosing a text is that the goal is to facilitate understanding of the corpus the "new Rosetta Stone" is accompanying. One of my initial thoughts for a text was the Gettysburg Address, but at under 300 words it's certainly short enough to fit but perhaps not long enough to express enough of the languages to allow further decyphering of a larger corpus (the Gettysburg Address is shorter than the actual Rosetta Stone content).

My thoughts went first to what are some of the more universal, popular texts that have a corpus with standard translations into most major languages, and that would naturally have a conservative, as-literal-and-parallel-as-possible standard translations.

The six official languages of the United Nations is a good idea, but I think there would also be strong value in including Ancient Greek, or even Modern Greek. It's likely that for many more millennia to come, archaeologists will know Greek. I think the same is true of English, Latin, and Arabic. All are likely to remain carved in stone in a sufficient number of locations to keep them in the minds of academics, at least.

  • 1