Futuribles Journal n° 329

Recherche, sciences, techniques - Société, modes de vie

Linguistic Diversity on the Internet


The dream of making the Internet a unique space where everyone in the world can communicate on equal terms has been slow in coming true because there are many obstacles preventing some countries and their residents from benefiting from the resources offered by the Web (as Kamel Touati argues elsewhere in this issue). This can be seen, too, in the range of languages used on the Internet, which indeed appears to reflect certain geopolitical situations.
As Anne de Beer and Gérard Blanc explain here, so far the Internet seems to have reinforced the dominance of certain of the most widely spoken languages, especially English. About 72% of the websites in 2002 were in English although that was the language of only a third of the Web users.
A factor contributing to this situation has been the ASCII protocol, which was designed for English and makes it hard to use some other languages, in particular Arabic and Asian languages.
The results are less dramatic when one looks at the languages used by people to communicate with each other via the Web: they then prefer to use their mother tongue. Moreover, the recent rise of the blog, reflecting a desire to reach a smaller audience closer to the writer, could allow an increase in the range of languages used on the Internet, in particular French.

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