The Internet and Languages [around the year 2000]

The Internet and Languages [around the year 2000]
Author: Lebert Marie
Title: The Internet and Languages [around the year 2000]
Release Date: 2009-11-08
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Copyrighted. Read the copyright notice inside this book for details.
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The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Internet and Languages, by Marie Lebert

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and withalmost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away orre-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License includedwith this eBook or online at

** This is a COPYRIGHTED Project Gutenberg eBook, Details Below **** Please follow the copyright guidelines in this file. **

Title: The Internet and Languages [around the year 2000]

Author: Marie Lebert

Release Date: November 8, 2009 [EBook #30422]

Language: English


Produced by Al Haines


[around the year 2000]


NEF, University of Toronto, 2009

Copyright © 2009 Marie Lebert. All rights reserved.


  "Language nations" online
  Towards a "linguistic democracy"
  Encoding: from ASCII to Unicode
  First multilingual projects
  Online language dictionaries
  Learning languages online
  Minority languages on the web
  Multilingual encyclopedias
  Localization and internationalization
  Machine translation


It is true that the internet transcends the limitations of time,distances and borders, but what about languages? Non-English-speakinginternet users reached 50% in July 2000.

# "Language Nations"

"Because the internet has no national boundaries, the organization ofusers is bounded by other criteria driven by the medium itself. Interms of multilingualism, you have virtual communities, for example, ofwhat I call 'Language Nations'… all those people on the internetwherever they may be, for whom a given language is their nativelanguage. Thus, the Spanish Language nation includes not only Spanishand Latin American users, but millions of Hispanic users in the U.S.,as well as odd places like Spanish-speaking Morocco." (Randy Hobler,consultant in internet marketing for translation products and services,September 1998)

# "Linguistic Democracy"

"Whereas 'mother-tongue education' was deemed a human right for everychild in the world by a UNESCO report in the early 1950s, 'mother-tongue surfing' may very well be the Information Age equivalent. If theinternet is to truly become the Global Network that it is promoted asbeing, then all users, regardless of language background, should haveaccess to it. To keep the internet as the preserve of those who, byhistorical accident, practical necessity, or political privilege,happen to know English, is unfair to those who don't." (Brian King,director of the WorldWide Language Institute, September 1998)

# A medium for the world

"It is very important to be able to communicate in various languages. Iwould even say this is mandatory, because the information given on theinternet is meant for the whole world, so why wouldn't we get thisinformation in our language or in the language we wish? Worldwideinformation, but no broad choice for languages, this would be quite acontradiction, wouldn't it?" (Maria Victoria Marinetti, teacher inSpanish and translator, August 1999)

# Good software

"When software gets good enough for people to chat or talk on the webin real time in different languages, then we will see a whole new worldappear before us. Scientists, political activists, businesses and manymore groups will be able to communicate immediately without having togo through mediators or translators." (Tim McKenna, writer andphilosopher, October 2000)


Unless specified otherwise, quotations are excerpts from NEFinterviews. Many thanks to all those who are quoted in this book, andwho kindly answered questions about multilingualism over the years.Most interviews are available online <>. This book is also available in French,with a different text. Both versions are available online<>. The author,whose mother tongue is French, is responsible for any remainingmistakes in English.

Marie Lebert is a researcher and editor specializing in technology forbooks, other media, and languages. Her books are published by NEF (Netdes études françaises / Net of French Studies), University of Toronto,Canada, and are freely available online <>.


= [Quote]

Randy Hobler, a consultant in internet marketing for Globalink, acompany specializing in language translation software and services,wrote in September 1998: "Because the internet has no nationalboundaries, the organization of users is bounded by other criteriadriven by the medium itself. In terms of multilingualism, you havevirtual communities, for example, of what I call 'Language Nations'…all those people on the internet wherever they may be, for whom a givenlanguage is their native language. Thus, the Spanish Language nationincludes not only Spanish and Latin American users, but millions ofHispanic users in the U.S., as well as odd places like Spanish-speakingMorocco."

= [Text]

At first, the internet was nearly 100% English. A network was set up bythe Pentagon in 1969, before spreading to U.S. governmental agenciesand universities from 1974 onwards, after Vinton Cerf and Bob Kahninvented TCP/IP (transmission control protocol / internet protocol).After the creation of the World Wide Web in 1989-90 by Tim Berners-Leeat the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) in Geneva,Switzerland, and the distribution of the first browser Mosaic, theancestor of Netscape, from November 1993 onwards, the internet reallytook off, first in the U.S. and Canada, then worldwide.

Why did the internet spread in North America first? The U.S. and Canadawere leading the way in computer science and communication technology,and a connection to the internet, mainly through a phone line at thetime, was much cheaper than in most countries. In Europe, avid internetusers needed to navigate the web at night, when phone rates by theminute were cheaper, to cut their expenses. In 1998, some French,Italian and German users were so fed up with the high rates that theylaunched a movement to boycott the internet one day per week, forinternet providers and phone companies to set up a special monthly ratefor them. This paid off, and providers began to offer monthly "internetrates".

In the 1990s, the percentage of English decreased from nearly 100% to80%. People from all over the world began to have access to theinternet, and to post more and more webpages in their own languages.

The first major study about language distribution on the web was run byBabel, a joint initiative from Alis Technologies, a companyspecializing in language translation services, and the InternetSociety. The results were published in June 1997 on a webpage named"Web Languages Hit Parade". The main languages were English with 82.3%,German with 4.0%, Japanese with 1.6%, French with 1.5%, Spanish with1.1%, Swedish with 1.1%, and Italian with 1.0%.

In "Web Embraces Language Translation", an article published in ZDNN(ZDNetwork News) on 21 July 1998, Martha L. Stone explained: "Thisyear, the number of new non-English websites is expected to outpace thegrowth of new sites in English, as the cyber world truly becomes a'World Wide Web'."

According to Global Reach, a branch of Euro-Marketing Associates, aninternational marketing consultancy, there were 56 million non-English-speaking users in July 1998, with 22.4% Spanish-speaking users, 12.3%Japanese-speaking users, 14% German-speaking users, and 10% French-speaking users. But 80% of all webpages were still in English, whereasonly 6% of the world population was speaking English as a nativelanguage, while 16% was speaking Spanish as a native language. 15% ofEurope's half a billion population spoke English as a first language,28% didn't speak English at all, and 32% were using the web in English.

Jean-Pierre Cloutier was the editor of "Chroniques de Cybérie", aweekly French-language online report of internet news. He wrote inAugust 1999: "We passed a milestone this summer. Now more than half theusers of the internet live outside the United States. Next year, morethan half of all users will be non English-speaking, compared with only5% five years ago. Isn't that great? (…) The web is going to grow innon-English-speaking regions. So we have to take into account thetechnical aspects of the medium if we want to reach these 'new' users.I think it is a pity there are so few translations of importantdocuments and essays published on the web - from English into otherlanguages and vice versa. (…) In the same way, the recent spreadingof the internet in new regions raises questions which would be good toread about. When will Spanish-speaking communication theorists andthose speaking other languages be translated?"

Will the web hold as many languages as the ones spoken on our planet?This will be quite a challenge, with the 6,700 languages listed in "TheEthnologue: Languages of the World", an authoritative catalog publishedby SIL International (SIL: Summer Institute of Linguistics) and freelyavailable on the web since the mid-1990s.

The year 2000 was a turning point for a multilingual internet,regarding its users. Non English-speaking users reached 50% in summer2000. According to Global Reach, they were 52.5% in summer 2001, 57% inDecember 2001, 59.8% in April 2002, 64.4% in September 2003 (including34.9% non-English-speaking Europeans and 29.4% Asians), and 64.2% inMarch 2004 (including 37.9% non-English-speaking Europeans and 33%Asians).

Despite the so-called English-language hegemony some non-English-speaking intellectuals were complaining about, without doing much topromote their own language, the internet was also a good medium forminority languages, as stated by Caoimhín Ó Donnaíle. Caoimhín hastaught computing at the Institute Sabhal Mór Ostaig, on the Island ofSkye (Scotland). He has also created and maintained the collegewebsite, as the main site worldwide with information on ScottishGaelic, with a bilingual (English, Gaelic) list of European minoritylanguages. He wrote in May 2001: "Students do everything by computer,use Gaelic spell-checking, a Gaelic online terminology database. Thereare more hits on our website. There is more use of sound. Gaelic radio(both Scottish and Irish) is now available continuously worldwide viathe internet. A major project has been the translation of the Operaweb-browser into Gaelic - the first software of this size available inGaelic."


= [Quote]

Brian King, director of the WorldWide Language Institute (WWLI),brought up the concept of "linguistic democracy" in September 1998:"Whereas 'mother-tongue education' was deemed a human right for everychild in the world by a UNESCO report in the early 1950s, 'mother-tongue surfing' may very well be the Information Age equivalent. If theinternet is to truly become the Global Network that it is promoted asbeing, then all users, regardless of language background, should haveaccess to it. To keep the internet as the preserve of those who, byhistorical accident, practical necessity, or political privilege,happen to know English, is unfair to those who don't."

= [Text]

Yoshi Mikami, a computer scientist at Asia Info Network in Fujisawa(Japan), launched in December 1995 the website "The Languages of theWorld by Computers and the Internet", also known as the Logos Home Pageor Kotoba Home Page. (The website was updated until September 2001.)Yoshi was also the co-author (with Kenji Sekine and Nobutoshi Kohara)of "The Multilingual Web Guide" (Japanese edition), a print bookpublished by O'Reilly Japan in August 1997, and translated in 1998 intoEnglish, French and German.

Yoshi Mikami explained in December 1998: "My native tongue is Japanese.Because I had my graduate education in the U.S. and worked in thecomputer business, I became bilingual in Japanese and American English.I was always interested in languages and different cultures, so Ilearned some Russian, French and Chinese along the way. In late 1995, Icreated on the web 'The Languages of the World by Computers and theInternet' and tried to summarize there the brief history, linguisticand phonetic features, writing system and computer processing aspectsfor each of the six major languages of the world, in English andJapanese. As I gained more experience, I invited my two associates tohelp me write a book on viewing, understanding and creatingmultilingual webpages, which was published in August 1997 as 'TheMultilingual Web Guide', in a Japanese edition, the world's first bookon such a subject."

Yoshi added in the same email interview: "Thousands of years ago, inEgypt, China and elsewhere, people were more concerned aboutcommunicating their laws and thoughts not in just one language, but inseveral. In our modern world, most nation states have each adopted onelanguage for their own use. I predict greater use of differentlanguages and multilingual pages on the internet, not a simplegravitation to American English, and also more creative use ofmultilingual computer translation. 99% of the websites created in Japanare written in Japanese."

Robert Ware launched his website OneLook Dictionaries in April 1996 asa "fast finder" in hundreds of online dictionaries. On September 2,1998, the fast finder could

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