RE: Call for contributions to new 1,000 Language Online Archive

Date: Tue May 22 2001 - 09:49:24 EDT

>> > Announcing the launch of The Rosetta Project 1,000 Language Online
>> > Archive at
>Interesting, thanks for the pointer!
>However, it is a real pity that such a nice project is impaired by the
>inclusion of a confessional text, such as the incipit of the "Holy Bible".
>People who don't believe in creation myths, or believe in a different one,
>won't find it very appealing to contribute their time and knowledge to
>persuade the posterity that we all were followers of the same religion(s).
>I agree with people who commented that a more secular text, such as the
>Universal Declaration of Human Rights, would have been a better choice.

The reason that the opening chapters of Genesis were chosen, I believe, is
because of the number of languages into which it has been translated. You
won't find the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in nearly as many
languages as you will the opening chapters of Genesis. The primary intent
was to document language (I'm pretty sure that the LongNow Foundation does
not have any religious agenda here). From an archival perspecitive there is
value in having the same text expressed in many languages: the
documentation of what a text means is provided by all the other
translations; you don't need to separately document each one. Between that
and its availability in so many languages, it seems to be a very reasonable

(And like the response to those who ask what authority UTC has to issue
edicts that precomposed will no longer be added, the people spending the
money to develop the thing get to decide what they want to go in it.)

As for the universality of that text, while it isn't universal, it is part
of the literary tradition for a very significant portion of the worlds
cultures and peoples (as evidenced by the number of translations), and it
has similar counterparts in many other cultures.

>And, if a fairy tale it had to be, the myth of the confusion of the
>languages at Babel (from the same book, BTW) would certainly have been a
>much more appropriate text for the kind of project.

It certainly would have been an interesting choice, though perhaps it was
thought that that may not have been translated into as many languages or
may be less familiar (I don't know what the reasons are).

>OK... To demonstrate that there is no limit to being off-topic, I also
>the occasion to ask: what is the Swadesh 100 Word List? Who is (was)
>Swadesh? What is the purpose of that List?

Morris Swadesh (1909 - 1967) was an American linguist, having studied under
Sapir. He developed a word list to be used for purposes of cross-linguistic
comparison, choosing 100 words that he thought would likely be common
across all cultures and would not be likely to be expressed using
borrowings (in situations where there is inter-language influence) or
compounds. This has been used extensively by linguists in dialectology
assessments, and so there is linguistic data out there incorporating this
word list for a very large number of languages.

A quick search on google turned up

- Peter

Peter Constable

Non-Roman Script Initiative, SIL International
7500 W. Camp Wisdom Rd., Dallas, TX 75236, USA
Tel: +1 972 708 7485
E-mail: <>

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