Securing a place for a language in cyberspace

Cyberspace is open to all languages of the world, since its infrastructure is not subject to a central authority which can decide how it should be used. In writing this article, the author tried to give an answer to the following question: how to ensure that a language which is poorly endowed in linguistic and/or information technology (IT) resources, not to mention human resources, may find its proper place in cyberspace and be active there?

Languages are first and foremost instruments for attaining educational and cultural autonomy. They allow the transmission of knowledge from one generation to another and are a strong force in disseminating cultures and traditions between and among various ethnic groups in highly diverse geographical areas. The mother tongue is also a primary vehicle for freedom of expression.

The disappearance of languages is a phenomenon which has been present throughout History. Even in officially monolingual countries, new policies are emerging to ensure expression in endogenous languages as a human right.

According to a study undertaken by Ethnologue, Africa is the continent with the highest linguistic diversity index in the world. There is evidence suggesting that global linguistic diversity has long been in decline. Another worrying factor is that, according to some estimates, half of all languages will have disappeared by the year 2050.

Information and communication technologies (ICT) play a key role in the linguistic transformations under way worldwide: they may provide an important vehicle for communication among the various linguistic communities. On the other hand, ICT may be an aggravating factor in the marginalization of languages in cyberspace. There are approximately 6,000 languages in the world, but 12 languages account for 98% of Internet webpages. English, with 72% of webpages, is the dominant language, according to a survey by O’Neill, Lavoie and Bennet in 2003.
After all, the challenge facing the international community is to overcome these tremendous obstacles in order to ensure the creation of a multilingual and culturally diverse cyberspace. To this end, UNESCO – with the assistance of the Latin Union and the intellectual contribution of the expert Marcel Diki-Kidiri – is publishing this technical document.

It is hoped that this publication, consistent with the Recommendation concerning the Promotion and Use of Multilingualism and Universal Access to Cyberspace adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO at its 32nd session, will facilitate decision-making conducive to the inclusion of new languages in cyberspace.

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