Language and the Internet

(Axel Boer) #1

The language of the Web 221

academic subject; they are sites which allow us to see languages
as they are. In many cases, the total Web presence, in terms of
number of pages, is quite small. The crucial point is that the lan-
guages are out there, even if represented by only a sprinkling of
sites. It is the ideal medium for minority languages, given the rela-
tive cheapness and ease of creating a Web page, compared with the
cost and difficulty of obtaining a newspaper page, or a programme
or advertisement on radio or television. On the other hand, de-
veloping a significant cyber-presence is not easy. As Ned Thomas
comments, in an editorial forContact, reflecting on the reduced
dominance of English on the Net (p. 216):^53

It is not the case... that all languages will be marginalized on the
Net by English. On the contrary, there will be a great demand for
multilingual Web sites, for multilingual data retrieval, for machine
translation, for voice recognition systems to be multilingual....
The danger for minority languages – and indeed for all small
languages – is that they will be left outside the innercircle of
languages for which it is commercially viable to develop voice
recognition and machine translation systems. Typically, such
systems depend on the analysis of large bodies of language which
can be expensive to develop and which can take time to develop.

The interviews conducted by Marie Lebert for her study indi-
cate that those in the business are fairly unanimous about the
future multilinguality of the Internet in general, and the Web in
particular.^54 Take this comment, from Marcel Grangier, head of
the Section franc ̧aise des Services linguistiques centrau x(SLC-f)
[‘French Section of the Central Linguistic Services’] of the Swiss
Federal Administration:

Multilingualism on the Internet can be seen as a happy and above
all irreversible inevitability. In this perspective we have to make
fun of the wet blankets who only speak to complain about the
supremacy of English. This supremacy is not wrong in itself,
inasmuch as it is the result of mainly statistical facts (more PCs per

(^53) Ned Thomas (2000).Contactis the bulletin for the European Bureau of Lesser Used
54 Languages.
This and the following quotation are from Lebert (1999).

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