Business - Written by Paul Artiuch on Thursday, November 15, 2007 14:39 - 9 Comments
The long tail of languages
It can be argued that the internet is a force driving the world’s population towards several common languages. As it becomes increasingly important to be online, smaller languages may fall by the wayside. The computing industry itself is not very language friendly, especially for those languages that don’t use a major alphabet like Latin. Most keyboards use one of a handful of alphabets and the majority of software and information online is in English and Chinese.
Does this spell doom for the other 7000 or so languages that are in use today? As I have written before, machine translation is one solution. However, this is imperfect even between similar languages such as English and German. Accurate translation between the different language families is still a distant dream. Another way of survival for less used languages would be for more people learn them. Here the internet can help by connecting students with native speakers and language teachers around the world. While it is known that human interaction is the best way to learn a language, getting a good Hausa teacher in your city might be a challenge. Virtual worlds and large online multiplayer games already facilitate spoken communication using VoIP in an interactive setting. A more formal teaching tool is being developed by a startup called Myngle. The company is developing a platform that will use a combination of VoIP, collaborations spaces and podcasts to allow students and teachers to self organize around learning different languages. The goal is to allow anyone to learn any language. While the unifying forces will likely continue to consolidate the languages used to communicate online, the long tail of language learning will at least give the others an opportunity to be exposed to the world.
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