Great support, up to a point…

Not everyone bars immigrants and refugees. Mro on the shores of Lake Champlain.

No Kickstarter campaign I’ve ever run or consulted on has received such overwhelming, widespread, heartfelt support and encouragement. We’ve had messages from all over the world wishing us luck, offering assistance, sharing the photos and video, validating the project.

Yet the nuts-and-bolts part, the actual pledging of support, has been weirdly quiet. After a great first day, the weekend brought in very little, despite help from Sarcalistic, Margaret Ransdell-Green, Janet Whatmough, Lynda Ulrich, MIchael Shiver, Tecwynn Evans, Belle, Hans de Wolf, and Zlatomira Ilchovska.
Are the rewards perhaps not interesting and attractive enough? If you care to suggest a reward that follows the Kickstarter rules by being an extension or byproduct of the campaign, I’d love to hear about it.
In the meantime I’ll just keep on working on the existing rewards–the photo accompanying this post is of my carving of the phrase “Mother tongue” in Mro, which will be made into a postcard for the $25-level reward–and wondering at this strange cognitive dissonance.
The Kickstarter #Make100 link is, of course:

Here we go!

Our Kickstarter campaign has raced through the approval process and has already officially launched! Our goal: to raise $10,000 so we can publish children’s pictorial dictionaries in several of the endangered languages of the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. Our partner non-profit, Our Golden Hour, will then use them in schools in which instruction takes place in these indigenous languages. Check it all out at, and PLEASE SUPPORT US!

Coming soon: International Mother Language Day Exhibition

Two carvings for my forthcoming exhibition at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont, on International Mother Language Day.
Both say “mother tongue,” the top one in Thai Lanna, the lower one in Mandaean. The woods are monkey pod and olive respectively.
The exhibition will open the day before International Mother Language Day–namely, February 20th–and will be up for a couple of weeks. Stop by if you’re in the area and I’ll be happy to give you a guided tour.
Please share this with anyone who might be interested!

ea-z-2-url-2a-fixedwhiteBack in time for Christmas and other holiday shopping–the beautiful and attention-getting Endangered Alphabets T-shirt!
Our first campaign, a couple of months ago, was successful, and now people across the United States and Europe are wearing their T-shirts or will be unwrapping them in a few weeks’ time.
We’re doing one last gift-season campaign, aiming to sell at least 20 shirts in the next six-and-a-bit days.
The design, by Alec Julien and Zoë Brookes, features the Manchu word for “sky” or “heaven.” Find the T-shirts at
And while we’re at it, don’t forget to order your language-loving friends and relatives copies of the new expanded edition of my book Endangered Alphabets, the link for which can be found on the home page of this website.
All profits support the registered non-profit Endangered Alphabets Project in our work to support minority and indigenous cultures worldwide.
Tell your friends!
Thanks, and best wishes.

This Sunday: the Open House!

open-house-coverExciting news: we are getting ready for the first Endangered Alphabets Open House. Elizabeth Magnuson is turning her house at 1212 Thompson’s Point Road in Charlotte, Vermont, into a gallery for Alphabets carvings and furniture.
In part, this is an opportunity to continue the exhibit-and-educate work of the Endangered Alphabets Project and to enable the good people of the region to see the carvings up close and to meet me and ask questions; in part it is also intended as a fundraiser, with carvings being available for sale and commissions being taken. The Endangered Alphabets Project is, after all, a federal non-profit, which is to say it needs all the help it can get.
The Alphabets Open House will take place primarily from 2-8 p.m. on Sunday, November 27, but the exhibit will also be open for viewing by appointment from Sunday, November 20-Saturday, December 4. Anyone interested in a special viewing should contact Elizabeth directly at
Please share this, especially with anyone who lives in my region!

Books! T-shirts! Whatever next?

Wonderful news for friends of the Alphabets. The new expanded and thoroughly improved edition of my book Endangered Alphabets is now available, and at last we’ve been able to respond to your pleas for Endangered Alphabets T-shirts–though in order to do so, we need a small but significant number of orders right away. I’ll explain….


…but first, the book. For several years I’ve wanted to update my book to include the carvings I’ve been working on over the years since the original exhibition, the scripts involved, and the questions and issues they raise. Plus I’ve wanted an excuse to publish the notoriously challenging Endangered Alphabets Quiz. So all those are included in this handsome new edition, designed by our ace designer/typographer Alec Julien. And that edition, not available in stores, can only be ordered HERE. Please order your copy now, so I can empty the large cardboard box of books currently taking up living-room space next to my rabbit cage!

And now, the T-shirts.

Every time we run a Kickstarter campaign, people request Endangered Alphabets T-shirts, but I have not wanted to make a large initial investment that resulted in my stacking yet more large cardboard boxes next to the rabbit cage.

The great news is that both problems have been solved.
First of all, our ace designer Alec Julien and my daughter the ace graphic designer Zoë Brookes have collaborated on a gorgeous design. I’m attaching it with this post. I love it. And on a black or purple background–amazing.
Second, we have set up an account with Teespring, who AS LONG AS WE COME UP WITH 20 ORDERS BY OCTOBER 24 will handle all the ordering, shipping, fulfillment, and so on.
(It’s a bit like Kickstarter, in that unless 20 orders are placed, the whole thing is null and void.)
So please hasten over to! Tell your alphabetical friends to do likewise!

As always, all income generated from books, T-shirts, and carving commissions goes directly to support the non-profit Endangered Alphabets Project.


What does “endangered” mean?

"Sunrise" in Mongolian bichig script
“Sunrise” in Mongolian bichig script

At the end of my recent Kickstarter campaign I posted a photo of a carving I had been working on over the last 48 hours, which read “Sunrise” in classic Mongolian vertical bichig script.

My Facebook friend Kellar Alsup asked me why I carve anything in bichig script, given that it has official recognition in Inner Mongolia and has at least a million users. In what sense, he asked, is it an endangered alphabet?

This was a very good question, I realized, because it made me realize that my definition of “endangered” has changed over the six years of the project, following a shift in my intentions for the Endangered Alphabets, and it made me put that change into words for the first time.

At first, I admit, I was operating largely out of ignorance. I have the greatest respect for those involved in the endangered languages movement and their diligent field research, but I didn’t have the time, the money, the training or the institutional support to work like them, so I was working on guesswork and good intentions.

As a general guideline, when I read on Omniglot that a script was no longer used for official purposes nor taught in schools, I thought of it as endangered—still a useful rule of thumb, I think. My first carvings were simply intended to document and display such scripts.

When I read that bichig had largely been replaced in Russia by Cyrillic and in China with Chinese, I knew so little about Mongolia I assumed that bichig was generally falling out of use. I also confused it, to some degree, with Manchu, a similar script that was almost extinct.

To be honest I loved the script so much, and I was looking for opportunities to carve vertical scripts to add variety to the standard horizontals, that I didn’t research the situation as closely as I might. It was also much harder to come by such information six years ago. You have no idea how much more available information has become even in the past two years.

Al this changed maybe two and a half years ago when I was contacted by a young woman named Zulaa from Ulaan Baatar, who sent me some Mongolian calligraphy to carve. It says something about the changing times that she herself didn’t know who the calligrapher was; it took me years to identify him as Sukhbaatar. But as a result I gradually became aware of the emerging art using bichig script, at first through Pinterest and then more generally.

At the same time, even though I barely recognized it because it was happening so gradually, the purpose and even the definition of the Endangered Alphabets began to change.

Over the last four years, initially thanks to my work with Maung Nyeu and Our Golden Hour in Bangladesh, my role has become less passive and more active, and that changed my way of thinking.

Nowadays I see it as my job to champion and highlight the identities of minorities and indigenous peoples, mostly by making art out of their scripts.

And in that sense I’m happy to turn people’s attention to Mongolia in general, to Mongolian culture and most specifically to Mongolian calligraphy, which I love. It’s no surprise it has been designated as a World Intangible Heritage.

I’ve come to believe a culture and/or its script doesn’t have to be on the verge of extinction to be fascinating and worth propping up to the extent I can help. The spread of globalism and the international culture means that even a nation with a million users of its traditional script is likely to veer toward aspects of global culture, as you see for example in Bangladesh, where TV ads are half in English. (It’s like in Europe, and the spread of what I think of as Elf culture: you see Elf stations everywhere, and as soon as you see one you no longer know where you are.)

So local/regional/minority cultures are never safe, and the more I can highlight them, the better, as I see it.

As always, I welcome your thoughts. You can take it for granted that I generally know far less than I seem to, and will gain by hearing from those of you who are better informed.

The last reward, and perhaps the most unusual

The Balinese Om table
The Balinese Om table

With less than two days to go in our current Kickstarter campaign, I’m offering the very last, and possibly the most unusual reward: the Balinese Om table.

Made entirely of cherry, the table has the Balinese character for Om hand-carved in the top.

Standing 26″ tall, the table would be ideal as a nightstand, as a hall/correspondence table, or as part of a more reflective and personal space.

I have carved the Balinese Om, perhaps my favorite character in the world, more than a dozen times, but this is the articulation that has pleased me most for its flow and grace.

The Balinese Om table–there is only one–is our reward for a pledge of $800. Find it at

Galloping to the finish

Hold the presses.
Thanks to one spectacular pledge, we are now past $12,000.
I know. I’m stunned.
Let’s close this out right now. We have less than 48 hours, but less than $3,000 to go.
Let’s nail down the rest and start popping the champagne corks. Zoom over to 
What could possibly be more appropriate as a footer image than the Balinese word suksma, or “thank you”?
Tom Way Balinese Thank You

The charge is on!

The final charge is on!

Thanks to Jeff Rutenbeck (the original guide and protector of the Alphabets), Faith Yacubian, David Fresolone, Paul Sharville, Yonatan Bisk, Michael Everson (one of the world’s leading creators of digitized fonts for endangered languages/scripts), Nigel Calcutt, Veronica Lewis, Jeff Hitchcock, Brody Finney and Iftekharul Haque, we have just crashed through the $9,000 barrier and are shooting ahead.

Remember: we have only about 60 hours left to reach $15,000.


Please add your momentum to theirs at
And please share the good news!



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