There are still problems on the road to a multilingual Internet

Ambitions to create a genuinely multilingual Internet are being frustrated by technical gridlocks and the solid dominance of Latin script and the English language. Internet domains offering content in local languages and scripts need to be more user friendly if they are to challenge English’s overwhelming domination of the online world, says a report to be presented on February 26 during a conference at UNESCO’s Paris Headquarters. Prepared jointly by UNESCO and EURid, the European registry of Internet Domain Names, it calls on governments and other Internet stakeholders to step up their efforts to remove current obstacles to more languages going online.

There is no reliable count of web pages in English but among users, 27% adopt English and 24% Chinese. An estimated 56% of web sites are in English.

English was entrenched as the founding language of the Internet by the Domain Names System (DNS) which accommodates hundreds of millions of web addresses around the globe. DNS was launched on the basis of the American Standard Code for Information Interchange which favours Latin script by only allowing the characters a-z, the numbers 0-9 and the hyphen.

With an eye on breaking out of this linguistic ghetto, technical standards were developed for Internationalised Domain Name (IDNs), allowing domain names to be written in non-Latin scripts such as Chinese, Arabic, Cyrillic or Hangul, the Korean alphabet. Countries where IDNs are taking off are the Russian Federation, the Republic of Korea and China.

The Report criticises most of the 19 country code IDNs currently operating for failing to capture the public imagination. IDNs are not user friendly and do not work well for emails or even Facebook accounts, says the report.

EURid-UNESCO conclusions urge policy makers to regard the promotion and deployment of IDNs as a key component of digital literacy.

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About Konstantinos Zournas

Konstantinos studied Computer Engineering and Computer Science in London and lives in Athens, Greece. He works on domain names, websites and software development. Has been online since 1995 & domaining since 2002.

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