Languages of the world: Digital networks and ICT tools for inclusion, education, and content creation

12 Jun 2017 16:30h - 18:15h

Event report

[Read more session reports from WSIS Forum 2017]

The session explored the use of languages in cyberspace and was moderated by Mr Richard Delmas (President Semantis, Belgium).

Ms Margaret Dunham (Interpreter at Inalco, the USA/France) considered information from the point of rational process as well as the emotional. ‘In human development becoming aware of the process of emotions is much earlier than becoming aware of the world of fact’. Documentation of a language and the upload of content on Internet are a waste of time without a ‘receiving end’ who can understand and integrate languages, stated Dunham.

As emotional aspects of the educational process, she also noted four factors for learning:

  • Desire to learn
  • Active engagement in the learning process
  • Need for feedback
  • Collaboration with other people.

She assumed that understanding emotions gives access to lexical knowledge. In this regard ‘interpreting is getting the message rightly’, including body language. Dunham believes ‘in the world, where people can ask questions, get information […], a man paves the way for the future generation’. 

Prof. May Addallah (University of Liban, Beyrouth) tackled the question of how and to what extent do social media participate in a re-configuration of relations between rulers and the governed people in the Middle East. She emphasised that, when used for entertainment and the organisation of privacy, social media modify the distribution of information, facilitate the mobilisation and organisation of events, allow the expression of communities, and tend to impose more transparency and responsibility on policy makers.

Since the beginning of events such as the Arab Spring in the Middle East, the role of mobile phones, the Internet, and social media have been emphasised as a decisive factor in the organisation and distribution of information on these events. She noted that Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Lebanon are the most advanced in adapting these uses. Bloggers and social media users play a decisive role in the launching of alerts about the treatment of the media close to the powers in place. However, acts of repression against bloggers, journalists, and activists have been recorded in other parts of the Middle East as well. For example, in Bahrain, 230 people were arrested and accused of terrorism in 2010, a few months before the elections.

Referring to the experience of Lebanon, Addallah noted that a ‘partisan Internet’ is developing, but it is neither collaborative nor interactive. ‘The web is more a technological showcase, a way to make activism more pragmatic by offering actions than a space to exchange. Above all, the will to supervise and control political communication has never been more central, especially during an election period.’

Abdullah also noted that for political parties, the objective is the same as in marketing communications: to appear innovative at the forefront of technology, to be ‘in the act’. The theme of innovation is omnipresent in the candidates’ discourse and the use of social networks makes it possible to illustrate this, even if the political parties are far from using all the potentials of these tools.

In conclusion, she mentioned that ‘among the many hopes aroused by the Internet, there is that of a better political debate, richer and open to all’. She expressed hope that through the rise of social networks, all connected people could debate and share arguments without any barriers.

Prof. Ismail Benali (University of Paris) described the complexity of the sociolinguistic context in Algeria. The Algerian dialectal Arabic, which is constituted on Berber and Punic substrata, also has an important lexical base resulting from Tamazight and French, stressed Benali.

Difficulty in describing Algerian dialectical varieties is caused by:

  • Intertwining of regional, rural, and urban dialects
  • Influence of rural exodus
  • Policy of development of southern Algeria
  • Development of transport and the job market
  • Mix of languages

In this regard, the Internet and social media are considered as a tool of connecting youth. For example, Algerian ‘youtubers’ have millions of followers. They are from different regions, speak varieties of Arabic, and some of them adapt their languages to avoid regional lexical specifics to be understood. He concluded his presentation by saying that there are two paths: cyber language will shape and standardise the Algerian dialect or contribute to better inter-comprehension between the different dialectal varieties of Algerian Arabic.

The moderator, Delmas, closed the session with an invitation to the audience to participate in a follow-up session in the framework of the World Humanities Conference, to be held on 6-12 August 2017, in Liege, Belgium.


by Nazgul Kurmanalieva