Language and the Internet

(Axel Boer) #1


those technologically developed parts of the world which happen
to contain large numbers of minority or endangered languages,
such as the USA, Canada, and Australia. I would guess that about a
quarter of the world’s languages have some sort of Internet presence
How much use is made of these sites is, of course, a different
matter. Until a critical mass of Internet penetration in a country
builds up, and a corresponding mass of content exists in the local
language, the motivation to switch from English-language sites will
be limited to those for whom issues of identity outweigh issues of
increase in functionality by the square of the number of nodes they
contain. In other words, a single language site is useless, because
the owner has nobody to link to; two provides a minimal commu-
nicativity; and so on. The future is also very much dependent on
the levels of English-speaking ability in individual countries, and
the likelihood of further growth in those levels.^50 Code-mixing is
also found in many interactive Internet situations, though not so
much as yet on the Web.^51 Technological progress (see chapter 8)
will also radically alter the situation. There is no doubt that low-
cost Internet use is going to grow, all over the world, as wireless
networking puts the Internet within reach of people in developing
nations who will use access devices powered by solar cells or clock-
work generators. Global mobile phones will have dish-on-a-chip
transceivers built into them, with communication up and down via
LEO [‘low earth orbit’] satellite.^52 All of this must have an impact
on language presence.
In the above examples, we are encountering language presence
in a real sense. These are not sites which only analyse or talk about
languages, from the point of view of linguistics or some other

(^50) See Vehovar, Batagelj, and Lozar (1999), for a discussion of this situation in relation to
51 Slovenian.
Code-switching is noted by both Li Longyan (2000: 34) and Li Lan (2000: 28), both with
52 Chinese English. See also p. 166.
See the account in Cotton and Garrett (1999: 14ff.).

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