ICT language issues for education, innovation, culture and development

6 May 2016 09:00h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the WSIS Forum 2016.]

Multilingualism and cultural diversity have proven to be of major importance for Internet access and the proper use of online services. Native languages stimulate local innovation in developing economies, and are the basis for online communication and education. This session – presented both in English and French – addressed the issue of ICT multilingualism from multiple angles.

First, moderator Mr Richard Delmas (President, Semantis) presented the topic, providing the connections between the issues of multilingualism, cultural diversity, and online education, and introduced the speakers. Ms Margaret Dunham (Lecturer in translation and interpretation at INALCO) opened the panel by offering a gender perspective on online multilingualism. She claimed that men and women do not communicate in the same way, and that the involvement of women (online and offline) is crucial to enhance education and advance peace and development objectives.

Ms Anne-Marie Laulan (Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Université Montaigne Bordeaux 3) approached the topic from a sociological angle. She stressed that the need and desire to communicate are at the basis of modern technology. Therefore, responding to the desire to communicate in local languages is of vital importance if ICT wants to make a difference and respond to local needs.

Ms Viola Krebs (Maaya, ICVolunteers) provided a practical example of how her organisation – Maaya – attempts to promote online multilingualism in different settings; from rural communities to multilingual cities and the WSIS forum itself. Furthermore, she emphasised the importance of creating a World Summit on Linguistic Diversity in the near future.

Mr Didier Carré (Vice-President, EIF and CECUA) confirmed the general sentiment that for ICT to make a difference, it needs to respond to local needs. Elaborating on his experiences in Indonesia, he underlined that ICT tools in rural communities can only be effective if they are provided in local languages. He also stressed the utility of new translation e-tools, which can help in communicating with other communities and involving persons with disabilities.

The final speaker, Ms Ghislaine Azermard (Professor in Information and Communication Science, Université Paris 8) introduced the topic of digital humanism, stressing the importance of looking at the human elements in today’s digital world. A concrete example of her work is the creation of the Digital Human Rights Charter.

The Q&A discussion addressed many different topics related to the speakers’ interventions, including rural communities, infrastructure, the ethical sides of the Internet, and changes in human solidarity and identity. Krebs wrapped up the discussion by saying that ICT poses a risk for certain languages, which are now disappearing, but that there are also technological opportunities to make the Internet more dynamic and include marginalised cultures and languages in global processes. 

by Barbara Rosen Jacobson