We aim to create beautiful carved signs and the first books ever printed in some of the endangered indigenous languages in Bangladesh.
A year ago, the Kickstarter community gave a huge boost to the Endangered Alphabets, donating enough funds to allow me to meet my goal of doubling the number of scripts I’d tracked down and carved, and start them on their world tour. They’re even going to the Smithsonian.
Now a new and urgent Endangered Alphabets situation has arisen, in a region of southern Bangladesh called the Chittagong Hill Tracts. This upland and forested area is home to 13 different indigenous peoples, each of which has its own genetic identity, its history and cultural traditions, and many of which have their own language and even their own script.
All these languages and scripts are endangered. Schools use Bengali, the official national language, and an entire generation is growing up without a sense of their own cultural history and identity—very much the kind of situation that has led to the loss or endangerment of hundreds of Aboriginal languages in Australia and Native American languages in the US.
The Endangered Alphabets Bangladesh project is an attempt to provide a creative solution to this issue before these languages and scripts are among the estimated 3,000 languages that by 2050 will be lost forever.
We’re going to be working with an extraordinary young man named Maung Nyeu. Largely self-educated, he left Bangladesh and got into the University of Hawaii, where he studied engineering so he could go back to the Chittagong Hill Tracts and build a school where indigenous peoples could be educated in their own languages. Now (armed also with an MBA from USC), he has come to Harvard to get a graduate degree in education so he can create something unique: children’s schoolbooks in these endangered indigenous languages.
He says, “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.”
We’re trying to help him by combining three artistic disciplines: carving, calligraphy and typography.
The first step is for me to create a series of beautiful and durable carved signs in the languages and scripts of these endangered cultures, and add them to the traveling exhibitions of the Endangered Alphabets Project. Each carving will feature a short poem I wrote for the purpose. It goes:
These are our words, shaped
By our hands, our tools,
Our history. Lose them
And we lose ourselves.
I’m also putting together a coalition of educators from Harvard and Yale, a typographer from Cambridge, England and a calligrapher from the Rhode Island School of Design to create some beautiful script forms of these endangered languages, then convert them into typefaces that can be used to print the books for Maung’s school.
At the moment, everyone is putting in their time on a volunteer basis, but my goal is to raise $10,000 to cover material costs, and to go a small way toward paying for the time, work, travel, shipping and printing involved.
If we can raise these funds, the outcome will be the first sets of children’s books ever printed in Mro, Marma, Chakma, and other endangered languages of Bangladesh.
I don't seem to be able to attach photos here, but if you check out Project Update #18 you'll see photos and some explanation there.
While we're at it, what does the Balinese character for Om, also mentioned in the Rewards column, look like?
I don't seem to be able to attach photos here, but if you check out Project Update #18 you'll see a photo there.
That would be great, but I can't quite see how. The process of doing the calligraphy and creating the type and then printing the books will take a year or more, quite likely 18 months, and I didn't want anyone to have to wait that long. But why don't I talk this over with Maung and see if he can come up with anything along the same lines?
When they're finished, they'll first go on display at Harvard, but then they'll continue to travel wherever that particular exhibition is booked. Kickstarter supporters have a very loud say in where the carvings travel!
seconds to go
Pledge $1 or moreYou selected
Backers receive a pdf chart depicting the endangered Marma and Mro alphabets.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $10 or moreYou selected
A pdf booklet about the Endangered Alphabets Project, including high-resolution photos of the carvings.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $25 or moreYou selected
A coffee mug featuring the new Endangered Alphabets logo, which includes text in the endangered Philippine script known as Baybayin. The logo was specially designed for the project by Paul Morrow, creator of the Baybayin font. Overseas backers please add an additional $5 for packing and postage.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $40 or moreYou selected
A copy of Endangered Alphabets, the coffee-table-style book about the project and its carvings. It has stunning photos and a short essay on each script, raising fascinating questions about the history and nature of writing. Overseas backers please add an additional $5 for packing and postage.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $100 or moreYou selected
6 backers Limited (9 left of 15)
The word "words" in Mro, written on special paper in beautifully and specially-commissioned script by Jamie Kutner, our project calligrapher.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $125 or moreYou selected
8 backers Limited (17 left of 25)
I’ll carve the backer a monogram plate—in other words, their initial in the extraordinarily elaborate and ornate 17th-century Secretary Hand style, carved in a piece of maple or cherry and measuring approximately 7”x7”. Overseas backers please add an additional $5 for packing and postage.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $150 or moreYou selected
0 backers Limited (1 left of 1)
Michael Horlick, senior lexicographer at the language research center in Hyattsville, Maryland ("one-stop shopping for all your Russian, Chinese, Uyghur, Uzbek, Tajik, Syrian and Western Punjabi needs"), is offering a signed copy of his Comprehensive Uzbek to English Dictionary for anyone making a pledge of $150.00.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $200 or moreYou selected
1 backer Limited (4 left of 5)
A personal carving of your own name, or that of a friend/family member/loved one/business, in English or an antique English script or possibly even an endangered alphabet if I can get a translation.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $250 or moreYou selected
2 backers Limited (8 left of 10)
The complete poem that will be featured on the Chittagong Carvings, written in Mro on special paper in beautifully and specially-commissioned script by Jamie Kutner, our project calligrapher.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $300 or moreYou selected
6 backers Limited (4 left of 10)
I'll carve the backer will a plaque, roughly 12”x12”, with symbol “Om” in Balinese, arguably the most beautiful script in the world.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $500 or moreYou selected
1 backer All gone!
I will make you a set of eight coasters in cherry wood, each of them carved with the initial of one member of your family and the rest with “G” for “guest.”Estimated delivery:
Pledge $1,000 or moreYou selected
0 backers Limited (5 left of 5)
The backer will receive a plaque carved by me, with the words “Thank you” in Mro, and personally signed on the back by Maung Nyeu.Estimated delivery:
- (32 days)