Having been caught up in meeting a deadline I missed getting out a more timely
mention of International Mother Language Day (Feb. 21). Its theme this year is
relevant to this thread: linguistic diversity in cyberspace. For more info, see

The thread has been an interesting one - thanks to Cindy and Nazrul for getting
it started. There's a lot to say and I began compiling some thoughts that go
off a bit on a technical tangent, but one that I think is useful when
considering multilingual ICT and the role of those of us working on aspects of
the digital divide...

1. First, I think Peter was right to point out that the key to multilingualism
and ICT is facilitating the use of diverse languages and that in general "we"
don't decide what is on the web or computer systems. But we do when we are part
of a project that has a choice about localizing content to diverse languages, or
about the language(s) of software installed on computers in telecenters etc. And
in those cases I would argue that we have a responsibility to be appropriately
proactive on linguistic diversity.

2. Facilitating the use of diverse languages, as Peter pointed out, begins with
making it "technically feasible." All the work on internationalizing systems
including the coding for character sets (Unicode / ISO-10646 ; see
http://www.unicode.org/ ) has gone a long way to leveling a field that at one
time was in some ways a cliff - referring here to ASCII (a necessary step, but
a constraining legacy for multiscript or even diacritic Latin characters [still
run into problems with French, not even to mention Fulfulde]). Here I would
mention the work of W3C on standards (see http://www.w3c.org/ ) for those who
want to learn more.

3. Internationalization shades into localization - adaptation of interfaces and
content to diverse languages and cultures - but I often say that the "last
mile" of internationalization is critical: Distributing computer systems
(including cheap laptops) to telecenters or schools without actualizing all the
internationalized features that could be used in the context is to make all the
effort for internationalization worthless and at the same time to shortchange
the beneficiaries. Here I'm referring to basics like fonts with the scripts or
characters necessary, and input systems (keyboard layout options). And this too
is an area that "we," when working on ICT projects, can pay attention to.

4. If internationalization is about opening options, localization is about
taking full advantage of them. And localization according to some begins with
locales, or data on various details essential to localize. In effect locales
can inform a completion of the last mile mentioned above as well as efforts to
localize. Let me mention here both that localization of free/open-source
software into various minority language is an area of increasing activity, and
that there is a opush to file locales for many of the large number not yet in
the Common Locale Data Repository (CLDR). The latter is a technical and
linguistic issue, but if there are any on DDN who are interested I can forward
more info.

5. Dave's discussion of how people in various places view English (and I might
add by extension other major languages of wider communication [LWCs]) reminds
us of larger sociolinguistic (and economic) dynamics at work, and that there
are incentives for use of more widely spoken languages. What is unfortunate is
the erroneous notion among some that there is a necessary trade-off between the
LWC (esp. English) and the maternal language. What is worse is when systems of
education, or computer systems made available, effectively promote that idea
and minimize the significance of first languages. The idea of course is not to
engineer what people speak - that is their decision - but to recognize our
roles in keeping space open for people to use their first languages, local
lingua francas, etc.

6. In this discussion I think it is important to be alert to what you don't see.
It is easy to see the demand for ESL in some contexts, but often not so the
interest in first languages. And I think it would be a mistake to assume that
based on this, the first languages do not matter so much for purposes of
expanding use of ICT. This is not to put words in anyone's mouth here, but I
have noted this sort of bias among some non-Africans working on development in

7. On the topic of how language relates to the digital divide, I would add that
there are broader and narrower definitions of the digital divide. Strictly
speaking I suppose it relates to connections and physical access, language is
not an issue. But in practice it, and other non-technical factors, are.
Moreover, there are other wider definitions of digital divide, as most of the
readers of this list are certainly aware, some of which go back a few years. At
the risk of belaboring the point I would note that: (a) Kenneth Keniston in 2003
described four digital divides of which one is linguistic and cultural (the
other three are socioeconomic within countries, technological between North and
South, and the gap between the technical elite and everyone else - see
http://web.mit.edu/~kken/Public/PAPERS/Intro_Sage.html ); and (b) a roundtable
on the digital divide at UCLA in 2002 considered "a whole range of digital
disparity gaps" among which language issues figure prominently (see
http://www.newliteracies.gseis.ucla.edu/publications/re-eval_bridge.pdf ).

Sorry for being a bit longwinded but hope some of this is useful.

Don Osborn
PanAfrican Localisation Project

Quoting Peter Abrahamsen <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>:

> The lovely thing about the Internet, and the world in general, is that
> we do not make decisions like "the Internet shall appear in Bengali."
> What we do is we make it technically feasible, and we endeavour to
> empower people to make their own choices, individually and
> aggregately, as to what their Internet will look like. It's difficult
> to figure out what that means, and to surrender our own prejudices.
> Where "we" is, I don't know, the folks who are in positions to move
> their worlds in one direction or another.

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