Language and the Internet

(Axel Boer) #1


inhabitant, more English-speaking people, etc.). The
counter-attack is not to ‘fight against English’ and even less to
whine about it, but to increase sites in other languages. As a
translation service, we also recommend the multilingualism of

Tyler Chambers, creator of various Web language projects, agrees:

the future of the Internet is even more multilingualism and
cross-cultural exploration and understanding than we’ve already

The point seems to be uncontentious among those who shaped the
Web. Tim Berners-Lee, for example:^55

The Web must allow equal access to those in different economic
and political situations; those who have physical or cognitive
disabilities;those of different cultures; and those who use different
languages with different characters that read in different
directions across a page.

The problem is a practical one, but a great deal has been done
since the mid-1990s.^56 First, the ASCII character set was extended,
so that non-English accents and diacritics could be included, but
its 8-bit restriction meant that only a maximum of 256 characters
could be handled – a tiny number compared with the array of
languages in the world which do not use the Latin alphabet.^57 The
UNICODE system represents each character with 16 bits, allow-
ing over 65,000 characters; but the implementation of this system is
still in its infancy.^58 The Web consortium now has an internation-
alization activity looking specifically at different alphabets, so that
operating systems can support a page in any alphabet. And Berners-
Lee looks forward to the day when the linking of meanings, within
and between languages, is possible through the use of ‘inference

(^55) Berners-Lee (1999: 178).
(^56) As reviewed, for example, by Bourbonnais and Yergeau (1996).
(^57) For the world’s writing systems, see Daniels and Bright (1996).
(^58) See the Unicode site at; also the review of fonts and special
characters in Condron (2000b).

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