Learn about ‘Endangered Alphabets’

BRISTOL — What does the age of digital convergence, Facebook and globalization mean for the future of the written word? Writer/carver/painter Tim Brookes will share his remarkable and thought-provoking perspective on this question in the program “Endangered Alphabets, Cultural Erosion, and the Future of the Written Word” at the Lawrence Memorial Library in Bristol on Thursday, April 14, at 7 p.m. The presentation is hosted by the One World Library Project and sponsored by the Vermont Humanities Council through its Speakers Bureau program.
Brookes will share his carvings of endangered forms of writing from all over the world while presenting how the story of a culture can be seen in its writing, even if that writing is (as in these examples) beautiful, utterly unfamiliar, and disappearing. At the same time, he will discuss how technology will help — and always has helped — define the nature of communication.
Founder of The Endangered Alphabets Project, Brookes is not a linguist, an anthropologist or even a woodworker by trade. He came upon this project in 2009 when he decided to carve signs for his friends and family as holiday gifts. He used beautiful Vermont quilted maple and left the bark attached. The process was enjoyable and the gifts were a hit.
Brookes continued by carving a series of Chinese monograms and found himself fascinated with the design aspect of foreign script. Seeking future subjects, he discovered the website omniglot.com, an online encyclopedia of writing systems and languages. “It was dedicated to all the world’s writing systems, past and present, extinct and living, real and imaginary,” Brookes notes. “ I was stunned, first of all, by how many of them I’d never heard of.”
In fact, Brookes learned that many of these languages are already extinct or unused. Although there are more than 6,000 world languages — many going extinct as you read this article — there are only 100 scripts, and roughly a third of them are endangered. This loss of language and writing parallels the domination of smaller societies by larger ones.
Brookes points out, “A more powerful nation had overwhelmed weaker ones; majorities had suppressed minorities; and now the global expansion of computing and the Internet had accelerated the process of extinction. These gnarly or magnificent old scripts were being replaced by the beige, rectangular uniformity of the keyboard.”
Brookes became increasingly interested in endangered alphabets, eventually pursuing and carving text written in 30 endangered writing systems.
The mission expanded further when Brookes formed a relationship with Maung Nyeu from the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh, a region that is home to a dozen distinct indigenous peoples, each with their own language and culture. Brookes and Maung are currently working together to create educational materials to assure the endangered writing systems of these groups will be passed on to future generations.
For more information on the program, contact the Lawrence Memorial Library at 453-2366 or go to www.OneWorldLibraryProject.org.

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