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The Endangered Alphabets Project In Bangladesh

Almost a year ago, we had the honor of publishing a guest post from Vermont artist Tim Brookes, of the Endangered Alphabets project. The Endangered Alphabets project aims to bring attention to endangered alphabets through a series of beautiful wood carvings.

Now, Mr. Brookes is starting a new project, this time focused on the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh. The Chittagong Hill Tracts are home to 13 different indigenous groups. Their languages have so far withstood military conflict and an influx of settlers, but they are now very much endangered, as children grow up speaking the national language, Bengali, instead.

To help preserve these languages and the alphabets they are written in, the Endangered Alphabets project has set up a Kickstarter project to fund the creation of a set of children’s textbooks in these languages. The books will be created by Maung Nyeu, a native of the area who is building a school for indigenous children where they can study in their own languages.

As he explained on the project’s Kickstarter page,

“I’m trying to create children books in our alphabets – Mro, Marma, Tripura, Chakma and others. This will help not only save our alphabets, but also preserve the knowledge and wisdom passed down through generations. For us, language is not only a tool for communications, it is a voice through which our ancestors speak with us.”

The scripts will also become part of the Endangered Alphabets exhibition. In each language, Mr. Brookes will make a copy of the following poem, written for the project:

“These are our words, shaped

By our hands, our tools,

Our history. Lose them

And we lose ourselves.”

Currently, the project has raised $6, 685 out of $10,000 needed, with 16 days to go before it closes.

The Endangered Alphabets Project

As you probably know, the world has between 6,000 and 7,000 languages, half of which may be extinct by the end of this century. Another and even more dramatic effect of this erosion of cultural diversity concerns the alphabets in which those languages are written.

Writing has become so dominated by a small number of global cultures that those 6,000-7,000 languages are written in fewer than 100 alphabets.
Moreover, at least a third of the world’s remaining alphabets are endangered–no longer taught in schools, no longer used for commerce or government, understood only by a few elders, restricted to a few monasteries or used only in ceremonial documents, magic spells, or secret love letters.

The Endangered Alphabets Project, which I started in 2009 as an exhibition of fourteen carvings (on boards of spectacular Vermont curly maple) and a book, is the first-ever attempt to bring attention to this issue. Read more