This non-use phenomenon of existing technologies is even more pronounced because many institutional stakeholders prefer discourse to action : at a conference on multilingualism, speakers line up to deplore the lack of online content for language X or Y. The time and money could have been better spent producing some content. To cite just one example among many, the round table organised by the French Senate on January 2011 on the theme “The Creation of Cultural Content in the Digital World” did not include a single content creator. Even the Wikimedia Foundation was not invited. Leafing through a recent brochure on the defence of French in a Paris bookshop, an author strongly criticised the dominance of English and lack of French content in online media. Out of curiosity, I searched the aforementioned network for what the author had done to fight against this trend : nothing. No content from him (not even his brochure) was available online.
Let’s try not to follow the sad example of the Senate’s round table and consider the projects that are successful. The leader is evidently Wikipedia, which represents one of online multilingualism’s greatest successes. As of May 2011, the collaborative encyclopedia counted 269 active editions 13, including in languages like Alemannic, Uzbek, Kurdish and Dhivehi.
No other website in the world makes so many languages available (and they are not translations, as is often seen on commercial sites, but often original content). In this context, proper management of Unicode in the underlying software has been used : the speakers of many languages have the opportunity to defend and illustrate their language by practising it.
Since contributing to Wikipedia does not require significant technical skills, the barrier is relatively low. Everything does not necessarily proceed in joy and good humour (English-speaking Wikipedia contributors argue regularly about whether to write color or colour), but this is no different from any other human project.
13 A list is available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Wikipedias Stphane Bortzmeyer Another good example is the Debian website 14, a free software based on a dynamic, global community that ensures the site’s availability in over twenty languages.
LANGUAGES IN GOVERNANCE One of the problematic aspects of online multilingualism is the preponderance of English. Indeed, whether among teams of multinational programmers 15, involving free or private software, whether in standards organizations or in governance, English is effectively the only working language. Certain presentations, like a conference’s opening session, are translated. But the real work is done in English.
Is there an alternative to monolingualism that avoids the incredible burden and cost of inefficient organizations like the European Union As of right now, unfortunately, it seems not.
A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY The story of the internet can help in understanding the situation of its governance. But beware ! Like any human organization, the internet also has its origin myths, which are no more realistic than other creation stories. So. At the very beginning, the network that would become the internet – arpanet – was highly centralised. It lacked one essential characteristic of the internet : its multi-organizational character. At the time of the arpanet, it was still possible for one authority to select a D-day when all the machines had to adopt a certain technology. The last of these D-days took place in 1983, with the introduction of the family of protocols tcp/ip (IPv4 and tcp in its current state).
The multi-agency internet was born at about this time. At this time, all the governance structures, somewhat formalised, were present in one man, Jon Postel, who performed the role of de facto benevolent dictator. The growth of the internet, its qualitative changes, gradually rendered this 14 http://www.debian.org 15 See, for example, an interesting discussion on the language to be used in the programmes http://stackoverflow.com/questions/1046419/variable-naming-and-team-members-who-speak-another-language As one participant in the discussion notes “Something’s Gotta Give”.
Stphane Bortzmeyer situation untenable. The u.s. government, which funded almost all of the internet, then launched a showdown with those responsible for internet management. This dispute, which was ideologically represented in two documents, the Green Book and the White Book, peaked in January with the attempt by Postel to return control of the root servers to the collective iana (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority), an attempt that failed, leading to the strict control of the root by the u.s. Government.
This control materialised through the creation, in the same year, of icann (an organization that is therefore relatively new to the internet), which then took over the core tasks from Jon Postel. But, as noted above, these tasks represent only part of the internet ; even in the time of Postel, it was not he who decided, for example, if the Web would be deployed (the Web really began around 1991, without any involvement of a central body).
On questions of standardisation, the ietf, in its existing form, dates from 1986 and sets standards (rfcs) that actors may choose to follow or not.
But it has never had any real deciding power.
We can see that most actors and organizations involved are American.
This helps to explain the historical dominance of English and its script, the Latin alphabet. Today, though technicalities are ready, it is above all the dominant role of the United States in the world that helps perpetuate the preponderance of a particular language.
GLOSSARY Domain Name System (DNS) This term refers to both the system of domain names, the tree structure for creating identifiers such as cooptel.qc.ca or vliplanchiste.com, and protocol permitting the retrieval of information like the IP address, mail server name, etc., by way of such a name.
Internationalized Domain Names (IDN) The term IDN denotes domain names expressed in Unicode, for example the tunisian TDL,.. Sometimes the acronym IDNA (Internationalized Domain Names in Applications) is used for the specific technology that is currently being used, which passes through a local conversion to ASCII before sending to the DNS.
As domain names are highly visible identity markers that are widely used for communication, it is crucial to be able to express them in their original script. This explains why the question of IDNs has been so hotly contested.
Stphane Bortzmeyer Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) A private American organization, founded in 1998 by the Clinton administration to perform the functions previously assigned informally to Jon Postel. The management of the root finally escaped ICANN (it is managed now via direct contract between the U.S. government and Verisign). ICANN manages the IANA function (records other than the root), and serves as a regulator of certain TLDs, notably.com http://www.icann.org Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) The internet’s main standards organization, notably responsible for layers 3 (for routing) to 7 (for applications). It is known for its openness and debates, and for making its standards (the famous RFCs) publicly available. http://www.ietf.org Top-Level Domain (TLD) The domain at the head or root of a domain name – the part furthest to the right. In the name google.com, for example, the TLD is.com.
BIBLIOGRAPHY [MILTON 2002] Milton Mueller. Ruling the root. Internet governance and the taming of cyberspace. MIT press. 2002.
Stphane Bortzmeyer Stphane Bortzmeyer MarCEL Diki-kiDiri ETHICAL PRINCIPLES REQUIRED FOR AN EQUITABLE LANGUAGE PRESENCE IN THE INFORMATION SOCIETY There is a de facto inequality among the world’s languages, although they are equal in dignity and rights. This inequality is the result of different living conditions and often inequalities created by history.
The 70 most common languages, and the most spoken in the world, represent only 1 % of all languages. It is therefore fair to assume that the information and knowledge available in these 70 languages, should be within reach of the majority of the world population. Should we, however, leave out the 360 million men and women who represent 6 % of the world’s population who do not speak any of these “big” languages Original article inFrench.
Translated by Laura Kraftowitz.
MARCEL DIKI-KIDIRI, Central African Republic, is now Consultant in Aplied Linguistics. Before he retired in 2010, he was senior researcher at the CNRS in the unit Language, Languages and Black African Cultures (LLACAN : CNRS, INALCO).
ocial life can only be harmonious and beneficial to everyone if it is organized so that conventional limits circumscribe individual Sfreedoms. The codification of these limitations includes both individual and collective behaviour, in terms of both rights and duties, prohibitions and obligations, good and bad. The dividing line, inscribed in the conscience of each person, lets us know when we are acting honestly or in bad faith, even if it means facing the consequences. Indeed, ethics is a matter of conscience more than of law. Laws may vary in space and time.
There even exist bad laws that assault and outrage the consciences of all who have the ability to distinguish right from wrong, and the courage to denounce evil, sometimes even risking their lives to do so. Wherever laws are not based on ethical values, the strong grab what they can, without hesitating to codify their immoral practices into law. Such actors can only be limited by others as strong as them. Peace is precarious : anytime someone feels strong enough to impose their will onto others, they don’t hesitate to start a war. The weakest are poor and enslaved without any recourse except the awakening of the international conscience of all people of good will, who are courageous enough to express their disgust and to revolt against the unjust and intolerable situations created by potentates. The establishment of laws based on the common good, and on equal rights for all, is an act of civilisation that recognizes and protects the fundamental and inalienable rights of individuals and nations.
Respect for these rights is the primary duty of us all. In light of this principle, the following ethical principles are required for equitable language presence in the information society.
Marcel Diki-Kidiri All the world’s languages have equal rights and dignity, as do those who speak them In the information society, access to information and thus to shared knowledge is a fundamental right, as unequal access creates unacceptable and cascading inequalities in the human condition. But for everyone to enjoy this basic right, all public information and accumulated knowledge of the entire human race must be made available in every world language and reach every linguistic community. Considering that world languages number around 6800-7000, this may sound utopian. But it responds to an essential first principle, that all the world’s languages have equal rights and dignity and can be manipulated to express the whole planet’s knowledge, from the moment the demand is there. To accept the inequality of languages as a natural fact is not far from assuming inherent inequality between their speakers. This constitutes a form of discrimination and is wholly unethical.
Each language is a treasure of humanity There are certainly de facto inequalities between the world’s languages despite their equal rights and dignity. But these inequalities result from the different and often unequal living conditions historically created by conflict between certain communities and the isolation of others. We now know that the 70 most widely spoken languages account for only 1 % of those in the world. For 94 % of the world’s population, these languages are spoken not only as first languages, but also as second, third, or fourth.
It is thus reasonable to consider that if information and knowledge were available in these 70 languages, it could be accessed by the majority of the world. This would represent a huge step towards a worldwide multilingualism reaching the vast majority of people. Must we, however, leave out the 420 million women and men, 6 % of the world, who do not speak any of these “major” languages Of course not. Accounting for this segment of the global population is of great importance since that 6 % speaks 99 % of the world’s languages, each language its own coding system of thought, knowledge and human experience. It’s not out of condescending generosity towards minorities that we must take care to preserve undervalued, marginalized, threatened, or endangered languages, but because these languages are treasures of humanity, each one yielding Marcel Diki-Kidiri rich and complex knowledge about the functioning of the human spirit, each a unique system for codifying knowledge, and a unique vision of the world. Each language that is protected from extinction in turn protects all humanity against ignorance and amnesia.
The mother tongue has inalienable identity value Respecting a mother tongue is part of respecting its native speakers.
The truth of this is such that wherever peoples have been dominated, rulers have systematically disregarded, marginalized and devalued their languages. “These people do not talk, they make guttural sounds”, or at best, “They have no language, only a dialect” 1. In the context of such contempt, erected in the place of objective truth, the rulers, in the spirit of “civilisation”, impose their own language. From Dhaka to Soweto, subjugated peoples have paid with their lives for the right to speak their own languages. And even in extreme cases, when people have been deported, transplanted, uprooted, and enslaved, forced to lose their language over the course of their tragic history, they have managed to create, on the sites of their transplantation, new roots and new identity, with a new language, a Creole built from the ruler’s imposed linguistic material. The link that binds humans to their mother tongue is as strong as that which attaches them to their home country. “My language is the house in which I live, yours is to me like the window that allows me to look outward” 2. And it is clear that no one has the right to deprive another of their language.
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