Is The English Language Still The Global Language Online?

Photograph of coding

Despite the increased diversity of languages online, English continues to be the dominant language of the Internet.

English has become the dominant language of the 21st century. It is used as the language of entertainment, technology, diplomacy, science and business. However, its supremacy has also led to an increase in endangered languages.

English as the global language of the internet

A “global” language refers to a language that is learned and spoken internationalement (the French word for ‘internationally‘). It is used by both native and second language speakers to communicate with people from different backgrounds. Therefore, it works as a “lingua franca”.

English despite being the third most spoken language by native speakers, it is the perfect example of a universal language. According to a report from the British Council, over 1 billion people are actively learning English. It is estimated that by 2020, 2 billion people will be learning English around the world.

The accelerated growth of the English language is due to technology.  In the past, the media (the press, the television, the cinema, the advertising and the music) were responsible for the worldwide diffusion of English. Today, the internet and social media have sped up the dissemination of the English language. In fact, most of the content available online is in English.

In these graphs, you can see that the percentage of the English content online decreased by 28.5%. Even though the presence of content in other languages on the internet has increased, the English language still continues to dominate the content of the websites.  For those who do not speak English as a first language or do not have the means to learn English, using the Web can be difficult.

Programming Language

The programming language is a formal language used to develop sets of instructions for computers to execute such as software programs, scripts, among others. Some famous English-based programming language includes Java, BASIC, C++, among others.

Most programming languages are written in English and developed in countries that speak primarily English. Early computers were invented at the time English was labelled the “lingua franca” of computing. As a result, most of the coding is performed in English due to its universality. Also, back then, most of the keyboards were limited to the use of the English and Latin alphabet.

Although the most used programming languages are English-based, non-English-based programming languages have emerged in the last few years. As an illustration, ARLOGO (Arabic), Chinese BASIC (Chinese) and Fjölnir (Icelandic) are some of the coding programs in other languages. This allows non-English speakers to learn and write computer programs.

Endangered languages

With the dominance of the English language online, languages are at risk of dying out. Endangered languages are defined by the UNESCO as languages in which its speakers stop to use it and cease to pass it on to the next generation. This usually happens when the speakers of an endangered language disappear or when they shift to speak another langue (the French word for ‘language’) used by the majority of the people worldwide. Unfortunately, endangered languages can be found in almost every country in the world. Two examples of some extinct languages in the 21st century are Eyak (United States, Alaska) and Akkala Saami (Russian Federation).

Ways to prevent languages from dying out online

To fight against this trend, 303 languages of official Wikipedia pages were developed. Currently, 293 of them are already active while 10 of them were closed and moved to the Wikimedia Incubator. These 10 pages will be arranged and tested in order to become active.

Similarly, the creation of the Internationalized Domain Name  (IDN) system enables web addresses to be displayed in languages that use a different alphabet other than Latin such as Chinese, Arabic, Cyrillic, Tamil or Hebrew.

Though these strategies were created to prevent languages from becoming extinct online and to enable non-English speakers from using the web, the small languages used by small communities will still be in danger of disappearing. Giuseppe Longobardi, a professor from the department of language and linguistic science at the University of York, said in an interview to Wired:

Several Brazilian or Australian native languages are in danger, but cannot be rescued by the internet because their speakers are already too few to productively visit websites.

To sum up, the English language still keeps its suprématie (the French word for ‘supremacy’) online. It is true that online content in other languages has increased but the chances of non-English speakers being able to find websites in its own native language are still low for now. Nonetheless, as the number of internet users from non-English speaking countries increases over time, the presence of other languages on the Web may grow.

Stay tuned for the upcoming blog post on The Digital Linguist next Monday at 6pm!

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