[Foundation-l] Allow new wikis in extinct languages?

Leigh leigh.babbage at magd.ox.ac.uk
Sun Apr 6 17:15:58 UTC 2008

Jesse Martin (Pathoschild <pathoschild at ...> writes:

> Hello,
> The language subcommittee only allows languages that have a living
> native community (except Wikisource, due to its archivist nature).
> This is based on an interpretation of the Wikimedia Foundation mission 
> to "provide the sum of human knowledge to every human being". Thus,
> the overriding purpose of allowing a wiki in a new language is to make
> it accessible to more human beings. If a language has no native users,
> allowing a wiki in that language does not fit our mission because it
> does not make that project accessible to more human beings. Instead, a
> wiki in their native languages should be requested if it doesn't
> already exist.
> Typically, the users requesting a wiki in an extinct language don't
> want to provide educational material to more people at all, but only
> want to promote or revive the language. While these are noble goals,
> they are not those of the Wikimedia Foundation, so that a wiki should
> not be created simply to fulfill them.
> But that is my opinion. What do you think; should wikis be allowed in
> every extinct language?

Hi, sorry to but in late on. I am LeighvsOptimvsMaximvs and was one 
of the main advocates for the Ancient Greek wikipedia and contributed 
to the test project and interface translation. I have a few comments 
to add to this thread.

Firstly, I agree with some of the posters here that the mission of the
Foundation to "provide the sum of human knowledge to every human being" 
does fit with the creation of wikipedias in ancient languages. 
"Providing knowledge" is quite a broad concept; I think that creating a
wikipedia in a language that is widely studied, that does not have a modern
encyclopaedia, but that can be used to make one, does aid the provision of
knowledge to some human beings. In any case, even if it only help to provide
knowledge of the language itself, it surely does more to help with the aims of
the project than to hinder them.

Secondly, it does not follow that if we take the mission statement
to mean that a new project should only be allowed if it makes the project
accessible to more human beings we should ask whether there are any
first-language speakers; instead we should ask whether there is 
anyone who can only understand that language: there are many living
languages whose speakers are all able to read in another language. 
It may be true that everyone who can speak an ancient language can
 understand another language, but if we take that to mean that an 
Ancient Greek wikipedia does not fit with the project's aims then 
one could also argue that most of the wikipedias are unnecessary. 
If we had always forbade languages whose speakers can all speak 
another language we might not have any Celtic language wikipedias, 
we certainly would not have any of the wikipedias in dialects of 
Dutch or German whose speakers can all understand the standard
written dialect and we might even have only one wikipedia in a 
Scandinavian language. If you would reject the argument that we 
should not have a Gaelic language wikipedia because all the speakers 
of that language understand written English and that such a project 
would only serve to promote the language, then you should think 
carefully about whether we should reject Greek wikipedia on those grounds.
Obviously here is a difference insofar as the languages I have mentioned 
do have native speakers, but the mission statement does not have
anything to do with native speakers: whether a language is someone's 
first, second or third is irrelevant when we are talking only about 
imparting knowledge (one could say that standard written English is 
just a learned dialect for most English speakers).

Thirdly, wikipedias can still be created in artificial languages. 
All of the above arguments apply here, and I really can not see 
why a wikipedia in an artificial language which is not used by anyone 
as a native language and whose speakers all speak another language 
is deemed to fit with the goals of the Foundation, but a wikipedia 
in an ancient language which is still used often by thousands 
of people but which is not used by anyone as a native language and whose
speakers all speak another language is deemed to not fit with them.

If the mission statement had been to "do what is absolutely necessary 
to provide the sum of human knowledge to every human being and 
nothing else" then we would have to forbid languagres with no 
native speakers (I refuse to call Ancient Greek dead: it is just 
in a persistent vegetative state. Latin" just smells funny" ;)). 
But it doesn't so we don't. 

On another point, a few people have stated that some ancient languages 
can not be used to write about the modern world. This might only have 
been an argument against the wikipedias in certain ancient languages 
such as Akkadian and Egyptian, but I would still like to show that 
one can not say this about Ancient Greek. Because there is a great 
deal of literature written in ancient Greek about science, mathematics 
and philosophy, because Ancient Greek can, did and still does create 
new compound words and because Ancient Greek authors were able to use
understandable circumlocutions when writing about things alien to their
society,  Greek would probably better than any other ancient language 
for writing an encyclopaedia. I do no foresee any major problems 
writing about telephones and triskaidekaphobia. If Vicipaedia can 
cope with the modern world, Οὐκιπαιδεια will be able to as well. 
In fact there is evidence of Ancient Greek being used to write 
about the modern world: look at the Greek Harry Potter and the 
"Akropolis world news" website which discusses nuclear weapons 
and football; at my university it is not unusual for examiners to 
set prose composition exams to second year undergraduates which 
require us to write about the modern world, so it is not something 
which only professions can do.

Now, I appreciate that some members of the language subcommittee 
are reluctant to allow the creation of language which do not have 
a valid ISO-639 code lest people take advantage of the precedent 
that would be set, but I think that there should be some flexibility, 
especially as the request was made before this rule was introduced. 
The fact that rules are applied retrospectively seems very unfair. 
We could prevent people from citing precedent by pointing out that, 
if a Greek wikipedia (which was conditionally approved) were finally 
approved, it would have been approved according to the rules as they 
were when the request was made. The new rules would only apply to 
projects proposed after they were made.

Thank you, 


More information about the foundation-l mailing list