The non-binding un Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights, and other Unesco legal instruments like the Unesco Declaration on Cultural Diversity, are also relevant here, along with the Draft Recommendation on the Promotion and Use of Multilingualism and Universal Access to Cyberspace (2001), which for the first time promoted language preservation and diversity through access to electronic services and resources.
Since 1950, the rights of regional and minority language groups have been addressed at the European level. The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms was followed by other multilateral treaties, conventions, and a consistent corpus of soft law comparable to the one codified by the un, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (2000), the European Charter Isabella Pierangeli Borletti for Regional of Minority Languages (1992), and the above cited Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (1994).
The eu’s ratification of the Unesco Convention on Cultural Diversity (2001) provides an eloquent response to critics who allege that the eu wishes to erase national or regional characteristics to impose uniformity.
Language diversity lies at the heart of the eu.
Promotion and Protection of Linguistic Diversity at the National Level At the national level, linguistic diversity is increasingly considered a protected human right. To better understand the opportunities and challenges of multilingualism in a multicultural society, South Africa provides a fascinating example. Its 1996 post-Apartheid constitution is probably more generous to multilingualism than any other constitution in the world, granting official status to the country’s eleven indigenous languages 29. Article 6 states that :
4. The national government and provincial governments by legislative and other measures, must regulate and monitor their use of official languages. Without detracting from the provisions of subsection (2), all official languages must enjoy parity of esteem and must be treated equitably. 5. A Pan South African Language Board established by national legislation must : (a) promote and create conditions for the development and use of (I) official languages ; (II) the Khoi, Nama and San languages ; ands (III) sign language ; and (b) promote and ensure respect for (I) all languages commonly used.
Other measures adopted by different countries include the following :
Under Austria’s Ethnic Groups Act, the federal administration is obligated to promote measures that ensure linguistic minorities’ identities.
In the Philippines, the Office of the Northern Cultural Communities and Office of the Southern Cultural Communities have been created to promote and protect the rights of persons belonging to linguistic and 29 During Apartheid (1948–1994), English and Afrikaans were the only officially recognized languages despite the country’s wide variety of other spoken/studied languages. The myth of South Africa as a bilingual English-Afrikaans country persisted for years.
Isabella Pierangeli Borletti other minorities. Similar entities exist in many countries, including Russia, Canada, Australia, China, and India.
India’s constitution includes broad recognition of minority rights to preserve their language, script and culture (Article 29), the right to establish and administer educational institutions in the language of their choice (Article 30), and the right for a minority language to be officially recognised and used by public authorities wherever the minority represents a substantial proportion of the population (Article 347).
Hungary’s constitution contains a number of provisions to guarantee minority rights. The Law of July 7, 1993, includes respect for the human rights of members of minorities.
Elsewhere in the eu, the neighbouring Italy and France are examples of two opposite, or at least substantially different policies concerning minority languages protection. Italy is much more committed to safeguarding multilingualism ; France, has a more advance position on online multilingualism that aims to defend “francophonie”, but does not give legal status to minority languages, which it considers langues rgionales.
In France several legislative provisions and regulations define the role of language for culture, education and the media : the Deixonne Law of 1951, the Haby Law of 1975 and the Law of August 4, 1994 (Loi Toubon).
The latter specifies that, “[T]he provisions of the present law apply without prejudice to the legislation and regulations relative to regional languages in France and are not against their use” (Article 21). A constitutional law adopted on July 23, 2008, provides that “regional languages belong to France’s heritage” (Article 75-1). The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages was signed by the French Government but has not yet been ratified.
Italy meanwhile has always privileged the preservation of cultural diversity within its territory. Although Italian is the country’s official language, Italian legislation (laws 482/1999 and 38/2001 ; the effective decree of the President of the Republic 345/2001) and Article 6 of the Italian constitution valorise non-dominant languages 30. Law 482/1999 declares that these languages and cultures can be taught in schools, that official documents 30 According to the law, the following languages and cultures are preserved and promoted : Albanian, Catalan, Croatian, French, Franco-provenal, Friulian, German, Greek, Ladin, Occitan, Slovene, and Sardinian (total 2,428,770 speakers).
Isabella Pierangeli Borletti and acts should be bilingual, and that a local language may be used for territorial broadcasting information. However, immigrant languages like Arabic and Chinese, are not taken into account.
Some of Italy’s protected languages are more commonly spoken than written ; bilingual web sites are uncommon. The exceptions are borderland populations that speak Italian as second language, as with the German-speaking Trentino-Alto Adige region and the French speaking Val d’Aosta region, whose official websites are frequently bi- or multilingual, especially those of public bodies that are legally required to be bilingual.
To date, only four of Italy’s linguistic minorities have programmes on the national public broadcaster rai : the French speakers of the Aosta Valley, the German speakers of South Tyrol, the Ladin speakers in the Dolomites and the Slovenian speakers of Trieste 31.
As for public media, there exists some positive examples of measures protecting linguistic minorities. Although not necessarily inspired by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 27), they use similar language.
The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, Article 11(1) (a), generally addresses state conduct in relation to public media and minority languages. Many states explicitly recognise that the needs of linguistic minorities are not satisfied by the exclusive use of an official/ majority language in public media. In these cases, the degree of minority language use in public media adequately reflects their respective linguistic populations’ demographic weight, needs and interests.
ONLINE MULTILINGUALISM To help bridge the digital divide, multilingualism must be fostered online.
The un stands at the forefront of linguistic diversity promotion towards universal access to political, economic and cultural goods 32. The main concept being promoted is that all have the right to fully inhabit the web 31 For more information, see the Minerva Plus Survey, Final Plan for using and disseminating knowledge and raise public participation and awareness report on inventories and multilingualism issues : Multilingualism and Thesaurus, http://mek.oszk.hu/minerva/survey/ wp3multilingua.doc 32 Top UN official stresses need for Internet multilingualism to bridge digital divide, December 14, 2009, UN News service, http://www.un.org Isabella Pierangeli Borletti without limitations or obstacles. Internet as a common or semi-common good is thus internationally recognised.
An analysis conducted by the Internet Society shows that the reasons behind the slow progress of online linguistic diversity may be classified into technical, economic, social and political categories.
Technical Reasons. Although it has the potential to catalyze a massive increase in the free flow of information, it has also strengthened existing inequalities, particularly due to the predominance of Latin script. The digital divide that stems from this trend evince effects on three levels :
(I) the impossibility of using it due to the lack of knowledge of code languages ; (II) the impossibility of adapting technology to local contexts ;
(III) the difficulty for users with lower education levels to use technology.
Technology is not neutral, and it is largely dominated by the societies that created it, resulting in a predominance of Occidental/Latin language tools. For theses technologies to become culturally global, they must be reconceived to be conductive to other languages.
Standards used for hardware and software implementation must also shift towards inclusivity. All new technical standards must be subjected to a rigorous evaluation of cultural impact to assess their impartiality towards linguistic and social groups.
Promoting open source and free software could be another efficient way to counterbalance the problem’s technical elements. Since third parties may directly access and modify code, they are excellent vehicles to localize programs 33.
These challenges are much less significant now than they were a decade ago. The remaining technical challenges concern standards, tools and technical capacity. Most internet standards are evolving but must go further. Encoding problems, the most significant impediments to using diverse scripts a decade ago, have been partly solved by the introduction of Unicode 34, but this approach is partial and insufficient. Moreover, in many countries, especially in developing nations, standardisation has been slow. As a result, certain standards, like keyboard layouts, continue 33 See in this book : Dwayne Bailey, Software Localization : Open Source as a Major Tool for Digital Multilingualism.
34 See in this book : Stphane Bortzmeyer, Multilingualism and the Internet’s Standardisation.
Isabella Pierangeli Borletti to hamper multilingualism. As for tools, very few software tools are truly multilingual.
The biggest challenge is in the area of content development. As stated above, unless sufficient content exists in a given language, there is little incentive for its speakers to use the internet. Furthermore, most organizations prefer to publish information in so-called international languages and rarely develop content in local languages.
POLITICAL, ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL CONSTRAINTS.
Insufficient resources are another likely reason for the underrepresentation of the languages of developing nations. Low demand creates low economic incentive for software developers to produce tools in these nations’ languages, even if those languages are spoken by tens of millions of people. Local governments and other actors also lack funding to support activities targeting the development of online multilingualism. Platforms for mobile applications are also extremely limited.
International decision-makers have long been aware of this problem.
In 2002, former un Secretary-General Kofi Annan challenged Silicon Valley to unleash its creative energies to close the digital divide. The un is in a unique position to harness energy in the private sector and in governmental and non-governmental organizations. Defining clear goals, roles, resources and cooperation is paramount to bringing these different organizational cultures together.
MULTILINGUALISM, CYBERSPACE’S NEXT FRONTIER What are the next steps towards a multilingual cyberspace First, given the transversal character of multilingualism, an interdisciplinary approach is crucial.
One of the first areas for development should be establishing a common practice for international, public and private law. This means identifying, granting and protecting new rights relevant to the information society.
Isabella Pierangeli Borletti Academics and legal practitioners should develop alternative arbitration and mediation mechanisms, taking linguistic diversity into account in light of the Universal Dispute Resolution Policy set up by the World Intellectual Property Organization for the resolution of domain name disputes. These principles should be developed to improve multilingualism in technological applications, including web crawlers, search engines, database indexes and cloud computing 35.
If we assume as evident the trend of domestic and international law toward exerting positive obligations on states to protect and enhance online multilingualism as a human right related to other human rights, then we admit the obligation to create online content in minority languages.
Nevertheless, recognition of the internet as an object of domestic and international law with specific rights and obligations is still unclear.
Questions remain, like who must fulfill obligations related to internet multilingualism, and what authorities are to judge or sanction violations of online rights.
It appears more urgent than ever that the question of language assumes its natural place at the heart of the online evolution. This requires first and foremost the establishment of principles, instruments, and legal norms, as well as maintaining online linguistic diversity as a major issue on the international agenda.
Note of the author :
I wish to express my deep gratitude to Mr. Richard Delmas for giving me the opportunity to write about such a challenging subject as multilingualism, the Internet and Human Rights. Without his support and substantial contribution to the drafting process, this article wouldn’t be published. Likewise I am grateful to Mr. Louis Pouzin who offered a precious assistance during the drafting process. Last, but not least, a big “merci” to my husband Erwan Marteil, who inspired much of the content in this article with his ability to identify and probe important issues with a unmistakably sharp critical thinking.
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