Multilingualism

Updates

Google has announced enhancements to its neural machine translation (NMT) technology, allowing it to run Google Translate applications offline, on users' devices. The technology will allow users to 'get high-quality translations' even when they are not connected to the Internet. The artificial intelligence (AI) system that powers it allows the translation of 'whole sentences at a time', and it 'uses broader content to help determine the most relevant translation, which it then rearranges and adjusts to sound more like a real person speaking with proper grammar'. To use the new technology, users will have to download language sets on their devices, and Google explains that each such set is around 35-35MB. The tool is to be made available in 59 languages.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has published the final version of the revised Internationalised Domain Name (IDN) Implementation Guidelines. The document is the result of work that started in 2015, intending to update the most recent version of the guidelines, dating back to 2011. The new guidelines – which are now pending ratification from the ICANN Board of Directors – are addressed to top-level domain registries and registrars which offer, or plan to offer, IDN registration. The guidelines contain guidance on IDN registration policies and practices, and are designed to minimise the risk of cybersquatting and consumer confusion.​

Microsoft researchers announced that they have created what they believe to be 'the first machine translation system that can translate sentences of news articles from Chinese to English with the same quality and accuracy as a person'. To develop this translation system, the researchers used several methods of training artificial intelligence (AI) systems: dual learning, deliberation networks, joint training, and agreement regularisation. Microsoft's translation system, explained in details in a research paper, achieved the so-called human parity on a commonly used dataset of news stories – newstest2017. The translation results were compared with two independently produced human reference translations, and the comparison showed that the machine translation results were accurate and on par with the translations carried out by humans. While the researchers are enthusiastic about achieving the human parity milestone on the dataset, they cautioned, that the achievement does not mean that machine translation is a solved problem. Challenges remain, and the translation system needs to be tested on real-time news stories.

Jon Henley from The Guardian reports that 'Iceland’s mother tongue and cultural identity is drowning in an online ocean of English'. Henley notes that Icelandic is spoken only by some 340,000 people, and it doesn't import words for new phenomena, rather, new words are drawn from the Norse vocabulary, so they look and sound like Icelandic. This retains a pure language that adapts to today's technology, even if, as he notes, Siri and Alexa don't understand them. But since the online world which is now a large part of daily life, speaks English, and not much Icelandic, children especially are not building the necessary base in their native tongue. 'English may not be the enemy – in principle, multilingualism is obviously a good thing – but its sheer weight and variety online are overwhelming, said Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson, a professor of Icelandic language and linguistics at the University of Iceland, and member of an ongoing research study on the topic. Icelandic is not alone in this situation: As many as 21 European languages are potentially at risk of 'digital extinction', according to research from the Multilingual Europe Technology Alliance (META).  

Microsoft has announced Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Deep Neural Networks to improve real-time language machine translation for Hindi, Bengali and Tamil languages, notably for India. This will produce more accurate results for users while surfing the Internet, across different browsers and applications. Complexities in achieving these results included the number of Indic languages and the lack of content in local languages. Bhashaindia.com provides links to this and other and other computing tools for Indic languages.

Stressing the importance of internationalised domain names (IDNs) as part of a special report Domain names on a multilingual internet, Viviane Reding, former EU commissioner for culture, information society and justice, said that 'Endangered languages could be saved by the internet'. In another article from the same report, Emily Taylor, author of the World Report on the Internationalised Domain Names 2018noted her concern that IDNs are not achieving everything they could to increase the use of non-Latin domain names in Europe, pointing out a downward trend in the number of websites using IDNs. Taylor highlighted the need to increase the use of IDNs, saying 'Urgent action is needed unless we all want to continue speaking English.' This series of articles is part of the follow-up after the European Internet Forum meeting, Language access to the internet, held earlier this year, highlighting the importance of linguistic diversity and the need to foster universal acceptance and increased use of IDNs.

 

                                                                                       World Map showing the growth of IDNs from 2013 to 2016

                                                                                       World Map: Growth of IDNs 2013 to 2016

                                                                                       Source: IDN World Report

Multilingualism is an important aspect of the promotion and development of cultural diversity on the Internet. If the Internet is to be used by all within society, content needs to be accessible in more languages. A report released by the UN Broadband Commission in 2015 reveals that only about 5% of the world's estimated 7100 languages are currently represented on the internet. It also notes that the use of the Latin script remains a challenge for many Internet users, in particular for reading domain names.

Multilingualism is strongly related to local content. Having more languages on the internet means that more locally relevant content is being made available. If online content is provided in local languages (by governments, companies, etc.), this gives people incentives to get online, as ‘users’ of content. At the same time, allowing people to express themselves online in their own languages encourages them to become generators of content. As such, the availability of local content can contribute to making the internet more inclusive and to bridge the digital divide, through its potential to attract more people online, both as users and generators of content.

 

Updates in multilingual content on the Internet may now come from multilingual content marketing as business moves to incorporate new audiences. In addition, e-commerce and other applications are moving to multilingual interfaces to reach users in multicultural and multilingual populations like India. The problem with English points out that ‘Foreign countries are opaque to mostly monolingual Britons and Americans. Foreigners know us much better than we know them’, and suggests that this language asymmetry probably hurts English speaking countries in many ways, including communications; lost access to information in other languages; and even difficulty in fighting cybercrime and hacking. 

The promotion of multilingualism requires technical standards that facilitate the use of non-Latin alphabets. One of the early initiatives related to the multilingual use of computers was undertaken by the Unicode Consortium – a non-profit institution that develops standards to facilitate the use of character sets for different languages.

In their turn, ICANN and the IETF took an important step in promoting Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs). IDNs facilitate the use of domain names written in non-Latin alphabets such as Chinese, Arabic, Cyrillic and others. As of January 2015, IDNs have been introduced in several countries and territories as equivalent to their Latin country code top level domains (ccTLDs). For example, in China, 中国 has been introduced in addition to .cn, while in Russia, рф has been introduced in addition to .ru. IDN are also part of ICANN’s New gTLD Programme, allowing for the registration of new top level domains (gTLDs) in scripts other than the Latin one; for example, .сайт (website) and .онлайн (online) are among the new top level domains available to the public.

IDNs thus contribute to making the Internet more inclusive, as the possibility of accessing and registering domain names in more languages and scripts empower more people to use the Internet. It has been said numerous times that domain names are not only about addressing and naming, but also about content; they are therefore relevant for local communities, and they have the potential of encouraging both the use and the development of local content, in local languages and scripts.

Many efforts have been also made to improve machine translation. Given its policy of translating all official activities into the languages of all member states, the EU has supported various development activities in the field of machine translation. Although major breakthroughs have been made, limitations remain. In the case of IDNs, for example, universal acceptance is still a challenge when it comes to issues such as functional IDN e-mails and recognition of IDN by search engines.

The promotion of multilingualism requires appropriate governance frameworks. The first element of governance regimes has been provided by organisations such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), which has instigated many initiatives focusing on multilingualism, including the adoption of important documents, such as the Universal Declaration of Cultural Diversity.

Another key promoter of multilingualism is the EU, since it embodies multilingualism as one of its basic political and working principles. The evolution and wide usage of Web 2.0 tools, allowing ordinary users to become contributors and content developers, offers an opportunity for greater availability of local content in a wide variety of languages. Nevertheless, without a wider framework for the promotion of multilingualism, the opportunity might end up creating an even wider gap, since users feel the pressure of using the common language in order to reach a broader audience.

Events

Actors

(UNESCO)

UNESCO facilitates

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UNESCO facilitates global advocacy and discussions on freedom of expression and relevant issues including privacy at the WSIS and the Internet Governance Forum. It further explores freedom of expression online in-depth through its flagship publication of Internet Freedom. UNESCO also defines key indicators to help stakeholders assess the local situation. Media development indicators are an analytic tool designed to assess the state of the media and measure the impact of media development programmes. Internet Universality Indicators aims to build a framework of indicators through which to assess levels of achievement, in individual countries and internationally, on four fundamental principles:  human rights, openness, accessibility and multistakeholderism.

(ICANN)

ICANN has championed efforts in the area of multilingualism by supporting access to multilingual onl

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ICANN has championed efforts in the area of multilingualism by supporting access to multilingual online content by the use of Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs) IDNs enable people around the world to use domain names in local scripts (not only Latin, but also Cyrillic, Arabic, Chinese, etc). ICANN has a dedicated programme to assist in the development and promotion of a multilingual Internet using these IDNs. The programme is primarily focused on the planning and implementation of IDN top-level domains (TLDs), including IDN country code TLDs and generic TLDs. In addition, the ICANN community is working on addressing problems related to the universal acceptance of IDNs.

(IETF)

The core mission of the IETF is to develop technical standards for the Internet, ranging from Internet protoco

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The core mission of the IETF is to develop technical standards for the Internet, ranging from Internet protocols (e.g. IPv4 and IPv6) and the Domain Name System (e.g. aspects related to the functioning of Internationalised Domain Names), to routing systems and security issues. Areas of work covered by IETF working groups include applications (e.g. real time communication and audio/video transport), Internet protocols, operations and management (e.g. DNS operations, routing operations, network configuration), routing (e.g. inter-domain routing, tunneling protocol extensions), security and transport (e.g. authentication and authorisation, IP security maintenance and extensions, and transport layer security).

(ITU, UIT)
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The ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) develops international standards (called recommendations) covering information and communications technologies. Standards are developed on a consensus-based approach, by study groups composed of representatives of ITU members (both member states and companies). These groups focus on a wide range of topics: operational issues, economic and policy issues, broadband networks, Internet protocol based networks, future networks and cloud computing, multimedia, security, the Internet of Things and smart cities, and performance and quality of service. The World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA), held every four years, defines the next period of study for the ITU-T.

(EC)

Over-the-top services, next generation networks, the collaborative economy, and artificial intelligence are am

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Over-the-top services, next generation networks, the collaborative economy, and artificial intelligence are among the issues the European Commission is paying particular attention to. The Electronic Communications Code proposed by the Commission in September 2016 plans to introduce some level of regulation for OTT services. Encouraging the deployment of NGN networks able to better support the provision of converged services is a priority for the Commission, as part of its Broadband Strategy and Policy. The EU executive body has also issued guidelines and policy recommendations for the collaborative economy, while its Digitising European Industry strategy identified artificial intelligence and robotics are cornerstone technologies to be supported.

(IFLA)

IFLA, as a worldwide organisation deals with many languages including Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German

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IFLA, as a worldwide organisation deals with many languages including Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Russian and Spanish. IFLA launched multilingual version of its website on 25 February 2013. IFLA language centers, regional offices and individual IFLA members take care of translating the organisation’s documentation and web contents. Having the content of IFLA’s website available in as many languages as possible, helps to reduce the language barriers and gaps in relation to IFLA’s work. IFLA’s multilingual working group is in charge of spearheading multilingual initiatives of the organisation.

Instruments

Resolutions & Declarations

Wuzhen World Internet Conference Declaration (2015)
ITU Resolution 133: Role of Administrations of Member States in the Management of Internationalized (Multilingual) Domain Names (2014)
IPU Resolution on the Contribution of new information and communication technologies to good governance, the improvement of parliamentary democracy and the management of globalization (2003)

Standards

Recommendations

Other Instruments

Tunis Agenda for the Information Society (WSIS) (2005)

Resources

Articles

Reimagining the Internet as a Mosaic of Regional Cultures (2016)
Multilingualism and the Internet - Briefing Paper (2009)

Publications

Internet Governance Acronym Glossary (2015)
An Introduction to Internet Governance (2014)

Reports

Internet for All: A Framework for Accelerating Internet Access and Adoption (2016)
State of Connectivity 2015: A Report on Global Internet Access (2016)
Proliferation of Indian Languages on Internet (2016)
World Report on Internationalised Domain Names (2015)
Multilingualism in Cyberspace: Indigenous Languages for Empowerment (2015)
Mobile for Development Impact (2015)
The State of Broadband 2015 (2015)
Strategic Agenda for the Multilingual Digital Single Market (2015)
Best Practice Forum on Creating an Enabling Environment for the Development of Local Content (2014)
Local World - Content for the Next Wave of Growth (2014)
EURid-UNESCO World report on Internationalised Domain Names Deployment 2012 (2012)
Smart Policies to Close the Digital Divide: Best Practices from Around the World (2012)

GIP event reports

Universal Acceptance – Is the Internet Reaching the People it Needs to? (2018)

Processes

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UNCTAD 2018

WSIS Forum 2018

12th IGF 2017

WSIS Forum 2017

IGF 2016

WSIS Forum 2016

WSIS10HL

IGF 2015

  • 13:30 - 15:00
    Mentor Youth Meetup

IGF 2016 Report

 

The need to foster cultural diversity and multilingualism on the Internet emerged in many sessions at IGF 2016. For the Internet to enable inclusive and sustainable growth, it is essen- tial that Internet users be able to create and access content, and have software tools in their own languages and scripts (Enhancing Linguistic and Cultural Diversity in Cyberspace - WS19). Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs) can contribute to a more diverse cyberspace, but problems related to universal acceptance (e-mail addresses in non-Latin scripts, recognition of IDNs by search engines) still need to be addressed (Enabling Every User with a Unique Internet Culture ID - WS144).

Moreover, countries need to develop favourable and dynamic policies to encourage and protect local content. Infrastructure and access to digital tools are also necessary to support both the devel- opment of and access to local content (Local content and sustainable growth - WS22). 

 

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