Dear friends and faithful supporters of the Endangered Alphabets:
Something remarkable is happening. Actually, several somethings. An incredible surge of support from friends old and new has rushed us almost to the halfway point in our campaign. What I’m hearing is:
On the most immediate level, the Endangered Alphabets Project is doing things that have never been done before. Using artwork to draw attention to the loss of traditional cultures all over the world. Creating learning materials to help prevent that erosion and loss. Writing, illustrating and publishing the world’s first six-language children’s picture-book dictionary in endangered languages. And now…
…designing games that kids (and adults) can play using their own traditional languages, spoken and written.
That’s the focus of our current Kickstarter campaign, at https://www.kickstarter.com/
All these Alphabets activities are having an effect. I recently displayed the game tile carvings in Barcelona and Paris, and spoke about them to UNESCO, and the enthusiasm and encouragement were wall-to-wall. Translators and linguists, game designers and graphic designers, calligraphers and programmers and businesspeople–I’ve never seen such positive response.
Of course: to revive languages, you have to start with children, and to involve children, you have to create games.
The Endangered Alphabets Game campaign is likewise drawing approval and support at an unprecedented rate. Not only are people donating, but they are blogging about it, posting on Facebook, setting up podcasts. I’m being contacted by people all over the world who want to collaborate in the act of creating games that will teach traditional writing systems.
This may be the most important and powerful Endangered Alphabets activity yet. Please support us, and please spread the word. I was recently discussing the subject with a global official in this field, and she used the phrase “dying languages.” I was horrified. “I don’t think in terms of `dying languages,'” I told her. “I think in terms of what we can do to revive them and the cultures that use them.”
And games are what we are going to do next.
As part of this surge of interest and energy, I’m adding a new reward to the campaign: my carving of the Javanese character that announces the opening of a poem, carved in golden-flecked sapele wood. One of the great discoveries of working on the Alphabets has been the ways in which other writing systems encompass symbols we’ve apparently never even considered, or which denote ideas or insights we don’t see, or don’t see as important. The notion of a piece of–what, punctuation?–that invites us to read a text with a different frame of mind! I find that fabulous.
Please help us fund not just the first game, but the first series of games–the games that show others that languages are not dying, but waiting to be revived.
Thanks so much.
PS And speaking of games, our very latest Kickstarter reward just arrived–endangered alphabet puzzles! Based on designs in kid-friendly minority script from the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh by the absurdly talented Irina Wang. This one says “storm,” and depicts–a storm. The other says “mango,” and depicts–well, you get the picture.
Hey, everyone–I really need your help. I’ve already heard from many of you what a great idea the Endangered Alphabet Games are, and my Kickstarter campaign has a solid start, but I urgently need to pick up the momentum at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1496420787/endangered-alphabet-games/.
Here for your viewing pleasure is the complete set of Alphabets Game tile carvings. They are the Rolls-Royce of Kickstarter rewards, and one (or more) of them could be yours.
Each is hand-carved in maple, and measures 10″ x 12″. There’s not much room in the caption space to identify them all, so just let me know if you’d like me to do so, and I’ll send you the complete guide to this carvings series, which explains the letter, the number, the script, and what is fascinating about each one.
If you really like one of the scripts and would like to commission me to carve a friend or family member’s initial in that script, that’s also doable!
And I’m also open to ideas for word games that will help revive endangered writing systems.
Please help in either way–or both!
We crashed past our last milestone thanks to generous support from Carolyn and Larry Connolly, and we’re now well over $1,000 in pledges.
The next Kickstarter goal we need to reach if we’re going to be able to fund the creation of the Endangered Alphabet Game: fifteen hundred by Friday at four. (This slogan meets the guidelines of the National Alliteration Council.)
We’re working to revive indigenous and minority languages. Please support us at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1496420787/endangered-alphabet-games!
The first million, they say, is the hardest. Let’s break through the first thousand, at least. We need only $64 in pledges to break through the first $1,000 in the Endangered Alphabet Game Kickstarter campaign to start creating games designed to revive endangered writing systems. I’d love to be able to do that by 9:00 EDT today. Please zip over to https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1496420787/endangered-alphabet-games/ and back us right now. Thanks!
And here’s a photo of the game tiles drying before being taken for exhibition at LocWorld34 in Barcelona. They are actually some of the rewards in this campaign!
Here we go—the Endangered Alphabet Game Kickstarter campaign is now live at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1496420787/endangered-alphabet-games!
I must admit, I’m kicking myself that it has taken me seven years to realize that one of the best ways to revive an endangered language, written or spoken, is by creating games.
But here we are now, and this Kickstarter is to fund the creation of what I hope is the first of a series of alphabet games designed to reintroduce kids (and adults) in indigenous and minority cultures to their own traditional forms of writing.
The what, the why and the how are explained on the Kickstarter page. For the moment I’m just bringing this new project to your attention and urging you to check it out, to back us, and to pass the link on to anyone and everyone else you know who might be interested.
Founder, the Endangered Alphabets Project
P.S. This is going to be a shorter campaign than most—a little over three weeks—and I am pledging to send out fewer bulletins, updates, urgent begging letters and other symptoms of anxiety. Of course, that resolution will last only as long as the support keeps coming in….
The ten tiles of the Endangered Alphabets Board Game, just needing a few coats of finish and a professional photo shoot. These tiles, each 10″x12″, are for exhibition; the aim is to use them as a springboard to raise $5,000 to make alphabet board games in endangered languages for indigenous schoolchildren in Bangladesh. Watch out for our Kickstarter, coming soon.
If you’re on Facebook, you’ve been seeing hints and clues about my next series of carvings, and here are the first prototypes: Scrabble tiles in endangered alphabets.
Here’s my thinking:
After my very serious and poignant Mother Tongue series, I wanted to do something more playful, but still full of intent. After all, it’s the dominant culture that can afford to be playful, and I wanted to both make use of and undermine that privilege. Hence the Scrabble Series.
The central point is very simple: you’re very unlikely to see a set of Scrabble tiles, or any commercial board game, in an endangered, minority or indigenous language. The makers would deem it just not commercially viable.
But a commercial board game such as Scrabble is not just a game—it’s a means of teaching the language and implicitly underlining its importance. It becomes (and I think I invented this ugly phrase, but someone may have spelled it out before me) culturally self-reinforcing. It emphasizes the rightness of the language, and the writing system, used by the majority. Everyone else, if they want to play, had better learn English.
You can’t make words with these tiles, given that they all in different languages (and some are syllables rather than letters), but that, too, has a point. Minority and indigenous cultures are increasingly disconnected from each other and from their own roots. Most of the western world can play Scrabble with the same set of tiles; likewise, most of the major nations can connect by Facebook. Minority, indigenous and regional cultures can not—or at least, they can only do so by learning one of the world’s major languages and its script. These tiles, like their cultures, are scattered. Easily lost.
I was also interested in this project because these faux Scrabble tiles involve not only letters but numbers. In fact, I chose to include only languages that have their own number systems—a minority of a minority. This is significant but hardly surprising, given that one of the most powerful forces of globalism is commerce. Numbers are the vocabulary of business.
The actual letterforms on Scrabble tiles are traditionally plain and functional; my own work tends to go more for the artistic and expressive. In this project I’ve gone for a balance between the two. Everything I do with the Endangered Alphabets Project tries to show the beauty of the lesser-known scripts as a means of stressing their value and their particular expression of the culture that developed them. By putting these wonderful letterforms on traditionally plan tiles I’m hoping to create a small sense of surprise, and a recognition of how functional and mechanical the Latin alphabet is by contrast.
It will be a fine day, in my opinion, when every culture has a board game that uses the characters of its own writing system. Just to be clear: many cultures don’t even have books in their own scripts, or they only have ancestral books that almost nobody can read.
As a smell step in that direction, my hope is that the Scrabble Series will attract $5,000 in donations to the Endangered Alphabets Project that will enable me, with the help of friends, colleagues, and volunteers, to create Scrabble-style board games in the endangered alphabets of Mro, Marma and Chakma, for the indigenous children of the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh.
If you’d like to support this endeavor, please do so at http://endangeredalphabets.com/donate/. Thanks!