The Tower of Babel

Evolution of Human Language Project
The Tower of Babel
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In memoriam:
S. Starostin

Artem Kozmin
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Short Introduction

The Tower of Babel (ToB) is an international, Web-based project on historical and comparative linguistics - so far, the biggest and most comprehensive of its kind to be found on the Internet.

ToB began life in 1998 as the personal homepage of Sergei Anatolyevich Starostin (1953-2005), who, until his untimely demise on 09.30.2005, had been Russia's leading specialist in diachronical studies and unofficial head of the so-called "Moscow school of comparative linguistics". [A special section dedicated to his memory is now a part of the site].

Today, a decade since its humble origins, ToB has turned into a massive resource, containing huge amounts of information on almost all of Eurasia's language families and slowly starting to venture beyond the relatively well researched linguistic groups into other parts of the world. Not only that, but ToB attempts to present the existing historical links between all of these groups, trying to look less like a jumbled mess of incoherent data and more like a scientifically organized, hierarchical structure; less like merely an encyclopaedia of knowledge and more like a viable tool for further research in the prehistory of mankind.

The database site which you are hopefully going to visit was developed by S. A. Starostin and by Yu. Bronnikov. Technical details: the core of the program is S. A. Starostin's own database system written in Clipper and C and supporting a number of database formats (dBase, Clipper, FoxPro), as well as a specific internal file format. The system (STARLING) is also available for Windows and DOS and includes many more capabilities not present in the Internet version. The Web part is a CGI system written in TCL by Yu. Bronnikov: it accepts queries, processes the answers and handles the whole interface. The font (TIMESTAR.TTF) was designed by S. Bolotov. The Web design was done by Artem Kozmin and Anatoli Starostin. The system development was assisted by a grant from the Russian State University of the Humanities, as well as by a Soros Foundation grant, project PCD874. The original databases were created with financial assistance of the Russian Foundation of Basic Research, project 99-06-80474. Currently the work is being done in cooperation with the Santa Fe Institute as part of the "Evolution of Human Language" (EHL) project.

From S. Starostin's original introduction: "Internet publishing is special. On one hand, you do not need to go through the usual tortures of paper publishing, and you can easily show everything you have to everyone else. On the other hand, this results in a lot of really raw working materials going public. I do ask the readers to be condescendent, and accept the proposed databases for what they are: a collection of etymologies open to discussion and corrections. All valuable additions and notes will be placed on the Web." Please send your comments to the address: