Multilingualism in Cyberspace

Language constitutes the foundation of communication and is fundamental to cultural and historical heritage. Today various forces threaten linguistic diversity, particularly on the information networks. UNESCO has responded with several projects to promote multilingualism in cyberspace, including its Initiative B@bel.

Basic issues

Languages are an essential part of the cultural diversity of our planet. Languages and dialects are not only expressions of the human culture and the human mind, they are also the means by which we communicate with others and seek ways of explaining the world we live in. At the same time, languages are a very vulnerable part of our cultural heritage.

UNESCO Approach

Increasingly, knowledge and information are key determinants for social transformation, human development and wealth creation. Language is the primary vector for communicating knowledge and traditions, thus the opportunity to use one’s language on global information networks such as the Internet will determine the extent to which one can participate in the emerging knowledge society.

Thousands of languages worldwide are absent from Internet content and there are no tools for creating or translating information into these excluded tongues. Huge sections of the world’s population are thus prevented from enjoying the benefits of technological advances and obtaining information essential to their wellbeing and development.

Unchecked, this will contribute to a loss of cultural diversity on information networks and a widening of existing socio-economic inequalities.

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Initiative B@bel

Initiative B@bel uses Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to support linguistic and cultural diversity, and to protect and preserve languages in danger of disappearance.

It promotes multilingualism on the Internet in order to make access to its contents and services more equitable for users worldwide. Today, more than 90% of content on the Internet exists in only 12 languages, so many users of the 6 000 languages in the world are overlooked by this important communication medium. The “Initiative” puts emphasis on the need of completing all the steps to ensure the presence of a language in the digital world. Synergy and cooperation with other institutions and initiatives is capital to achieve longer term results regarding multilingualism in the cyberspace.

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Observatory on Multilingualism

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