Enhancing linguistic and cultural diversity in cyberspace (WS19)

7 Dec 2016 13:00h - 14:30h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 11th Internet Governance Forum]

For the Internet to enable inclusive and sustainable growth, it is essential that individual Internet users be able to create, access content, and have software tools in their own languages. In 2016, more than 90% of the global Internet population is outside of North America, yet English remains the language of more than 50% of web content. This session addressed the following questions:

  • How are the major web platforms encouraging diversity in cultural and linguistic expression?
  • What are the trends in cultural and linguistic diversity from major studies such as: UNESCO’s Report on Globalisation of Cultural Trade (2016), UNESCO’s Atlas of the World Languages in Danger or the Internet Society’s Global Internet Report?
  • What are the links between internationalised domain names and multilingual content, and what work is taking place to overcome barriers to large scale IDN solutions?
  • What are the implications for inclusive and sustainable growth or failure to take positive steps to enhance cultural and linguistic diversity?
  • How can the policy process be made more inclusive in order to prioritise issues such as : enhancing cultural and linguistic diversity?

This session was animated by various actors from governments, the private sector, civil society, and the technical community, all engaged in promoting online cultural and linguistic projects. The moderator and co-organiser, Mr Giovanni Seppia, EURid,  gave the floor to both panellists and members of the audience.

Co-organiser, Ms Emily Taylor, Director Oxford Information Labs, started by presenting the IDN 2016 Report.  She said that 6.8 million IDNs exist in the world today. Of the 6000 languages spoken in the world, only 3 scripts are found nearly everywhere (the Latin scripts, the Greek scripts, and the Cyrillic scripts) in cyberspace. Of the 6000 languages UNESCO has tracked, over 50% of online content is in English. Therefore, the creation of the IDN project could lead to a more diverse cyberspace; because much thinking should be turned towards the coming next billion Internet users and their different languages.

A UNESCO representative said that the IDN project supports cultural and linguistic diversity the world over. Because 50% of the world’s languages suffer the risk of disappearing, UNESCO came up with a recommendation on multilingualism in cyberspace. The creation of an Atlas of World Languages, developing and creating a global task force (academia and natives), in order to create a global map in terms of linguistics. He also highlighted that multilingualism is not just a slogan. People out in the world should not lose all their culture, because culture is embedded in their different languages.

Ms Wafa Dahmani Ep Zaafouri, Head of Internet resources department (NIC/LIR), ALAC member in ICANN & AFTLD member (African Top Level Domain org.), participating remotely, said that she believes the Internet needs to be multilingual to preserve our cultural identities on the Internet without being marginalised. She said, in the whole of Tunisia, only 300 IDNs are available. People are not aware of the existence of this service. The government and local institutions need to enhance the Internet services available. She said that IDNs are there to represent ‘Universal Acceptance’. Multilingual content is essential. The more websites with local content and languages, the more people will connect to their native language sites.

Mr Baher Esmat, ICANN, explained how there are now new top level domains in the domain names system. He said that ICANN, together with the Internet community (stirring group), i.e, experts, academia, have all been working on a project on communication issues, and on how to make ‘Universal Acceptance’ a reality. This stirring group is open to the general public, and anybody can contact them and exchange ideas with them about their work.   

by Antony Namaga, Internet Society Cameroon