The Linguasphere Register

of the world’s languages and speech communities

Friday, october 14th, 2011

The linguasphere, a planetary cognitive system

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

David Dalby conference at the Gallilée Institute (University of Paris XIII - Villetaneuse), Friday, October 14th, 2011.

The linguasphere is the continuous system of human languages, extended around Earth over at least 500 centuries by communities of Homo sapiens loquens – or rather Persona loquens, “speaking person”.

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David Dalby - Institut Galilée - Villetaneuse 14/10/2011
Click to see the video

The internal diversity of the linguasphere, within a fundamental planetary unity, has provided the dynamic plurilingual framework necessary for the collective progress of human reflection, communication & creativity. Having now become orbital, the linguasphere may be observed and studied as the most fundamental, cumulative & collective of all human creations.

The planetary continuity of the linguasphere had been obscured by its geographic fragmentation. Thanks to its present “orbitalisation”, we at last have the opportunity & the means to reach a better understanding of its evolution and of its potential for the future.

Earth, the only life‑supporting planet in the observable universe, has in fact evolved us as its own “caretaker species”, equipped with our own peripheral sensory & cognitive system covering the Earth’s surface & beyond.

There is now need for a transnational & interdisciplinary research programme for “Modelling the Linguasphere”. This will need to begin with a reconstruction of the following three stages in the history of the linguasphere, measured against human demographic & cultural evolution.

1. The “launch” of the linguasphere

is evidenced by the rapid advance of human creativity during the Upper Paleolithic era. The ludic expansion of pre-existing language skills by juvenile homo sapiens may have led to a mental “take-off” point, at which the assembled lexical, phonological & grammatical components required for articulate speech would have reached the necessary critical mass.

Such auto-generated linguistic “software” would have enabled small communities to make full use of the cerebral, vocal & manual “hardware” which evolution had brought together in their genes. Those communities of the new Persona loquens recorded clear artistic evidence for us, below the Earth’s surface, that our own species of social animal had broken through a barrier of personal & collective consciousness.

As the linguasphere advanced across Africa & Eurasia, & around the world, only communities which could make full use of articulate speech could compete & survive. As a result, the unique human species of Persona loquens became physically more uniform. The essential benefits of diversity were transferred to languages themselves, as the linguasphere took shape around the planet as a kaleidoscopic system of continually diverging sub-systems or “community languages”.

2. The acceleration stage of the linguasphere

The subsequent “acceleration stage” of the linguasphere was powered by the plurilingual spread of writing over the last 50 centuries, including printing in an increasing number of languages over the last 500 years.

But the dark side of the human mind led also to the early realisation that the unequal distribution of the benefits of writing would be a source of power & barbarity, often manipulated through so-called “collective memory”- hence the power of individuals over their own community, of one community over others, or of men to the disadvantage of women.

Hence the paradox that that the written linguasphere opens global pathways to personal freedom, while also maintaining prisons of the mind. An important part of humankind is still fettered by chains of words forged by their ancestors, or is trapped outside the closed doors of the written word.

Hence the paradox that that the written linguasphere opens global pathways to personal freedom, while also maintaining prisons of the mind. An important part of humankind is still fettered by chains of words forged by their ancestors, or is trapped outside the closed doors of the written word.

3. The orbital stage of the linguasphere

The latest “orbital stage” of the linguasphere has been powered by the exponential global spread of electronic communications. This "giant leap” of human endeavour, putting the linguasphere into orbit, gives humankind the chance of becoming a planetary organism (following the long established success of a more modest global species, the Arctic tern).

To its primary role as a cerebral & communicational “tool-kit”, these second & third stages of the linguasphere have added its role as a plurilingual “permanent memory” for the storage & diffusion of cumulative knowledge, the common heritage of every person

The Observatoire linguistique, which launched the term “linguasphere” in the 1990’s , invites interdisciplinary collaboration in creating a diachronic model of the linguasphere, from its origins to the near future. Strategic planning will be needed to ensure that the planet may benefit from the advantages of human unity without losing those of human diversity.

Putting the linguasphere into orbit has been a giant leap towards evolving a peripheral sensory & cognitive system around “pluriplanet” Earth.

See online : See the video



Creation of the orbital system of online plurilingual knowledge


GOOGLE search engine becomes the first to achieve a one billion URL-index, as it extends its open service beyond English to ten other European languages (French, German, Italian, Swedish, Finnish, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Norwegian & Danish) & to three Asian languages (Chinese Mandarin, both traditional & simplified, Japanese & Korean).

HUMAN GENOME PROJECT releases online its first draft of the human genome (DNA)


WIKIPEDIA releases its first non-English versions in four European languages (French, German, Catalan, Swedish)

THE INTERNET ARCHIVE is publicly opened with a plurilingual collection of 10 billion pages, including archived copies of the Internet & digital copies of out-of-copyright books & unpublished manuscripts


GOOGLE NEWS is opened as free online news service, with items collected automatically by topic from all freely available online sources; subsequently expanded from English to services also in German, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Polish, Czech, Russian, Hungarian, Greek, Turkish, Arabic, Hebrew, Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Chinese, Japanese, Korean ...


HUMAN GENOME PROJECT (since 1990) is completed with publication of its complete draft of the human genome (DNA)

SKYPE launches video-telephony, video-conferencing & video-teaching (including language-learning) via the Internet


WIKIPEDIA reaches over 500,000 articles in over 100 languages (plus almost 500,000 in English)

GOOGLE BOOKS LIBRARY PROJECT is launched for the scanning & uploading to Internet of out-of-copyright books in all languages, beginning in collaboration with major libraries in the US & UK & subsequently extended to Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Japan, India ...


GOOGLE EARTH is launched as a freely available virtual globe, alongside Google Maps (including printed & satellite components), supplemented from 2007 by Google Street View

YOUTUBE launches free service for sharing videos via the Internet


WIKIPEDIA reaches over 5 million articles in over 250 languages (plus approx. 2 Engl)

YAHOO!/FLICKR launches a non-English interface for its image-hosting service in seven European & Asian languages=French, German, Korean, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese


GOOGLE/YOUTUBE introduces automatic translation of subtitles


INTERNET reaches estimated 1,8 billion voices (26.6% of world population), compared with 0.25 billion in 2000 (4.1%)

FACEBOOK reaches 150 million voices in more than 35 languages

GOOGLE TRANSLATOR INTERFACE (gTrans 2009) supports translations in any combination of 34 languages

GOOGLE EARTH (version 5) available in 33 languages, including dual forms of Chinese, English, Portuguese & Spanish.

TWITTER translation application reaches 40 languages

YAHOO!/FLICKR hosts over 4 billion images, including Liet International (promoting new songs in minority languages)

WIKTIONARIES include versions begun in over 170 languages, compared with three in 2005

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