This Tiny Disk Contains over 1,500 Different Languages

What language do you speak? Your answer to this simple question might be English, or French, or German, or Mandarin. But do you know Apma, Geez or Rikou? This are also languages among the total of 7000 plus languages spoken today.


But outside of the top ten languages, most of them are limited to their respective regional areas or countries. Others have only a few speakers left in the world. The Rosetta Project is an initiative to preserve some of these languages before they go extinct. And the way in which they have chosen to do it is quite innovative. Let’s find out.

The Rosetta Project is an initiative to preserve some of these languages before they go extinct. And the way in which they have chosen to do it is quite innovative. Let’s find out.

What is Rosetta Project?

From there official About section, I have concatenated a short explanation about the project:

The Rosetta Project is The Long Now Foundation’s first exploration into very long-term archiving. Since the beginning, the Rosetta Project collection has grown to over 100,000 pages of documents, as well as language recordings, for over 2,500 languages. The collection is now housed as a special collection in the Internet Archive, and we continue to expand the collection through new materials and contributions.

The way in which they preserve the languages is not digital because any form of digital storage decays over a long time. They wanted a durable archive which would be creative, beautiful to look and arouse interest.

Because let’s be honest, we don’t exactly find interest in reading about the Swahili language which seems to be going extinct. So the Rosetta Disk is their innovative towards this end.

The Rosetta Disk

You could write a 1000 page book containing a paragraph from each language, but who would read it? A book doesn’t tickle our fancies but a 3-inch round disk, which contains more than 10,000 sentences covering 1500 different languages, definitely creates interest.

Top of the Rosetta Disk

The disk is made up of nickel and the contents are micro-etched on the surface using a technology developed by  Los Alamos Laboratories and Norsam Technologies. To give you a perspective about how small the micro-etching is, a single page is about 0.019 inches or half millimeters across. For comparison, that’s equal to the width of 5 human hair strands.

The etched side containing over 13,000 pages

To read the text you will need a lab microscope capable of zooming 1000x. Further, the etching process is so advanced that the text is immune to water damage, able to withstand high temperatures, and unaffected by electromagnetic radiation.

Further, an OCR module can also be attached to a lab microscope to convert the text into the digital form.

Cool Tip: You can browse the interactive version of the disk online here.

Can I Buy One or Help?

Yes, but not the exact disk. As the unique manufacturing process is too expensive to be replicated on mass production levels, they have made a Nanodisk in the form of wearable, using a similar process. But you will have to make a donation of at least $1,000 to The Long Foundation to get one.

The nanodisk in form of wearable

If you want to help their work you can either donate or even work as a volunteer with them.

As we progress in time, there are many things that we’re prone to leave behind — several of which don’t find any mention in the history too.

From Polar Ice caps to Coral Reefs, human actions are taking its toll on nature and heritage. Amidst all this, the work of Rosetta Project is commendable as they are preserving languages as well as giving us something to ogle at with awe.

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