Multilingualism on the Internet

© UNESCO/Marc Hofer
Un enfant apprend la langue karimojong (Ouganda)

"Languages are the best vehicles of mutual understanding and tolerance. Respect for all languages is a key factor for ensuring peaceful coexistence, without exclusion, of societies and all of their members," says Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, in her Message on the occasion of International Mother Language Day 2011.

The International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by UNESCO in November 1999. This event has been observed every year since its creation to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

Languages are powerful instruments for preserving and developing culture. New information and communication technologies (ICT) can serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to raise awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on mutual understanding, tolerance and dialogue.

Today, less than one hundred languages are represented in the digital world. Language presence in cyberspace is insufficient in view of the increased importance of the role of cyberspace for access to education and information, and the construction of inclusive knowledge societies.

In order to promote multilingualism on the Internet, UNESCO’s Communication and Information Sector encourages:

  • development of comprehensive language policies promoting and facilitating linguistic diversity on the Internet;
  • creation and dissemination of content in local languages;
  • access to the multilingual digital resources on the Internet;
  • use of ICT for the preservation of languages;
  • cooperation with other international and professional organizations to establish policies, regulations, technical recommendations, and best practices relating to multilingualism and multilingual resources and applications, including innovations in language computerization.

Projects on Linguistic Diversity and New Technologies: Information meeting and debate

On 21 February (Room IV, 9 a.m. to 5.30 p.m.), UNESCO is holding a one-day meeting, on the activities linking new technologies, languages and multilingualism. Linguists, experts and representatives of UNESCO, the International Organisation of La Francophonie and the Latin Union will report on the latest updates of the Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, as well as the first results of a UNESCO project that analyses linguistic trends since the 1950s. Debates on bilingual education and the new technologies are also on the agenda.

Major activities on multilingualism organized in 2010 by UNESCO’s Communication and Information Sector

Recommendation concerning the Promotion and Use of the Multilingualism and Universal Access to Cyberspace

UNESCO is preparing a second consolidated report on the measures taken by the Member States to implement the Recommendation concerning the Promotion and Use of the Multilingualism and Universal Access to Cyberspace adopted by the General Conference in October 2003. The second consolidated report will be examined by the Executive Board at its 186th session and then submitted to the 36th session of the General Conference.

Internet Governance Forum 2010

One of the key contributors to the debate on internet governance, UNESCO organized an Open Forum during the Internet Governance Forum 2010. The main areas of relevance to UNESCO are the concern for ethical dimensions, the realization of multilingualism on the Internet and capacity-building. 

During the IGF 2010, UNESCO and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) signed a Letter of Intent, which set forward a common interest to reaffirm a commitment regarding the internationalization of the Internet’s Domain Name System (DNS). Both Organizations agreed to collaborate in the development of the Internet’s DNS and to undertake a variety of activities. The major objective of this joint effort is for UNESCO to provide assistance to its Member States in creating an IDN ccTLD Cyrillic country names/abbreviation reference table for countries whose official languages are based on Cyrillic script.

At the UNESCO Open Forum organized at the IGF 2010, Rod Beckstrom, President and Chief Executive Officer­ of ICANN, said, “ICANN welcomes UNESCO's plan to provide linguistic support to those that want to participate in the fast track process but need linguistic help in preparing their request. ICANN also has staff available to assist those in general need of help in applying”.

Jānis Kārkliņš, Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, UNESCO, confirmed that UNESCO, with its mandate, is well placed to invite, encourage and assist its Member States by participating in the development of the IDN ccTLD country name/abbreviation reference table. Both Organizations recognize the importance of the Internet for building inclusive knowledge societies, and strengthening and promoting cultural diversity and multilingualism in cyberspace”.


Couverture de la publication de l'UNESCO

Twelve years of measuring linguistic diversity in the Internet: balance and perspectives

UNESCO, together with FUNREDES and the Union Latine, published a publication entitled Twelve years of measuring linguistic diversity in the Internet: balance and perspectives. Research, undertaken from 1996 to 2008, enabled interesting indicators to be built to measure linguistic diversity. This study presents a variety of methods used over 12 years to measure linguistic diversity on the Internet. The results of the study dispel some of the myths surrounding existing figures, for example, the dominant presence of English on the Web. The relationship between languages on the Internet and diversity of languages within a country indicates that countries have an important role to play in adopting an appropriate linguistic policy for the Internet. Such a comprehensive linguistic policy requires a specific component to address linguistic diversity in the virtual world, as well as relevant figures based on reliable indicators quantifying the situation.

Public Service Broadcasting and Language Development: Forthcoming study

UNESCO is finalizing a study on public service broadcasting and language development in five countries (Canada, India, Jamaica, Lebanon and South Africa). This summary report examines how public service broadcasting aids language development. It shows that different countries have different policy frameworks for the promotion of minority or lesser used languages through public service broadcasting. The Report will soon be available for consultation online.

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