Rosetta Stone acquires the rights to endangered languages

Tim Thornes tthornes at
Fri Jan 21 14:14:57 UTC 2011

I would agree with this sentiment as well as with the inherent potential of a company like this to really screw up relationships with members of an endangered language community.  I mean, if Rosetta Stone as the "worldwide leader in language learning worldwide (sic)" ( can't help us, why would I think some nerdy academic with a microphone and a laptop could?  
As one such, I am as capable as any big company of damaging relationships with community members, and I ought to know better.  Is there any expectation that RS does?

Tim Thornes, PhD
Assistant Professor of Linguistics
Department of Writing
University of Central Arkansas
201 Donaghey Avenue
Conway, Arkansas  72035
tthornes at

>>> John Du Bois  01/20/11 7:48 PM >>>
I agree with Tom's assessment. One should not underestimate the damage 
that a company with Rosetta Stone's tendencies to mislead could do in an 
endangered language community.

For example, they could insert a legal clause binding speakers that work 
with them to work with nobody else in the future. If that's the last 
speaker of the language, that's the end of the language, as far as 
indigenous language revitalization efforts, language documentation, and 
linguistic fieldwork go. Even if Rosetta Stone doesn't use this specific 
legal tactic, if speakers end up feeling abused by them for whatever 
reason, they may feel leery about working with anyone else on their 
language. When there are few speakers in an endangered language 
community, this can have a big negative impact.

It may be worthwhile for some people involved in work with endangered 
language communities to monitor Rosetta Stone's actions closely, and to 
work with representatives of those communities to devise strategies for 
mitigating any negative  effects.

Jack Du Bois

On 1/20/2011 10:16 AM, Tom Givon wrote:
> Rosetta Stone is a f---ing fraud. I certainly won't recommend to my 
> Ute friends that they do anything with them--if they asked me. 
> However, preying on innocent customers is RS's specialty, and the 
> Natives are just as gullible as the rest of us, an in many way more 
> vulnerable. I hope they don't create more damage than history already 
> has.  TG
> ==============
> On 1/20/2011 9:50 AM, Keith Johnson wrote:
>> Hi Funksters,
>> My subject heading is intentionally provocative, but this article 
>> raises a couple of
>> issues.  Is it a good thing for Rosetta Stone to have an endangered 
>> languages
>> unit?
>> Keith Johnson


John W. Du Bois, Professor
Department of Linguistics
3607 South Hall
University of California, Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, California 93106-3100

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