The 50th RIHN Seminar

The 50th RIHN Seminar will be held on the 1st April.

Date: 1st April, 2011
Time: 2:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

RIHN Lecture Hall (Access)

Title: “The Library of Babel is burning”
Speaker: Nicholas Evans (Head and Professor, School of Culture, History & Language, The Australian National University)
Chair: Toshiki Osada (Professor, RIHN)
Commentators: Takakazu Yumoto (Professor, RIHN)
Masayuki Onishi (Senior Project Researcher, RIHN)
Language: English

The mythical Library of Babel, as imagined by Jorge Luis Borges, contained all possible books written in all possible languages – and thus everything sayable or discoverable about the universe. It is an apt image for the knowledge contained in the Babel of the world's 6,000 languages, provided we include books in writing systems that have yet to be developed for the majority of humankind's tongues, which represent purely oral traditions. Yet most of this library is now burning down, as languages die out at an unprecedented rate: at least half stand to be lost by the end of the century. Every few weeks an old person is buried, the book and volume whose brain was the last and often unsuspected repository of an entire language and the knowledge it enfolds. This talk is about just what we lose when we bury such a person, and about what we can do to bring out as much of their knowledge as possible into a durable form that can be passed on to future generations. Travelling from indigenous languages in Australia to fragile speech communities on every continent, it examines some of the key areas of knowledge that will be lost with language death: of the natural world, of the possibilities of language and the human mind, of deep history, of how to decipher ancient scripts, and of alternative traditions of contemplating the world. It closes by asking what we can do to help safeguard this vast ‘knowledge commons’.

OSADA Toshiki (Professor, RIHN)

Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (RIHN)
zip code: 603-8047
457-4, Motoyama Kamigamo, Kita-ku, Kyoto City, Japan
TEL: +81-75-707-2371  FAX: +81-75-707-2508