Cyberspace could be the medium that either gives dying languages a second chance… or kills them for good.
We must urgently lay out all missing information using reliable and comprehensive indicators ; and we must urgently propose awareness raising policies among key players of endangered languages. It is vital that we provide linguistic diversity with the tools for its protection, in this emerging twenty-first century, through cyberspace above all.
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Le contexte politique et juridique dans Mesurer la diversit linguistique sur Internet.
Paris, Unesco, 2005, CI-2005/WS/06 CLD 24822. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/ images/0014/001421/142186f.pdf [SMIS 2005] Sommet mondial sur la socit de l’information. Agenda de Tunis pour la socit de l’information, UIT, 18 novembre 2005, WSIS-05/TUNIS/DOC/6(Rv.1)-F.
http://www.itu.int/wsis/docs2/tunis/off/6rev1-fr.html [UNION LATINE - FUNREDES 2007] Union Latine-Furnredes. Langues et cultures sur la Toile 2007, Paris, 2007. http://dtil.unilat.org/LI/2007/index_fr.htm Vitalit et disparition des langues, Paris, Unesco, 2003. http://www.unesco.org/ culture/ich/doc/src/00120-FR.pdf Daniel Prado MICHAL OUSTINOFF ENGLISH WON’T BE THE INTERNET’S LINGUA FRANCA In the 1990s, English was so dominant on the web that many already saw it as the undisputed lingua franca of globalisation. Today, the share of English has fallen below the symbolic mark of 50 % due to the rise of the languages of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and the gradual de-Westernization of the linguistic center of gravity of the planet. The question, therefore, changes in nature : what is the significance of the emergence of a multilingual cyberspace Original article in French.
Translated by Laura Kraftowitz.
MICHAL OUSTINOFF is Associate Professor (Habil.) in Translation Studies at the Institute of the Anglophone World, University of Paris 3 Sorbonne Nouvelle and currently on sabbatical leave at the ISCC, the Institute for Communication Sciences of the CNRS. His third book Traduire et communiquer l’heure de la mondialisation (Translating and Communicating in a Globalized World) was published by CNRS ditions in 2011.
s the internet began to spread across the world in the early 1990s, English overwhelmed the Web. Many saw their predictions Aconfirmed of English’s inexorable rise as a global language, first among them David Crystal in his book English as a Global Language [CRYSTAL 1997].
That English has become global is undeniable, but to infer that it will become the single vector of international communication in the era of globalisation is an entirely different matter, and this argument holds less and less water.
It is a sign of the times that within the English speaking world itself, criticism against this claim is the most reasoned and radical, starting with a 2009 report by the British Academy [BRITISH ACADEMY 2009], and continuing with the no-less-serious United States Department of Energy (DoE), which in June 2010 launched the multilingual platform WorldWideScience.org, based on the observation that science – particularly “hard” science – is no longer done only in English.
The evolution of language presence on the internet is illuminating in this regard. English has diminished to well below the symbolic threshold of constituting 50 %, or even 30 %, of the total. Paraphrasing the famous words of Umberto Eco, for whom “Translation is the language of Europe”, we can say that the internet’s lingua franca is multilingualism and, consequently, translation. We are seeing the rebabelisation of the world, a trend reconfirmed by the internet.
None of this is surprising. We now have enough experience to understand the factors behind this paradigm shift, a shift that demands to be understood in new terms, by implementing an approach that is not only linguistic, but resolutely multidisciplinary [OUSTINOFF, NOWICKI, MACHADO Michal Oustinoff DA SILVA 2010]. Behind the question of the lingua franca loom major economic, cultural and geopolitical questions ; cyberspace is one of their most striking manifestations.
THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF “ENGLISH-ONLY POLICY” AND THE “PARADOX OF THE DOMINANT LANGUAGE” A dramatic fall in the English portion of the internet is underway [PAOLILLO, AL. 2005]. According to recent data on Internet World Stats 1, it stood at around 27.3 % in June 2010. Assuming these figures are reliable, this decrease is due mainly to four factors. First, the growth rate of the languages present : from 2000 to 2010, English presence increased by only 281.2 % (a considerable figure regardless), while Chinese, the second most represented language at 22.6 %, experienced a growth rate of 1277.4 %. But one language doesn’t overtake another solely because of a higher growth rate : Arabic had the most impressive growth of the period at 2501.2 %, but still holds only a 3.3 % share, putting it at seventh place, behind Spanish (third, 7.8 %), Japanese (fourth, 5 %), Portuguese (fifth, 4.2 %) and German (sixth, 3.8 %) but before French (eighth, 3 %), Russian (ninth, also around 3 %), and Korean (tenth, 2 %). These ten languages make up around 82 % of the total, while the rest combine to make up the remaining 18 %.
The second factor is the rate of internet connection (“Internet Penetration per Language”), which varies according to the infrastructure and level of development in a given country. In Japan, the rate is 78.2 %, which represents over 99 million internet users and explains why Japanese comes in fourth even with its relatively modest growth rate (110.6 %), as opposed to Arabic, which has a much higher number of potential speakers (million, compared to Japan’s 126 million, most of them concentrated in the territory of Japan), but is farther behind, due to its “penetration rate” of only 18.8 %. In this measurement, Arabic is similar to French, with its similar number of speakers (347 million worldwide) and a similar penetration rate (17.2 %), with each language closely following the other.
The third factor to be taken into account is a language’s total number of speakers, which represents its potential breeding ground for increasing 1 Internet World Stats http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats7.htm Michal Oustinoff the number of internet users once the “digital divide” is narrowed. The current ranking of the top ten languages is not fixed, but dynamic, and changes with time. It doesn’t take a genius to observe that Arabic, with a growth rate of 2501.2 %, against French’s 398.2 %, cannot but outrun the latter so long as its penetration rate increases. Conversely, French, even at its current rate, could pass up Arabic if its penetration rate were to grow faster. Conversely, the higher the current penetration rate, the greater a language’s chance of being soon demoted in rank. This is the case of Japanese and German, for example, rated at 78.2 % and 78.6 % respectively, which receive high scores because of their status as major economic powers, and high wealth of Germanophone countries like Austria and Switzerland.
By adding to these three factors the fourth factor of economic and geopolitical power, all of them working together, it is clear that the once dominant English-only policy will soon have to compete against Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, and even Hindi and Indonesian – two languages that don’t yet appear on the top ten – for its spot on the top of the pyramid.
But there is also a fifth, essential factor to consider, one that internet World Stats has deliberately left aside : “Indeed, many people are bilingual or multilingual, but here we assign only one language per person in order to have all the language totals add up to the total world population (zerosum approach)” 2. We must remember that since the existing 6000 to 7000 languages in the world are spread across only about two hundred countries, monolingualism is not the rule but the exception. To which I will add the uncommon but in no way negligible phenomenon of intercomprehension : a Lusophone has direct access to 4.2 % of all internet, which may seem small, but s/he also has access to Hispanophone sites (7.8 %), because of the great ease of moving from one language to the other, especially in writing. That makes for 12 % of the internet that a Lusophone can access, a considerable number equivalent to the shares of Russian, French, Arabic, and German put together.
Now, suppose the Lusophone in question is a Brazilian who studied in France and who, moreover, speaks English, a relatively widespread situation in Brazil. This person’s access is not limited to 4.2 % of the total (Portuguese only), or even to 12 % (Portuguese + Spanish) or to 15 % (by adding the French) – but totals an impressive 42 % of the internet 2 http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats7.htm Michal Oustinoff (Portuguese + Spanish + French + English). Now, consider this person’s Chinese counterpart, who can access nearly 50 % of the total (Chinese + English). But these are just as quantitative data. Imagine a French internet user, who speaks not only English, but also German. This person can access a quantitatively smaller share of the total (37 %), but the three languages accessed are three major languages of the European Union. In other words, the qualitative dimension must also be taken into account.