This is the Rosetta Disk. If you want to know more about, head on over to that link. Here's what the website says:

The Disk surface shown here, meant to be a guide to the contents, is etched with a central image of the earth and a message written in eight major world languages: “Languages of the World: This is an archive of over 1,500 human languages assembled in the year 02008 C.E. Magnify 1,000 times to find over 13,000 pages of language documentation.” The text begins at eye-readable scale and spirals down to nano-scale. This tapered ring of languages is intended to maximize the number of people that will be able to read something immediately upon picking up the Disk, as well as implying the directions for using it—‘get a magnifier and there is more.’

On the reverse side of the disk from the globe graphic are over 13,000 microetched pages of language documentation. Since each page is a physical rather than digital image, there is no platform or format dependency. Reading the Disk requires only optical magnification. Each page is .019 inches, or half a millimeter, across. This is about equal in width to 5 human hairs, and can be read with a 650X microscope (individual pages are clearly visible with 100X magnification).

The 13,000 pages in the collection contain documentation on over 1500 languages gathered from archives around the world. For each language we have several categories of data—descriptions of the speech community, maps of their location(s), and information on writing systems and literacy. We also collect grammatical information including descriptions of the sounds of the language, how words and larger linguistic structures like sentences are formed, a basic vocabulary list (known as a “Swadesh List”), and whenever possible, texts. Many of our texts are transcribed oral narratives. Others are translations such as the beginning chapters of the Book of Genesis or the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

Pretty cool. If civilization was potentially wiped out (somehow), except for a handful of diverse survivors around the world, could the disk be used to rediscover these lost languages? For the sake of the situation, let's say this occurs in the year 4016 CE. People speak mutated forms of their original language, but over 200 years of mutation causes these people to not be able to understand the original language. For example, a Portuguese survivor lives in Lisbon. He and a few other Portuguese survivors repopulate the area, but their version of Portuguese cannot be understand by today's Portuguese speakers. They are similar, but not enough to be understood. One catch: all post-apocalyptic English speakers speak perfect English - the English we all speak today.

Assume this situation has repopulated most of the Earth and has become a globalized, modern civilization (just like ours today). They have computers, microscopes (which are necessary to read the disk), and basically everything else we have today. Suddenly, an English archaeologist finds the disk in a 200-foot underground concrete bunker hidden in a triple-padlocked steel chest. The disk is brand new, so English governments try to rediscover the lost languages (like the old version of Portuguese). We were able to decode the Egyptian language in the original Rosetta Stone, but can we do it here?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If it's anything like a CD, that thing will be scratched beyond all recognition. It had better be made of something sturdy, and stored in something sturdy on the outside and soft on the inside. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 2:20
  • $\begingroup$ Well, there is a bulletproof extremely durable case that comes with it. Not to mention the fact that it has been stored underground for 2 centuries. $\endgroup$
    – fi12
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 2:21
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, that's much better. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 2:22
  • $\begingroup$ Look up the link. It is durable, and stored in a protective case. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 3:29
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    $\begingroup$ Why would the survivors 2000 years from now speak English as we do today? English is changing even now! $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 3:31

2 Answers 2


Yes, Easily (Partially)

You said that the English language has not changed, or at least there has been minimal change. If this is true, then it would be extremely easy, so long as the same message is repeated in an understandable manner. If we have the right tools, and know what to do, piece of cake. The disk was literally designed for this.



The entire language would most likely not be recovered, unless it is found elsewhere. If there is other material with information about the language, it would likely be translated. However, for the most part, only what is on the disk will be recovered.

  • $\begingroup$ Sure, the words used in these text samples could be rediscovered but what about the words not in these paragraphs? Could the entire language be reconstructed? $\endgroup$
    – fi12
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 2:37
  • $\begingroup$ People might be able to deduce words from their roots/prefixes/suffixes, but if the actual language is not recovered, and the disk is the only record left, then no. The entire languages would not be recovered. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 3:10

It may be possible to recover languages from the past, and read the disk, but it will take an already established civilization to do so.

Consider that it wasn't until the 18th century that the relationship between many languages was recognized, leading to the Proto Indo European Language family being mapped out. Today, we have reconstructed the original P.I.E. language, which was spoken in @ 3500 BC.

So if civilization has been reduced to farmers scratching out their basic needs, then no one will have the time or resources to study the disc and work out the language changes from whatever is being spoken in the "present" to the past language. If there is enough civilization for scholarly activity, then some future Sir William Jones will be able to study the disc and recognize the relationships between the current versions of Portuguese or whatever to the writing on the disc.

The longer the time between the development of the new civilization and the creation of the disc, the greater the divergence of languages, and the more difficult this will become.


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