You might think technology was making the world more monolingual. Doesn’t English still dominate the Internet, with everyone writing les emails on der Laptop?
Some experts now say that that new technology such as Apple’s Siri or GoogleVoice could help save some of the world’s most endangered languages.
Languages put into a Red List
Although most people have never heard of them, it’s estimated that a language goes extinct once every two weeks. Of the world’s roughly 6500 languages, most are never written down, far from making it onto the Internet. And 80 per cent of web communication is in just 10 languages.
Dr Laura Welcher, of the Rosetta Project, which aims to record all the world’s languages, says research on these 300 could benefit less common languages. They’re already running the 300 Languages Project, which is designed to be the beginning of a universal, digital library. They hope the research methods and standards can then be scaled up to include more languages.
Apple’s voice-controlled personal assistant Siri is also expanding the number of languages it supports, and will include most of the top 10 used languages on the Internet by 2012. This could make it easier to continue to add extra languages, and the resources could eventually aid linguistic research.
The Rosetta project looks like an uphill struggle at the moment, but new technology could provide a glimmer of hope for language-lovers.l
What is foreign language internet?
The internet is a crowded place – at least in English. With hundreds of competitors scrambling for the top search engine rankings, it’s hard to get your voice heard.
But the rapidly growing foreign language internet means great untapped marketing opportunities. The numbers of Spanish, French, Russian and Arabic users have seen massive growth in the last decade, with businesses struggling to keep up with demand.
More than half of all Google searches are now in languages other than English, while Chinese is set to take over as the dominant language of the web in the next few years. In the United States, the number of Spanish-speaking users is growing rapidly.
Not surprisingly, most online shoppers would prefer to read about products in their native tongue. In fact, the aptly titled 2006 report Can’t Read, Won’t Buy by the Common Sense Advisory found 85 per cent of users refused to make a purchase unless the information was available in their own language. On the plus side, translation can result in big payoffs. Some experts estimate every $1 spent on localization yields a $25 return (LISA).
Put simply, the lion’s share of online business goes to the top sites ranked by Google and other search engines. And it’s far easier to climb their rankings in languages where there’s much less competition.