International Mother Language Day – 21 February 2011
by A. Drame
Linguistic diversity is dwindling fast. Already, half of the world’s 6,000 languages are endangered, according to official UNESCO figures.
While the Internet is now the major driving force when it comes to the spreading of information, knowledge and culture, it is dominated by very few languages, like English, French, Spanish or Chinese. Even languages which are spoken by millions of people, like Kiswahili, Tamil, Hindi are virtually not present in the World Wide Web.
This fact has two major effects: it promotes the dominance of these languages as de-facto global linguas francas; it also still prevents the Internet to develop its full potential as global medium and repository of knowledge and culture. New information technologies these days have ventured into the remotest places of the Earth and reach more people than ever before in history. However, lacking content in “smaller” or less dominant languages hampers the possibilities that this development could open to promote democracy, equal opportunities and development, and to prevent discrimination. All because it still does not allow access to vital information, to education and resources for millions of people with limited knowledge of these few dominant languages.
The neglect of “smaller” languages in the new technologies has yet another adverse effect. While technological development and the evolution of the Internet proceeds ever more rapidly, those languages which miss out to follow suit now, risk to lose more and more of their functions ever faster. With increasing “monolingualisation” and simultaneous permeation of the Web to various social and geographical regions, even languages which may seem healthy and strong today may lose their ability to evolve and develop further through this medium.
At the same time, many contributions from speakers of other languages will not be heard now and in future. Many ideas and innovations that can best be expressed in a person’s mother tongue will thus be lost. The result is a true pauperization of our emerging knowledge societies.
The true danger is that the process reinforces itself to the advantage of some and on the costs of many others. And once gone it is hard to revive.
UNESCO set the theme for this year “The information and communication technologies for the safeguarding and promotion of languages and linguistic diversity” to highlight the new technologies’ enormous potential for safeguarding, documenting and promoting the use of mother languages.
TermNet supports this effort and, therefore, calls for joint efforts to promote linguistic diversity in the new media for the mutual benefit of all.