Por Elena Maceviciute
The present stage of the Internet
development has already changed the previous conceptions of what
it is and how it can be used. The maturing and well exploited technological
tool has opened also entirely new spaces for researchers in the
fields of culture, ethnography, arts, psychology, etc. The very
first book on language pragmatics on the Internet has appeared in
2001 (Crystal 2001). The issue of languages on the Internet has
excited me since 1998 and I have been monitoring the changing situation
more or less regularly (see: Maceviciute 2002).
As the Internet came into being
and started developing as a key-feature of the present and future
information societies, most of its users and researchers were supporting
an idea that it would be the main tool of globalisation, totally
devoid of any specific cultural features. The authors used to point
out that even a language, the main feature of national identity,
was unified on the Internet. Multiple fears of weakening social
links, estrangement, ruthless dictatorship of unification, etc.
blossomed in response. At present, we know that many of them were
unfounded and we should worry about other things. One of the unfounded
fears was disappearance of national languages on the Web. However,
the issue of one dominating language is not yet resolved.
The aims of this paper are:
- to assess the multilingual situation
on the net as it is now and in the future;
- to introduce factors influencing
creation of a multilingual net;
- to introduce main attitudes
related to language situation on the Internet;
- to estimate the trends in development
of “small” languages and their language resources
on the Web using a case of Lithuanian language.
The present paper draws together
results of research and surveys published by different organisations
and individuals to provide an overview of Internet-related language
diversity issues and a short original investigation.
Dr. M. Saulauskas (Vilnius University)
stipulates that the “globalising effect of information society
(and computer networks) does not mean common uniformity of all involved
structures of social, political and cultural being; on the contrary,
it multiplies the variety of the diversity of the world's social
fabric. It stimulates sporadic proliferation of social morphology
making total unification more and more inconceivable...” (Saulauskas
The present language situation on
the Internet proves his point.
Language situation on the
Internet: sites and users
The Internet is essentially
non-geographic, but it is possible to look at the geography of its
users as well as of information placed or exchanged on the web.
For most of the time the U.S. users and English language content
(which is also U.S. centred) dominated the Internet.
What is the present situation? “The
art of estimating how many are online throughout the world is an
inexact one at best. Surveys abound, using all sorts of measurement
parameters. However, from observing many of the published surveys
over the last two years, here is an “educated guess”
as to how many are online world-wide as of September 2004: 800,040,498
people (Internet World Stats 2004). The following Table 1 breaks
this number into Internet users by languages.
Table 1: Top Ten Languages in the
Web( Number of Users of the Internet by Language )
Source: Internet World Stats 2004
The table shows also the average
penetration of the Internet in a country with majority of speakers
of the given language, an estimated number of language users, and
a percentage of the language users on the Internet. English speakers
are still a biggest group of the Internet users; however the penetration
of the Internet is much higher in German, Dutch, Japanese, and Italian
language zones. And Chinese speakers are the second largest language
group of the Internet users, though the rate of the Internet penetration
in China is only 8%. In the nearest future, one can expect that
a dominating language group on the net will be Chinese. The majority
of the users of other languages are in the minority of Internet
users at the moment. However, among them there are big groups of
Arab, Malaysian, Russian, or Indian language users.
For example, in Russia, penetration
of the Internet has increased slowly over the past year, according
to the latest findings from the “Russian Internet Monitoring
. The maximum
Internet audience stands at 9.2 million, or 8.3 percent of the adult
population, but it is growing fast and will reach 11 mln. people
by January 2001. However, the number of Internet users in Russia
according to other sources is much lower – 6 mln. The growth
rate is 93,5% (though penetration rate only 4,1%) (Internet World
Stats 2004). The Russian survey has found out that 84% of Russian
users prefer Russian language sites for shopping, entertainment
or other activity. More and more people use Internet in India –
at present There were over 7 mln. Internet users in this country
in 2001 (Nua 2002). The most popular services there are e-mail and
online chat. There were over 3 million Internet users in the Middle
East Arab countries and almost 2 mln. in Israel. The number of users
is currently doubling every year. The African world is multilingual
in many aspects though the percentage of African population on the
net is low. Almost all Internet users in Morocco speak Arabic and
French and the majority also speak English. About a quarter also
speak Spanish or Berber. Internet usage in Mexico, Brazil and Argentina
is continuing with e-commerce services becoming more and more popular
(Nua 2002). Most of the users from these regions will be looking
for non-English sites.
The usage of certain languages within
regions and countries (not only world-wide) should also be taken
into account. E.g., in a country like Sweden with the population
of 9,010,700 there are 6,722,600 Internet users (penetration rate
74.6%) (Nielsen/NR 2004). The main language used by this group will
be Swedish, and the Internet is already used by a majority of all
speakers of this language in the world.
The very existence of the language
statistic shows the importance of the issue for various interest
groups. We could not find anything like that in 1998 and had to
rely on indirect data in 2002.
Among these, there was an international
survey of Internet availability at schools. According to it, Sweden
leads the list in offering students access to the Internet from
their schools (age 12-24) as estimated by a multi-country survey,
“The Face of the Web”. Three of top ten in this respect
have English as a native language.
Table 2: Availability
of Internet access from schools
% of students
accessing the internet from school
(Angus Reid Group
Among other things
the study found that more than nine-in-ten students who have Internet
access in Australia, Canada, the U.S. and Sweden report using the
World Wide Web to complete their school assignments. English proficiency
of most children in non-English speaking countries will not be good
enough for this type of task, so this group of users is mainly interested
in native language sites (with exception of the entertainment purposes,
in most cases).
According to Cyveillance, the Internet
is growing at an astounding rate - 7.3 million unique pages are
added every day. (Cyveillance 2004). It is very difficult to estimate
the amount of Web-sites and Web-pages in different languages. There
are 239 domain names related to various territories with at least
one registered host (ISC 2004). However, the domain names may not
be related to a particular language used to create WWW contents.
However, if we look at the representation
of the languages on the Internet the picture will reflect the status
of connectivity of the regions and countries. One can find pages
in practically any European language and even dialects, despite
the number of people speaking them (or in some case, despite the
fact that nobody speaks that particular language any more, like
Sudovian or Old Prussian). It is impossible to find sites in most
languages used in Africa, though there are plenty of pages in Arabic.
The languages of the Asia are much better represented: Chinese,
Japanese, Hindi, Farsi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Thai and many other language
pages are abundant, but one may guess that the inequality in representation
of many others will be great. The same situation is noticed with
the languages of the Pacific area. There are very many pages on
Native American languages though few of them done in these languages
themselves. I have deliberately chosen the regional, not linguistic
(like language families), divide, as it corresponds to the “global
digital divide” primarily between North and South. It is quite
clear that the number of languages represented on the Internet is
growing together with the number of new pages.
The US Internet Council has produced
a report “State of the Internet 2000”. One of the main
themes of the report is the continuing globalisation of the Internet.
As the authors comment, “…the Internet is becoming multicultural,
multilingual, and multipolar.” The report's authors emphasise
that only 50% of present users of the Internet have English as their
first language. The majority of future Internet users will be non-English
speakers expecting Internet content in languages other than English.
In 2001 USIC stated “Significantly, native English speakers
lost their dominance in 2001 and now represent approximately 45%
of the online population” (USIC 2001).
However, earlier it was also suggested
that language of the country together with wealth, education, and
pricing of connectivity are important correlates of Internet diffusion
in different countries: the countries with English as native language
or having high rates of proficiency in English would have more hosts
connected to the Internet. Eszter Hargittai in her investigation
into the factors of connectivity among OECD countries has tested
the proposition that: “English language exposure will influence
the connectivity by favouring native speakers ([of English] most,
followed by countries with population exhibiting high levels of
English training, and discriminating most against populations with
low English exposure and proficiency” (Hargittai 1999:706).
She expected that a native English speaking population would encourage
Internet spread compared to countries' with other native languages.
However her data shows “that having a population of native
speakers versus good English speakers does not make a difference...
even lower levels of English exposure also does not have a large
impact on connectivity” (Hargittai 1999:710).
A similar conclusion was reached
in assessing the factors of the Internet development in Asia. Its
findings show that the Internet penetration is related to country’s
wealth, telecommunication infrastructure, urbanisation and stability
of the government, but not related to literacy level, political
freedom or proficiency in English (Xiaoming and Seet Kay 2004).
Research has established the language
of the users does not affect the spread of Internet in the countries.
What are the factors that ensure the usage of various languages
on the Internet?
The attitudes and factors
ensuring language diversity on the net
The attitudes towards the role of languages on the Internet are
as diverse as the attitudes and opinions that people hold about
languages in general. The actual activity on the Web to some extent
reflects these attitudes. In Europe, there is an emerging division
of language policies that were summed up by Treanor (2004):
- neo-Atlanticists support English
as European language of contact,
- defensive national language
activists seek a limited multilingualism, of national languages,
- regionalists and separatists
want all languages to get equal status, with hundreds of official
languages in Europe,
- technological optimists believe
full automatic translation will be available "soon",
so the political issues will disappear.
The user groups of different languages
(especially, enjoying the status of national languages or not) are
ensuring their presence and usage by network communities. Different
movements of enthusiasts defending language diversity in general
or on the net may be accounted as a power driving multilingualism
on the net as well. On one hand, there are those who, like Yukio
Tsuda, consider that the dominance of English signifies continuity
of neo-colonialism through colonialisation of consciousness and
ensures social and communication inequality as well as language
discrimination. The only answer to this is promotion of the “Ecology
of language paradigm” that advocates the right to language,
equality in communication, multilingualism and multiculturalism
(Tsuda 2000). On the other hand, there is a research community and
those who consider language diversity to be the source of cultural
diversity and vitality for humanity. Paul Treanor maintains a page
“Language futures Europe” and collects on it the links
on language policy, multilingualism, global language structures,
and the dominance of English. Others maintain various sites of endangered
languages (See: Foundation for endangered languages 2004).
National governments continue their
policy on the Internet and introduce the new aspect of it into governmental
discourse. France serves as a notorious example of national language
policy for the Web. At the opening ceremony of a Francophone summit
in Hanoi in 1997, French President Jacques Chirac said that the
world could end up speaking and thinking the same way unless nations
fight to preserve their linguistic and cultural diversity, especially
on the Internet. He was speaking to leaders and representatives
of the 47 member and two observer countries of La Francophonie,
a loose association of states that have the French language in common.
Chirac stressed that linguistic diversity on the Internet should
be both defended and imposed and promised that France would put
$3.45 million into a special fund created by Francophone nation
ministers to ensure that Francophone text, sound, and images would
be massively present on the net. (Reuters 1997).
Programmes of international governmental
organisations, like the European Union and UNESCO mirror the policies
of governments. UNESCO has established the Linguapax Institute –
a non-governmental organisation located in Barcelona that has to
continue activities started by a series of meetings organized by
UNESCO within the framework of the Linguapax project. Its main orientation
is the promotion of policies that protect language diversity and
that foster the learning of several languages. Among other aims
the Institute seeks to contribute to the presence of multilingualism
in cyberspace (Linguapax 2004).
The European Commission pays special
attention to the promotion of online content in languages other
than English in its action plan “eContent: European digital
content on global networks”. It launches, as a follow-on of
the INFO2000, Multilingualism in Information Society, and eEurope,
a new programme supporting European digital content on global networks
and promoting linguistic diversity in information society and expects
to cover a multiplicity of languages of the countries including
the new members of EU (eContent 2003).
However, the main factor of language
diversity on the Internet is the users need for sites in native
Most non-English Internet users
prefer Websites in their own language, according to IDC's eWorld
2001 Survey. Almost 34% of French respondents prefer to visit web
sites in English, while 62% prefer sites in French. In Germany,
only 18% prefer English language sites, compared to 79% who prefer
their native language. China ranks highest, with almost 85% favoring
web sites in Chinese over those in English (almost 15%). Japan has
the lowest preference for English (nearly 8%) of the 27 surveyed
countries, and is second only to China in its preference for Websites
in its native language (almost 84%). (Maroto 2003).
This factor was recognised by business
community quite early, and it became more and more interested in
providing services in different languages in order to reach their
customers. “Being successful in an [electronic] market requires
not only understanding the needs of the clients but also being able
to communicate with them in their language. The multilingualism
is good business, is good for business and those developing [electronic
commerce via the Internet] products and services should think multilingual
from the start” (Knoppers 1998:101).
The dominance of English language
on the Web for a long time was ensured not only by the place of
its origin and international character but by technology and standards,
which did not support different characters and other multilingual
features. At present these technical problems are either solved
or under investigation.
Barriers to localisation and multilingualism
are falling away. The possibilities and diversity of language resources
as well as means of teaching, learning, promoting, and practising
language are constantly growing. The major move was creation of
means supporting different character sets. Later multilingual search
engines, translation software, etc. came. Additional technical support
to languages is the possibility to use multimedia, especially sound
and video files or transmission.
The diversity of linguistic sites
on the net is overwhelming. There are language lists registering
languages in different forms and for different purposes. Research
and educational organisations, NGOs, or individuals maintain them.
Some of them list only some languages (e.g., endangered languages
of one region), the others up to 4900 (like the Global Recording
Network for promotion of evangelism).
All kinds of dictionaries are also
available: one language, two languages (like Swedish English, Swedish-Finnish,
Swedish-Greek on <http://www-lexikon.nada.kth.se/skolverket/lexin-en.html>),
multilingual, subject multilingual, etc. Special dictionary retrieval
sites like <http://www.yourdictionary.com>
(registers over 200 language dictionaries) are maintained and continuously
updated. Grammars and teaching material, textbooks, free and paid
language courses, research findings and projects for revival of
dying languages - it is impossible even to name all of them.
It is important to mention software
for translation of original texts and for translation of found pages.
It seems that there are many professionals trying to create solutions
for the major obstacle for global communication. Quite recently
there were only few programmes for translation of the major languages,
but more new ones appear allowing to switch not only between the
languages using the same script, but also between different systems
Browsing and search tools of the
net are becoming multilingual too. AltaVista allows searching in
25 languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Hebrew, and Korean. New
software is developed allowing conducting searches in ones native
language across the Web sites.
One of the explanations why the
connectivity to the Internet does not depend on proficiency in English
is communication services (like e-mail, chat groups, etc.) that
are language independent. These services allow not only the use
of any natural language, but any dialect, slang, or cipher. Several
ethnographic studies of youth chat groups and other on-line communities
in different countries (Check young people chat groups by S. Simsova,
Birmingham Young University research team in Britain) have noted
this particular usage of languages. In fact a natural language may
be used as a rhetorical code (or a secret language) which becomes
a distinguishing feature of on-line community allowing not only
to unify its members but to exclude 'outsiders'. The representatives
of "small" native languages take advantage of this possibility,
especially if they are scattered throughout the world. The numbers
of non-English language discussion groups or lists are also constantly
growing. I have found many lists in which people interested in other
languages are communicating in English. They are of two different
types: created by people interested in non-English language study
or research and members of small nations like Hopi, Cheyenne, Navaho,
etc. scattered over the world. It seems as though most of the latter
represent languages without strong written traditions. Some of their
language sites provide audio materials for language demonstration
and learning. It is possible that with other audio and video communication
possibilities emerging on the Web some of these languages will find
their users as well.
Lithuanian language on the
With the help of the students I have tried to follow the development
of the Internet in Lithuania from the linguistic point of view for
a longer period.
First of all, there are some figures
about the Internet usage in Lithuania.
||Hosts per 10 000 inhabitants
||Users per 10000 inhabitants
(Source: ITU 2003)
Internet usage depends much on the
available infrastructure and according to eEurope on ICT infrastructure,
Internet access and use in different countries, Lithuania belongs
to the group with a great need for development. However, the recent
survey of households in Lithuania indicates that 47% of people between
15 and 74 years of age, and 84% of those between 15 and 24 use the
Internet at least once a week. 73% of all users were seeking local
magazines and newspapers, almost a half was looking for information
about products and services (Statistikos Departamentas 2003). This
means that a number of inhabitants seeking information on Internet
in Lithuanian language must be quite numerous.
In 1997, L. Rudokaite has carried
out a survey of existing Lithuanian homepages (for a Master's thesis).
It led to a conclusion that most of the Web sites and homepages
are bilingual (Lithuanian and English). Moreover, there is a tendency
to start the creation of homepages from the English version. There
were no Web-sites related to Lithuanian language of any kind.
The repeated small-scale survey
of Lithuanian Web sites and homepages in 2000 found that most of
those, belonging to the central institutions and organisations,
had an English version. However, there were many new categories
that had only Lithuanian versions. Most of the pages created in
provinces were only Lithuanian; over 100 e-magazines and newspaper
versions were only Lithuanian, only in some instances were they
in another language (Russian, Polish, English, Jewish, etc.); two
thirds of e-commerce pages that were only Lithuanian, few supported
several languages on the same page, some had versions in several
other languages (mainly English, Russian, German), and a minority
had only Lithuanian and English versions. I had not come across
one entirely in English. On the other hand, I found pages composed
only in specific dialects, like literature items in Samogitian.
In September 2004 a survey of the
Web-pages of Lithuanian Internet (domain .lt) was made aiming to
find out what languages are most popular.
The register of LithuanianWeb-sites
of Lithuania On Line <http://www.online.lt/index.html.en>
was used for this purpose because it registers the largest amount
of Lithuanian Web-material in various categories. It links almost
13000 various Web-sites (governmental, public organisations, businesses,
education, leisure, music, periodicals, databases, etc.). Out of
these 298 Web-sites were selected randomly. The Web-sites were visited
in two days. The data about the languages used on the Web-sites
was collected. The amount of text on different language versions
of the same site was compared and some language use characteristics
noted. 9.7% of the sites from the directory were not found or were
under construction during the visiting time.
The survey has shown that 47.3%
of visited Web-sites use only one language. 42,2% are created only
in Lithuanian. 30.5% of sites use two languages, usually Lithuanian
and English (26.8%). 7.3% of sites are created in three languages
and the most popular combination is Lithuanian, English, and Russian
(6.4%). 4% of sites use more that 3 languages (from 4 to 22).
Lithuanian language is used in 95%
of all sites, English in 45.9%, Russian in 9.7%, Latvian and German
in 1.7%, Polish and Estonian in 1.3% of visited sites. French, Swedish,
Danish, Finnish, and Japanese are also used in the multilingual
sites. Two sites used 20 and 22 languages. One of them was an e-commerce
site (nomatica.lt), the other belonged to an organisation related
to the Council of EU and used all official EU languages.
The following table shows the use
of different languages in the sites of various organisations:
According to the survey, the creators
of the Web-sites in Lithuania use 29 languages. It is evident that
Lithuanian language dominates in the surveyed sites. In most cases
when more than one language is used to create a site, the second
or one of additional languages is English. This pattern is common
for the sites of all types of organisations. There are still 4,3%
of sites created only in English, mainly to attract the attention
of foreign audience (e.g., to the work of an artist in a personal
site, or to rent a summer house). In general, the sites using one
language (Lithuanian, Russian, or Polish) can be divided in several
main categories: periodicals, e-commerce, created for internal use
of organisations, directed only to regional population (e.g., Kaunas
territorial health security office, sports facilities, public libraries),
or created by small organisations (e.g., schools, clubs, SMEs).
Most of the sites with more than 4 languages are created by companies
because of the same reason. Within the chosen sample, the Web-sites
of hotels were using the biggest amount of various languages (6,
8, and 9). We also found a site without any text but graphics and
a site transmitting music without any comments or text.
The usage of parallel languages
in the Web-sites differs. Less than half of the surveyed sites provide
the equivalent versions of the pages in all languages. More often
the Lithuanian version is more extensive than the version in English
or subsequent languages. Sometimes, English and other versions are
only short introductions to the organisation, or summary of the
full version. In some cases the parallel text in Lithuanian and
English is used on the same page. We were not evaluating the quality
of languages, but even the superficial browsing reveals that at
least on the half of the sites the mistakes and incorrect uses are
characteristic for any language (including Lithuanian).
The other part of the survey of
the Web-sites was aimed to retrieve the Web-sites related to Lithuanian
language. The pages that contain description of the origins of Lithuanian
language, history of Lithuanian language, occasional pages of language-related
governmental programmes (e.g., The Lithuanian word on <http://www.spaudos.lt/index.htm>),
and pages created by teachers were found.
Web-sites of Language-related institutions
(e.g., National Language Commission, the State Language Inspection,
Institute of Lithuanian Language, etc.), provide information about
Lithuanian language and access to various language databases (e.g.,
to the Archive of Lithuanian dialects at <http://www.mch.mii.lt/dba/index.htm>).
One also can access some linguistic periodicals on the Web, but
mainly the contents pages or abstracts (not full-texts, e.g., Baltistica
In the year 2000, we could not find
a decent dictionary either of Lithuanian language or bilingual.
At present, the selection of high-quality online dictionaries is
quite impressive: the Dictionary of Modern Lithuanian Language,
Lithuanian-English, Lithuanian-Polish, Lithuanian-German-English,
short dictionaries for other languages, including Lithuanian-Japanese
online dictionary. There are also specialised dictionaries (e.g.,
of computer terminology, finance, etc.)
To some extent one can also treat
the sites of Lithuanian radio stations as language resources –
they provide a possibility to listen to Lithuanian speech. However,
the material supporting learning of Lithuanian as a second language
“Multilingualism on the Web is the logical and natural consequence
of the diversity of human populations” as persons interviewed
by Marie Lebert state (Lebert 1999). However, we should not depend
on natural consequences as there are many factors influencing the
development on the net. Ensuring of multilingualism demands great
resources and investments, far greater than businessmen may be inclined
to put in and enthusiasts can afford. The development and sustaining
of special language policies on international and national levels
is necessary to achieve equality of languages and citizens in an
The development of the Lithuanian
online language resources was ensured by the recent governmental
programmes, like The Lithuanian Word or the Commemoration of the
450th Anniversary of the First Lithuanian Book. The resources of
UNESCO and EU were also invested into development of some major
databases for this field.
The language variety has to be supported,
but it is also driven by the needs of organisations and businesses
to address the target audiences in their own language. The strategies
of language use for creating Web-sites reveal this trend unambiguously.
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Associated Professor, Faculty of Communication, Vilnius