[Worldkings] Top 50 Universities with Innovative Research (P. 42) University College London (UK): Developing breakthrough 3D printing method to preserve rare languages


(Worldkings.org) Half of the world's languages are endangered and more than a thousand are expected to be lost in coming decades. A team at UCL is using animation software to preserve these languages in an entirely new way.

Over a thousand languages are predicted to disappear in the ensuing decades, with half of all languages in the world being endangered. A University College London (UCL) team has developed a groundbreaking 3D method to preserve ancient languages and many more.


Across 7,000 recorded languages are thought to be spoken by people all over the world, and UCL suggested that nearly 230 languages have been lost so far. The loss of 1,500 endangered and rare languages will likely occur during the next 100 years.

Language is frequently imagined as words on a page or sound. But, much like the double helix of DNA, the "shape" of human languages and their high-dimensional form have yet to be thoroughly investigated and modeled.

Dr Alex Pillen (UCL Anthropology) and Emma-Kate Matthews (UCL Bartlett School of Architecture) collaborated to capture the character of endangered languages in the form of 3D-printed objects using parametric design software.

By creating 3D-printed objects based on language patterns and syntax, researchers have now made it feasible to physically interact with a language extract in addition to just listening to a recording.

The team drew inspiration from a language's sounds —the number of syllables in a line and its syntax, concentrating on a specific grammatical system known as evidential— to develop their 3D designs. They assigned a number to "evidential weight," which refers to the type of evidence being presented.


As said in the statement, the Amazonian language Tariana was one of the languages they concentrated on, for instance. Tariana requires speakers always to explain the type of evidence they are transmitting. There is a hierarchy of favored evidential in Tariana, ranging from information gleaned through direct observation of objects to the repetition of information related by another person.

They plotted points in three dimensions, with the numerical values derived from evidential along the Z axis, the number of syllables along the Y axis, and the timeline on the X axis. The design software then turned these points into a 3D shape, virtually filling in the digital weave of warp and weft to appear as a smooth, woven undulating surface.

“You get transcripts annotated with very technical terminology. But by producing the geometry of grammar in 3D, we allow people to have an immediate intuitive relationship to these languages that are under threat - or that might disappear,” said Dr. Alex Pillen, an anthropologist at UCL.


According to interestingengineering.com

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