Wednesday 29 December 2010

What is the new dominant language of the internet?

According to Nicholas Ostler in The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel  (2010):

The online communities that use languages other than English have grown meteorically in the first decade of the twenty-first century. From 2000 to 2009, the fastest growing languages on the Net (in numbers of users) were Arabic (twentyfold), Chinese (twelvefold), Portuguese (ninefold), Spanish (sevenfold), and French (sixfold). (pp. 263-264)

See more from this book.
And according to the infographic below, Chinese will become the dominant internet language in five years. But I am not entirely convinced, are you? 

Click image to enlarge.
(Thank you, Alvin, for drawing my attention to this. The image is from Gizdomo via. The Next Web.) 


  1. What we are seeing is an increase in the use of the internet outside of English speaking countries. This is a good thing, in my opinion, since it signals an increase in knowledge sharing.

    Trying to find a language that will dominate the internet seems like a hopeless quest. The real issue, it seems to me concerns the advantage multilingual people will gain through their abilities to move information between different parts of the world.

    I have a nephew who has a business importing electronic networking equipment from different Asian countries. China, Taiwan, Thailand, and other SE Asian countries. He has told me that language has not been a problem for him. The main issue is being on site. If he goes to the manufacturing business offices in the different countries, and speaks directly with them, there is always, someone that speaks English to work with him. Exporters know that they have an advantage if the can communicate in English. There is no international language of business, but smart business people know that communication improves business.

    Television is another area of communication. I regularly watch a great deal of Chinese television. Many Chinese shows have been influenced by English language television. Dating shows, game shows, reality shows, and Talk shows are all copied from Western television and more and more incorporate English language words into the shows. Some even run English subtitles along with the ubiquitous (Simplified)Chinese subtitles.

    Probably the most difficult problem involves the segmentation of the internet. This has evolved from nationalistic fervor that seeks to isolate and censor for various reasons. Still in the long term, it's like trying to hold back the ocean. People love to talk and share what they know. And forbidden knowledge is always the most juicy and fun to share. That's why Wikileaks interests people so much.

    The internet is about communication. It facilitates communication, regardless of the language used. Search a foreign web site with Google and Google will offer to translate for you. So in the future it will hardly matter which language you use. The Internet will translate for us.


  2. Interesting thoughts, both in the post above and in Yamabuki's comments. Google Translate can help give us a general gist of what's going on, but it's better with some languages than others, and real (human) translators may always be required to catch true nuance and meaning.

    In a more multilingual internet, we might also see sites like Danwei and Global Voices Online, which translate and also interpret news sources and blogs, become increasingly prominent. But I'm not sure they will gain all THAT much currency. The internet won't feel as if it's fragmenting; the growing use of other languages online merely reflects the fact that more people outside the English speaking world are gaining access and contributing to the internet. Users will probably stay mostly within their cultural, linguistic, and even national silos, largely paralleling their cares and behaviors offline.

  3. This is quite different idea but sounds quite interesting. I liked it.....


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