Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Measuring Linguistic Diversity

Read the UNESCO book online.

Subtitle: "A collection of papers by: John Paolillo, Daniel Pimienta, Daniel Prado, et al."


"UNESCO has been emphasizing the concept of “knowledge societies”, which stresses plurality and diversity instead of a global uniformity in order to bridge the digital divide and to form an inclusive information society. An important theme of this concept is that of multilingualism for cultural diversity and participation for all the languages in cyberspace. There is a growing concern that in the efforts to bridge the digital divide, hundreds of local languages may be side-stepped, albeit unintentionally. Hence, the importance attached to linguistic diversity and local content as part of an Action Line of the WSIS Action Plan for which UNESCO has the responsibility of coordination.

"The issue of language diversity on the Internet proves to be central to the debate on the Information Society in a number of unexpected ways. At first glance the question seems to revolve around the communities using the Internet – allowing communities to talk to each other in their own mother tongues, but other questions quickly follow.

"Through what channels does communication happen across the Internet? The World Wide Web is a series of information sources which provide little interactivity. Discussion fora and email provide more direct interchange. However there is insuffi cient information about the languages used in email or discussion fora (see some discussion of this by Paolillo’s paper below Chapter 3 , including the work of Sue Wright). For most language analysis researchers therefore turn to Web pages. Here, as in all communication, we must consider the character of the audience. A Web page is only read by people who have Internet access. Thus while linguistic diversity might be served by having Web pages in the ‘vanishing’ language of a very remote tribe, few people would read them as it is unlikely that tribal members have Internet access. Pages about the language of the tribe in a more international language would however serve an important role in drawing attention to the cultural value of the language concerned, and perhaps attract support for the linguistic group concerned. It is in addition, a contribution to the preservation of endangered languages.

"The papers in this volume demonstrate that there are many technical problems in calculating language diversity on the Internet. We can easily produce a random count of Internet pages by using any number of commercial search engines, but we cannot judge how often Web pages are read or whether the reading of a page helped the reader in any way. Care has to be taken to ensure that the items searched for in different languages are equivalent in their value, meaning and usage (See Pimienta).

No comments: