To this end, we are using the legal provisions of Creative Commons by-sa licensing, allowing derivative works (i.e. translations) as long as the book and the authors of the articles are attributed, and these translations are published under the same conditions. We deeply thank Evgeny Kuzmin, Daniel Prado who is already preparing a Russian edition, even before the original version appears. We hope that others, either privately or on behalf of institutions, will take up the same work for other languages. The website set up in conjunction with the release of Net.lang (http://net-lang.net) allows for the translation and publication of each article separately, a structure that facilitates organization and collaboration to obtain a full translation, which can then be transformed into a book, either digital or printed, in the relevant language and country.
Perhaps even now, you are reading the story of this project in Castilian, Chinese, or Malay, and we would be delighted to find it in Wolof, Quechua or Tagalog. Anyway, we hope this is the case, and we have taken legal and technical precautions to make that possible, based on the initiative of readers wishing to make the work gathered here available to those around them in their own language.
Once it is translated into multiple languages, we hope above all that Net.lang will become a tool that can assist and support all those responsible for language planning policies who are eager to provide their language with the needed tools to be fully present in the digital world.
We hope the seeds sown by this book will bear the fruit of a multilingual cyberspace that is open to all languages, all peoples, and all the knowledge of the world.
Daniel Prado Daniel Prado WHEN TECHNOLOGY MEETS MULTILINGUALISM PART Human societies are rich in their linguistic diversity. What does this mean for cyberspace What language(s) are current and enrich cyberspace What endangered languages may find a refuge, or a second life there How can 6000 languages and as many human cultures find their place in this cultural space open to the winds Can you imagine a digital world dominated by only a few languages DANIEL PRADO LANGUAGE PRESENCE IN THE REAL WORLD AND CYBERSPACE Barely 5 % of the world’s languages have a presence in cyberspace, and among those few, there are still considerable differences. Only a tiny handful of privileged languages offers a genuine production of content. This article attempts to compare the actual weight of a language (demography, economy, vitality, officialdom, literature, translation, etc.) and presence (or ability to be present for those still missing) on the internet.
Original article in French.
Translated by Laura Kraftowitz.
DANIEL PRADO is the former head of the linguistic unit of Union latine, an intergovernmental organization composed of 35 states whose mission is to disseminate and promote the Latin languages and cultures. He is the current Executive Secretary of Maaya, World Network for Linguistic Diversity.
xisting sources agree that linguistic diversity is vanishing. According to Unesco, nearly half the world’s languages could disappear by the Eend of the century [LANGUES 2006]. Claude Hagge [HAGGE 2000] estimates that at current rates, one language disappears on average every two weeks, while Louis-Jean Calvet [CALVET 2002] believes the extinction to be a bit more gradual, at about ten per year. Is this process inevitable Speaker Population The crux of language disappearance lies in a decrease in speaker numbers.
Therein lies the significance of the figure 50 % – the portion of the world’s languages spoken by fewer than 10,000 individuals [CRYSTAL 2002]. Of course, this reduction is not in the hands of destiny alone. Dead and dying languages occasionally experience renewed vitality, as with Hebrew, which is today an official language after being considered dead for centuries ;
and Ainu, which is now being taught after counting “no more than eight speakers on Hokkaido Island in the late 1980s” [DIVERSIT LINGUISTIQUE 2005].
Political Will The political will of a language’s speakers, or at least of its representatives, can bring a vitality to a language that endogenous or exogenous factors have reduced for some time (some examples are Hebrew, Ainu, Catalan, Basque, and French in Quebec). The languages that have been able to recover a place in society and evolve both quantitatively and qualitatively are above all those with institutional support (public or private).
But fewer than 3 % of languages are publicly protected ; while barely a hundred enjoy official status (de facto or de jure) in a country or region Daniel Prado [LECLERC 2011]. The chances of survival for lesser-used languages with no such protection is alarming.
Socioeconomic Factors Let’s not forget that the planet’s linguistic diversity is far from homogenous. The world’s 74 top languages are spoken by 94 % of its population [LECLERC 2010], while 70 % of languages are concentrated into twenty countries [EDUCATION 2003], most of which are among the most poor and therefore the least able to support linguistic diversity projects. The Globalization Group (2010) suggests that 90 % of total international gdp is produced by the speakers of only 14 languages 1.
Of course, these statistics somewhat reductively take into account only the official languages of the states surveyed. While their authors accordingly adopt a cautious stance in their statistical interpretation, the numbers nevertheless underline the extreme poverty of reliable indicators for measuring linguistic diversity – a phenomenon we will further explore in our discussion of internet user statistics.
Written Language, Oral Language At a time when one of the Millennium Development Goals is the eradication of illiteracy [OBJECTIVES 2005], and in a contemporary society dominated by writing, we must urgently address the child and adult education for those who speak so-called “oral” languages. While most teaching materials are based on the written word, between 90 and 95 % of the world’s languages have no alphabet.
Globalisation, Urbanization and the Knowledge Society The phenomenon of language extinction, brought on by various factors in the recent and distant past (including colonization, genocide, epidemics, war, displacement, and language bans) is now being amplified by a globalisation process evolving on multiple levels (economic, technological, 1 That is, English, Chinese, Japanese, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, Arabic, Dutch, Korean, Turkish and Polish.
Daniel Prado social and political) alongside urbanization. The crucial role played by communications in linguistic power relations means an increasing extinction rate in the information age, as the ict industry promotes the better equipped or more “prestigious” languages to the detriment of others.
According to Carlos Leaez, “[T]he less a language has value [in the eyes of its speakers], the less it is used, and the more it loses value” [LEEZ 2005]. It is use in professional, administrative, educational and legal contexts that allows a language to persevere, because speakers who switch languages depending on context will gradually lean toward the language that allows them the widest range of expression. However, the vast majority of languages are used solely in emotional and local contexts.
In our knowledge society, language loses value for its speakers if they can’t use it to acquire knowledge. Differently said, if a language is absent from cyberspace, its speakers are likely to turn to the use of other languages.
Languages on the Web Despite a significant increase in online multilingualism since the 90s, only a handful of languages 2 maintain a significant online presence. English certainly remains the most commonly used, although its relative presence has decreased from 75 % in 1998 to 45 % in 2007 [UNION LATINA - FUNREDES 2007], and according to various crossover studies (because as we mentioned, we have no reliable indicators), to almost 30 % today. Note that we are referring here to quantity of content, not of internet users.
Online Language Deficit :
The case of African languages While the few major languages of communication enjoy a decent web presence, the presence of the majority is highly symbolic, with only a few pages dedicated to them. A 2003 study by Marcel Diki-Kidiri showed that in a sample of 1,374 African sites, only 3.22 % used an African language 2 Sources vary : the Unesco B@bel Initiative brochure estimates up to 10 % of languages ;
however, just over a hundred languages seem to constitute commonly accepted media of communication.
3 Or should we say “English and Globish”, as the latter is increasingly identified as a variant in its own right Daniel Prado as the language of communication [DIKI-KIDIRI 2003]. The Language Observatory Project [LOP 2011] announced in 2009 a decline of autochthonous languages in the continent after a brief recovery period that lasted until 2005. The reason for this is clear : while Africa is considered, along with Asia, one of the two continents with the highest linguistic diversity (around 2,100 languages according to the website Ethnologue, 2011), Africa also has a long history of seeing colonial languages establish themselves as the lingua franca, and is only now returning to its original languages as media of expression in educational and professional contexts.
Additionally, very few African languages have a graphic system and so cannot be represented online except on a multimedia platform, a subject to be further explored later.
Search Engines, Social Networks As of March 2011, Google, the most widely used search engine, and the most sophisticated in terms of linguistic tools, offered language recognition in fifty languages. While Icelandic, with 240,000 speakers, has long been recognized, other languages with between 10 and 200 million speakers (including Bengali, Javanese, Tamil, Malay, Hausa, Yoruba, Fulani, and Quechua) remain excluded. The famous engine that recognizes thirty European languages recognizes only one African language and no indigenous American or Pacific languages.
Yahoo!, for its part, does no better, with just under forty languages recognized, of which eight are Asian and none are African, indigenous American, or Oceanic.
Few tools on the internet are as linguistically rich as Wikipedia, which counts almost 19 million entries in nearly 300 languages. Despite population outreach attempts by Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other widely used internet services, through localized language versions, automatic translation services or subtitling, these companies remain far from meeting the needs of users of more than fifty languages.
4 Note that our use of the term “recognition” refers to an engine’s ability to search for a language and produce results. Google offers interfaces in 150 languages, but this is distinct from saying the engine recognizes all of them.
Daniel Prado Machine Translation Many analysts, including Graddol [GRADDOL 2007], see machine translation as a panacea with the potential to evade the need for a lingua franca by allowing all to speak their own language.
Keep this in mind : only sixty languages have access to such systems.
Additionally, most systems encourage pairing the speaker’s native language with English, or translating between a dozen major languages (French, Chinese, Spanish, German, Japanese, Russian, etc.). All other language coupling systems either have rudimentary technology or use English as a pivot language. In all, only 1 % of the world’s languages have an automated translation system at their disposal 5. Therefore, it seems that the linguas francas have some good times ahead [PRADO 2010], while a Bengali speaker who wants to communicate with a Yoruba or Quechua speaker will have to continue relying on an intermediary language.
The bottom line is that the most effective translation systems are those with a sufficient bilingual corpus (including “statistical” systems like Google Translate). The corresponding reality, if we are to believe the Unesco Index Translationum, is that only around fifty languages possess a sufficient number of translated texts 6.
Languages of the Connected Low productivity is a key risk faced by languages in cyberspace. It causes their speakers turn to better equipped languages, triggering a negative feedback loop : less productivity, less audience ; less audience, less productivity.
Studies on the major international languages of communication indicate first and foremost that a language’s online productivity is linked to its number of internet users and their level of computer literacy [PIMIENTA 2007]. But we cannot be as sure about the factors determining the productivity of lesser-used languages, and there are very strong reasons to even doubt about it.
5 See in this book : Joseph Mariani, How Language Technologies Support Multilingualism.
6 To see statistics of languages toward which are most often translated, see the Unesco Index Translationum : http://databases.unesco.org/xtrans/stat/ xTransStat.a VL1=L&top=50&lg=1.
Daniel Prado Indeed, most statistics concerning online language use take into account only a few dozen languages [INTERNET WORLD STATS 2011] – a number close to Google’s – and never include those of African, American and Oceanic origin. The number of users/speakers of other languages is so insignificant that they are not even listed, a circumstance that makes it challenging to establish reliable rates of productivity.
However, our reservations concerning Internet World Stats numbers on internet users by language aside (ibid.) 7, the service nevertheless permits us to grasp the evolution over time of internet penetration by geolinguistic area. In March 2011, the speakers of the following ten languages, in order of most likely to use the internet, were : English, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, German, Arabic, French, Russian and Korean. It is interesting to note the progress of the Spanish (fourth in 2006, third in 2011), Portuguese (eighth in 2006, fifth in 2011), Arabic (absent in 2006, seventh in 2011), Russian (from tenth place to ninth) and especially Chinese, which is the main cause of the reduction in percentage Englishspeaking users from 30 % in 2006 to 25 % in 2011.
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