Like many millennials, I spent elementary school in an American Girl–obsessed fog. I reread each doll’s book series (five during my childhood: Felicity, Kirsten, Addy, Samantha, and Molly) to the point of memorization. Recently, I assembled used copies of my bygone American Girl cookbook collection and prepared to answer what I’d always been dying to know: Which American Girl’s cuisine reigned supreme?
The Lunar Orbiters never returned to Earth with the imagery. Instead, the Orbiter developed the 70mm film (yes film) and then raster scanned the negatives with a 5 micron spot (200 lines/mm resolution) and beamed the data back to Earth using lossless analog compression, which was yet to actually be patented by anyone. Three ground stations on earth, one of which was in Madrid, another in Australia and the other in California recieved the signals and recorded them. The transmissions were recorded on to magnetic tape. The tapes needed Ampex FR-900 drives to read them, a refrigerator sized device that cost $300,000 to buy new in the 1960’s.
The high-res photos were only revealed in 2008, after a volunteer restoration effort undertaken in an abandoned McDonald’s nicknamed McMoon.
They were huge files, even by today’s standards. One of the later images can be as big as 2GB on a modern PC, with photos on top resolution DSLRs only being in the region of 10MB you can see how big these images are. One engineer said you could blow the images up to the size of a billboard without losing any quality. When the initial NASA engineers printed off these images, they had to hang them in a church because they were so big. The below images show some idea of the scale of these images. Each individual image when printed out was 1.58m by 0.4m.
In 1898, George A. Grierson, an Irish civil servant and philologist, undertook the first ever Linguistic Survey of India. It took Grierson 30 years to gather data on 179 languages and 544 dialects. The survey was published in 19 volumes, spanning 8,000 pages, between 1903 and 1928.
For a very long time, Grierson’s achievement remained unsurpassed. After India became independent, the government initiated but never completed a second language survey. In 1961, the Census of India published The Language Tables, which identified 1,652 “mother tongues.” But the data for the Language Tables was obtained while collecting other census information and is not considered an authoritative language survey. In the absence of an extensive modern-day audit, the government cites 122 languages as the official number based on available data. The state does not individually recognize those languages spoken by less than 10,000 people.
Ganesh Devy was frustrated by this lack of contemporary data, especially the discrepancies he saw in the existing numbers. Since the government wasn’t likely to start on a new survey in the near future, Devy, a former professor of English from the western state of Gujarat, launched the People’s Linguistic Survey of India in 2010. The name refers to the fact that it was the people of the country, and not the government, that embarked on this project.
With single-minded ambition, he put together a team of 3,000 volunteers from all parts of the country. Since 2013, the PLSI has published 37 volumes, featuring detailed profiles of each of India’s languages. The project is expected to be completed by 2020 with 50 volumes. In the linguistic landscape of India, the work done by PLSI is not just pathbreaking, it is crucial in recording and thus preserving the languages of the country for future generations.
India is one of the four most linguistically diverse countries in the world, along with Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and Nigeria. The country has been identified as a “language hotspot” by K. David Harrison, a linguist at Pennsylvania’s Swarthmore College. According to Harrison, a language hotspot is a region with a high level of language diversity and endangerment, and a low level of documentation. In such a rapidly shifting country, Devy’s documentation is thus invaluable.
The challenge of putting a disparate team together with a minuscule budget of 8 million rupees ($1,17,000)—provided by a private trust—to map the languages spoken by 1.3 billion people was enormous. “My team was not made of linguists, but people who could speak their own language,” Devy says. “We had writers, school teachers, philosophers, social scientists, some linguists. We also had farmers, daily wagers, car drivers, people who had been in and out of jail. They had an intimacy with their language. Even if it was less scientific, it was authentic.” These volunteers were asked to record data about the languages they spoke, including the history of the language, its grammatical features, and samples of songs and stories. It was chaotic, Devy admits, but he traveled to every corner of the country to train the team and the final product was vetted with academic rigor.
So far, the PLSI has recorded 780 languages in India and 68 scripts. When Devy embarked on the mammoth project, even he did not expect to unearth that many. He says that the PLSI could not report on nearly 80 languages for various reasons, including accessibility of a given region due to remoteness or conflict, which brings the estimated total number of languages closer to 850.
Based on data from the survey, Devy estimates that in the last 50 years, India has lost 220 languages, including some within the last decade. In 2010, Bo, one of the oldest languages in the world, dating to pre-Neolithic times, died along with the last fluent speaker, a woman named Boa Senior who had been living in the Andaman Islands. In 2017, Majhi, a language spoken in Sikkim in northeast India, perished with the death of its last speaker, Thak Bahadur Majhi.
Languages such as these, spoken by communities that have lived in relative isolation, including the tribes of northeast India and those communities on the islands of Andaman and Nicobar in the south, are identified as the most vulnerable by linguists. A decline has also been seen along the coast of India as people migrate to cities for work.
But the story of India’s languages is not all grim. There are plenty of other instances of linguists discovering “hidden” languages in the country. For example, in 2010, Harrison identified Koro, a Tibeto-Burman language spoken by a remote tribe in Arunachal Pradesh in northeast India. In April 2018, the linguist Panchanan Mohanty from Hyderabad University discovered two languages, Walmiki and Malhar, in remote parts of Odisha state in eastern India.
“India has some of the oldest surviving languages,” says Devy. “A language like Tamil has been around for 2,500 years. Some of the tribal languages would be even older. These languages have survived because they have a philosophical context to them and that philosophy is part of the lived lives of the speakers.”
Jad is one of the 780 languages documented by the PLSI. In many ways, the story of Jad, which is spoken in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, is illustrative of what is happening with many of India’s minority languages, which are disappearing at an alarming rate. The language is classified by UNESCO as “definitely endangered” (when children can no longer learn the language as a “mother tongue” in the home), with about 2,000 remaining speakers. It is under pressure from the dominant languages of the region: Garhwali, Hindi, and English.
In Dunda, a remote village perched on top of tall Himalayan peaks, members of the Jad community ponder the fate of their language. Dunda is the winter abode of the Jad people, a nomadic tribe that raises sheep and migrates between two villages with the change of seasons. In the evenings, women sit together in small groups in their compounds working on huge stacks of wool and talking companionably among themselves in their language, while their children go for coaching classes to learn English.
Sundarwati Rawat is part of this community. Every day when she puts her one-year-old grandson to sleep, she yearns to sing to him in her native language. The songs that were sung to her in Jad when she was young have slowly faded from her memory. She deliberately did not sing them to her daughters; she wanted them to learn Hindi and English, to find jobs in big cities. As she’s become older, she’s started to worry. “How will my grandson know who he is and where he comes from if he doesn’t know his own language?” she frets, speaking in Hindi.
Rawat thinks of herself as the memory keeper of her people. She is one of the few from her community to have preserved traditional objects related to Jad culture. In her collection, there’s an angni (a short woolen shirt), a pagra (broad woolen belt), a gold necklace with beads, and a large nose ring, all of which she brings out proudly to exhibit. “Our mother and their mothers have worn this,” she says. Her sense of loss of language is entwined with the loss she associates with these relics.
Her daughter Sheela is 24 and teaches in a school nearby. Sheela says that though she prefers to speak her language among her people, she never speaks it in front of outsiders. “I don’t want people to see me as different,” she says in Hindi.
Every family in the village faces the same dilemma, their identities threatened by erasure. The Jad are a proud people with a riven history. They were associated with the ancient Silk Road trade between India and Tibet, bartering grains, jaggery, and sugar for salt, borax, and wool from Tibet. The Jad language belongs to the Tibeto-Burman group of languages and Jad people are influenced by both Indian and Tibetan cultures. In 1962, at the time of war between India and China, the Jad people, whose villages were originally located close to India’s border with Tibet, were displaced and then resettled. The trade routes were closed and they had to find new means of living.
Narain Singh Negi, the elderly chief of Dunda village, carries the wounds of that displacement. “Our land was taken away and we were given these houses in compensation,” he says in Hindi, as he points at his surroundings. The houses in the village are draped with bright Buddhist prayer flags that flutter in the wind. Negi is disillusioned by the curiosity of anthropologists and linguists who record their culture and language and represent them to the world. He was even reluctant to go on record for this article. He fears the “othering” of his community. “They come here and try to separate us from the mainstream and that is not good for us,” he says.
Jad is an oral language, with little or no documentation. If there were any folk literature, storytelling, or history in the language, it is lost. To preserve it, a trilingual Jad-English-Hindi dictionary is being prepared, along with a grammar and ethno-linguistic report, by the Scheme for Protection and Preservation of Endangered Languages, an initiative by the Indian government.
“Jad can certainly be revitalized as there are enough speakers,” says Kavita Rastogi, a linguist from Lucknow University who is the principal investigator for the SPPEL. “The bigger battle is to convince the community to not abandon its mother tongue, and the people will not lose their social status if they speak a minority language.”
However, not all scholars agree that Jad can be saved. Suresh Mamgain is a professor of Hindi who has researched and published books on the Jad community and contributed the section on Jad in the PLSI. “They are not as isolated now as they were before,” he says in Hindi. “There is migration and globalization. I have observed that the community feels the need to assimilate in the mainstream and... that is the reason for the decline of language.”
After mapping India’s languages, Devy, whose spirit is unflagging at 67, has turned his attention to the world at large. His next project is the Global Language Status Report. The UNESCO states that nearly half of the over 6,000 languages spoken in the world may disappear by the end of this century. The GLSR proposes to cover the languages of Africa and South America, two regions where languages are fast disappearing without any trace, and where linguistic diversity has not been mapped. (Europe, Australia, and the United States are excluded, since their languages are well-charted.)
“I have been traveling to Africa for a year now and I am not deterred by the scope of mapping 54 countries,” Devy says. “The experience with PLSI was great fun, and I believe if people decide to do something, they actually can.”
For someone who has dedicated his life to searching for languages, it comes as a surprise to learn that Devy is not a trained linguist. Before he started the PLSI, he had worked closely with the tribal communities of India, documenting their languages and culture. Given his background, he perceives himself as a language activist and has a contrarian view on how to save endangered languages. Unlike some of his colleagues, Devy thinks that compiling dictionaries or teaching languages cannot stop them from dying. “Every language represents a unique worldview,” he says. “It takes great human labor for a language to evolve and when a language disappears, we will not be able to look at the world in the same way again.”
“I think creating livelihood for people in their language zones is the only solution,” he adds.
Devy’s perspective on saving languages by connecting them with people’s livelihood has strong resonance in Bagori village, a place that feels like the end of the earth. It is the last of the villages along the sharply ascending road that leads to Gangotri, the glacier which is the source of the river Ganga, the most holy of all rivers in Hinduism. This is where the Jad community migrates in May to spend the summer in ancient-looking houses, with intricate carvings in deodar, a Himalayan cedar tree. It is so high and cut off from nearby cities that only the elders of the village have migrated this year.
In Bagori, there is an acceptance among the senior members of the community that their way of life is disappearing. Given the remote nature of the village, and its lack of employment options, the elders have watched as younger generations shift away from Jad traditions, including the language itself.
Jeet Singh is nearly 90, one of the oldest people of the Jad tribe. His family is in the city, busy with jobs and education. He smokes a cigarette as he looks at the freshly fallen snow on the distant mountains. “We have lost so much as a community, our land and our homes,” he says in Hindi, with resignation. “Our survival has depended on learning other languages. If our language dies, we will not mourn, but adapt.”
The contagion of incivility: President Trump says undocumented immigrants want to “infest” the United States. His critics respond with vituperative words of their own. — Actual tweet from @nytpolitics, June 20th, 2018, 9:51 PM
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Trafficking in controversy: some are hailing China’s “Tank Man” as a hero. Rush hour commuters in Tiananmen may see his stunt a little differently. — @nytimestravel, June 5th, 1989, 3:13 PM
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This is how we get flotsam: King George insists on levying harsh taxes on his New World subjects. Some Bostonians respond by littering in the harbor. — @nytpolitics, December 17th, 1773, 10:29 AM
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They’re at it again: London bristles as yet more women join forces with Jack the Ripper to prolong historic killing spree. — @nytimes, August 31st, 1888, 7:49 AM
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Stuck in their corners: assertive colonists, resistant tribes struggle to find consensus on preferred existential status of American Indians. — @nytnational, March 19th, 1764, 9:42 PM
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The führer and the tattletale: Adolf Hitler’s aggression, Anne Frank’s leaks signal a troubling decline in European manners. — @nytimesworld, January 11th, 1945, 2:42 PM
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Decorum goes south: America is watching as segregationists and ‘Freedom Riders’ make their cases. The rudeness of their tactics—prolonged state-sanctioned racial violence and loitering, respectively—does neither side any favors. — @nytopinion, September 28th, 1961, 12:17 PM
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A crying shame: Tonya Harding acted inappropriately when she orchestrated the shattering of her opponent’s kneecap. Nancy Kerrigan reacted with some obnoxiously loud sobs. — @nytsports, January 7th, 1994, 9:38 AM
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Equally culpable: Cancer cells can attack the human body relentlessly, leading to the formation of dangerous tumors. Chemotherapy, too, causes a number of unpleasant side effects. — @nythealth, October 4th, 1999, 5:22 PM
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Presidential outburst sparks etiquette dispute: is it ever okay for an audience member to interrupt a live performance? — @nytimestheater, April 15th, 1865, 8:18 AM
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The blame game: Republican operatives should not have broken into DNC offices at the Watergate Hotel. But was the eminently bug-able Democratic Party asking for it? — @nytpolitics, June 22nd, 1972, 10:54 PM
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Not the ‘first’ lady: Melania Trump wore a jacket reading “I really don’t care, do u?” to a child detention center in Texas this week. But her predecessor, Michelle Obama, once wore an Old Navy cardigan while meeting with U.S. Marines. — @nytfashion, tomorrow
American Gateways. This is a group in Texas that operates a volunteer network. I don't know whether they're specifically looking for interpreters to deal with the current crisis.
Possible sources of interpreters.
Maya Interpreters is an interpretation service that specializes in Maya languages. I haven't contacted them and can't speak on their behalf, but it's possible that they'd be willing to provide some services pro bono, or alternatively, some of their interpreters might be willing to volunteer on their own time.
In 1868, just three years after the conclusion of the American Civil War, a barge set off from Brooklyn, New York. Loaded with equipment and supplies, it was bound, via New York’s extensive waterways, for the upstate town of Corning. Few could have predicted the way the vessel and its contents were about to change the world.
The barge’s mission was the relocation of the Brooklyn Flint Glass Company, which would soon be renamed Corning Glass Works. Corning was a transportation center for canal and railway networks that provided easy, relatively cheap access to the resources necessary for glass production. The Houghton family, which owned the company, had already forged a relationship with Elias B. Hungerford, a Corning businessman with a patent for glass window blinds, and so they decided to pack the company up and send it on a journey up the newly enlarged Erie Canal.
The move came at a fortuitous time: in the wake of the war, America was changing rapidly, and demand for glass was high. Among the trends driving this demand was a hunger for luxury goods, including elaborately detailed lead glass tableware known as brilliant cut glass. With Corning quickly establishing itself as an important center for glassmaking, the town, and its surrounding areas, began to attract an influx of skilled glass cutters and artisans from around the world. Before long, Corning Glass Works was no longer the only glass game in town. Dozens of glass cutting firms, including the famed T.G. Hawkes & Co., established themselves in the area, leading Corning to be dubbed “The Crystal City.”
While Corning was becoming famous for the detail and artistry of its decorative glass exports, the city’s glassmakers were also quietly driving much of the technology that would define the next century. Thomas Edison may have invented the lightbulb, but if not for the innovations happening in Corning, it may never have had a chance to take hold.
When Edison first commissioned Corning Glass to manufacture light bulbs, in the early 1880s, the means to produce them was limited. Skilled glassblowers had to make each one by hand, at a rate of only two per minute. It wasn’t until the 1921 invention of the Corning Ribbon Machine, by William J. Woods and David E. Gray, that this would change. In just a few years, the new machine was able to pump out 300 lightbulbs in the same amount of time it had previously taken to produce just two. Suddenly, light bulbs were cheap and accessible enough for widespread use. The world lit up.
This would prove to be only the beginning of the many technological advances coming out of Corning. Some of these technologies are now so woven into our everyday lives that it’s easy to forget how innovative they were in the first place. After all, who doesn’t have a Pyrex measuring cup, or a set of heat-resistant Pyrex dishes? In fact, the glass used in these dishes is a temperature-resistant borosilicate glass first developed in Corning for use in railroad lantern globes.
Other advances were more dramatic, if less culturally iconic. Glass techniques developed in Corning in the 1930s are still used to create the giant reflective lenses in telescopes that allow us to see into the far reaches of space. And without the fused silica used in fiber optic cables, the internet as we know it likely wouldn’t exist.
The story of Corning isn’t just a story about glass. It’s about the roiling cycle of progress, with small changes leading to big ones, all reliant on the confluence of artistry, craftsmanship, and scientific innovation. It’s about how elaborate, carefully crafted wine goblets led to mass-produced light bulbs, and how one city became the center of it all.
This summer, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the relocation of the Brooklyn Flint Glass Company—now known as Corning Incorporated—The Corning Museum of Glass will send GlassBarge on a four-month expedition via New York’s waterways. GlassBarge will offer glassblowing demonstrations daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., every hour on the hour. Visit www.cmog.org/glassbarge for schedule information and to register for free tickets.