The Spirit of a Language is Preserved by its Speakers

About the Project

This project aims to deliver a visual interpretation of endangered languages within the UK, through the rendering of the spoken word into an engaging and tangible optical display. By drawing conceptual inspiration from the field of Aura photography, combined with the study of Cymatics, the project endeavours to materialise the ‘spirit’ of the language and highlight the fragility of its survival. Within the next 80 years it is expected that at least 50% of the languages currently spoken globally will be extinct. (Townsend, 2018) Spoken language is intrinsically invisible, lacking a clear place in many people's consciousness means its disappearance is less noticeable and therefore unknowingly accepted, it is hoped that developing a visual countenance for these languages' aids in preservation. Testimony to the inventiveness of human communication, their value is widely accepted, “When languages fade, so does the world’s rich tapestry of cultural diversity. Opportunities, traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking and expression” (Harrison, 2007)

The physical output of the project aspires to convey a metaphysical portrayal of the language; however, the means of creation evolved from a more scientific premise, influenced from by the study of Cymatics and Alexander Lauterwasser’s images of sound waves derived from music as pictured in ‘Water Sound Images’ (Lauterwasser, 2007). In addition to these, a more personal memory of staring into the dark water of a lake, and observing my reflection as ripples passed over it, contributed in the design and production of the apparatus used. To establish consistency, the audio applied to create the final video for each language is a translation of the same phrase, “The spirit of a language is preserved by its speakers”. A modified liquid is used as the conductor of the sound waves and as a means to reflect the portrait of the speaker, initially as a still vignette. As the words of the phrase are spoken, a unique set of ripples and waves flow throughout, contouring over the portrait, until the phrase is complete and the solution settles once again back to its static form. Observing the image of the speaker physically manipulated by the acoustic waves of their own language, this performance provides the viewer a visual and auditory experience.

The finished installation consists not only of the video for each language, but also a short textual interview with the orator, and a recording of a poem or well-known text. These both support the video, providing context and insight into the personal connection these languages have with the people that speak them. Currently, all content is displayed via a set of webpages, the multimedia nature means it is well suited to this platform, however a physical instance is to include large touch screens for each video, with the interview mounted besides, and headphones for listening to the reading.

Using Format