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This post examines multilingualism on the Internet, some of the anticipated benefits and concerns, as well as the impact of this paradigm on English, which traditionally has been the language of the Internet.

Did you know that: -

  • Approximately 80% of the world’s population does not speak English?
  • In 2000, over 70% of all web pages were in English, but current estimates are that about 50% of all web pages are in English?
  • One can reach and communicate with 82.6% of all the Internet users in the world with just ten languages — English, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, German, Arabic, French, Russian and Korean?
  • English language speakers represent only 26.8% of all Internet users worldwide? 

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Comment by Michele Marius on December 8, 2011 at 12:35pm

Admittedly, "endangered" might have been a bit over the top...

However I think from an English-speaker's perspective, particularly those who do not speak any other language, the realisation of how the Internet landscape is changing could be quite a shock! Ultimately, it is all about changing one's perspective, because English will no longer be the centre (or dominant language) of the online universe...

Comment by Deirdre Williams on December 7, 2011 at 12:13am
And 'just now' is a mysterious addition for which I deny all responsibility :-)
Comment by Deirdre Williams on December 7, 2011 at 12:10am
I would quarrel with 'endangered'. When I think of 'endangered' I think of the stories I have read on the BBC of the death of the last surviving speaker of a particular language, or even of the much more optimistic story of ciShanjo which has just acquired the buttress of a written form http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-15562729 - this from last month. What about languages in India? Will English kill off India's languages?
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-15635553 also reported in November. And yet, at the IGF in Hyderabad in 2008, Indian officials made an impassioned plea for English to provide intercommunication among their 15 official languages and hundreds of unofficial languages.

I always get myself into trouble with this topic because in the Caribbean I find that English is something of a bully which insists on dominance.True more countries in the Caribbean speak English, but literally millions more people speak Spanish, and some speak French, Dutch, Papiemento, Creole ...

What is endangered seems to me to be a position of dominance that has been taken for granted. English speakers need to stop being complacent, and begin to learn ... Spanish, Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin, Urdu, Swahili ...

Do what I write, not what I do - my Spanish speaking family in Peru laugh openly at my 'gringa' accent, and I said something obscenely rude to my daughter's father-in-law while trying to make polite conversation in Spanish. I don't think I'll ever be a linguist.

But online there are tools to help. It is now possible for people who speak many of the main languages in the world to express themselves online in their own language with some confidence that the person receiving the message can find a reasonably accurate translation tool. Beware of Bularian to English via Google though - someone using that tool today ended up with an opposite meaning to what had originally been said!



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