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Business - Written by on Friday, April 11, 2008 14:01 - 2 Comments

The long tail of language – Part II

Back in November my New Paradigm colleague Paul blogged about the impact of the Net on language, in particular noting the massive dominance of information in either English or Mandarin. Now a non-NP colleague, Don Osborn, takes a crack at applying the long tail concept to languages in his latest blog post available here. He notes:

“…the application of the long-tail concept to language runs into problems perhaps similar to other attempts to apply economic analysis to languages (as) people don’t move “down the tail” to niche markets with language in the way they might with music or books ….. With language, the most prominent fact is that people live in the long tail, as it were, and there are some incentives to move up the tail to dominant languages. Part of the issue is how new technologies facilitate not abandoning the linguistic home in the long tail when dominant languages are learned and used.”

As Paul highlights in his post there are several tools and applications that, in theory, faciliate learning, or given Don’s take, not leaving, the long-tail. But in a world where the language of economics is conducted in one, perhaps two, and in the future maybe three languages, can a combination of technology, ethno-nationalism and culture trump trade and economics?

I highly doubt it. Ethnologists believe that over 500 languages are now considered to be near extiction, and ultimately there’s a reason for it. As countries migrate through the demographic transition, and subsequently become increasingly urbanized, there’s an inherent move towards common languages in order to faciliate the trade of services and goods. And so while there will always be cases such as the  recent decision in France that highlights how nationalism will periodically ensure linguistic staying-power, this still only applies to major global languages who compete to be in the top 10. Those much further down the long tail, like for example the Breton-speaking French, will continue to see their numbers diminish, with technology perhaps serving only as a tool to ensure their capture for the sake of linguistic history.


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Apr 15, 2008 15:23

Very interesting article ! Thanks

Martin Benjamin
Apr 21, 2008 18:33

My response to Don Osborn’s response to your response to his article: http://www.kamusiproject.org/en/node/151


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