10.2007a FYI France Essay :

 

February 28, 2007

Multilingual Access and Universal Language

by Jack Kessler, kessler@well.com

For the Bulletin des bibliothèques de France t.52, n.3, 2007, pp.5-15, ISSN: 0006-2006
-- online in French, translated by Oristelle Bonis, as, Accès multilangue et langue universelle, at,
http://bbf.enssib.fr/consulter/bbf-2007-03-0005-001,
http://bbf.enssib.fr

Contents

1) Language Change
2) Language Access
3) Language Tools and Change
What languages, though? Which languages?
4) Language Politics
5) Flexibility, in a multilingual world
Web homepages
Home page "+"
Changes... the Urumchi teenager
(Notes:)

 

1) Language Change

Language is a fluid medium, a "moving target", and so is the Internet, or at least they both can be... And it is very difficult to control, or even to take aim at, a "moving target"...

A child of the 1950s, growing up in the US as I did, knew an information world composed largely of English. There was the British Empire, not yet dead or even dying back then, of my anglophile mother: an anglophone information world which still covered 2/3 of the globe -- "on the map those are all the pink bits", she would tell me, places where one might find books in English, also newspapers and college degrees and fancy "men's clubs" and "literature" classes and church services and society tea parties, all exclusively English-medium, still. And that medium still globally and strictly controlled The Queen's English via BBC daily radio broadcasts, always beginning with Big Ben and the solemn intonation, "This, is London".

Also from my international-trading father, during my 1950s US infancy anyway. That too was an information world composed almost entirely of English. US businessmen of the era spread the free trade and market economics gospel, and the money, of a nation which ran 40% of the postwar international economy in 19501. Just as the predominant language of the US back then was English, so international trade documents of the time had to be in English as well: contracts, letters of credit, marketing materials, business correspondence -- and English was the spoken medium in meetings, or in jaunts with Japanese businessmen out to the Ginza in Tokyo for beer and sushi. Airport English, said to dominate international business today in the 2000s, was born in the 1950s, when international airports mostly were new, and the travelers passing through them were almost exclusively US businessmen.

Both "vertically" and "horizontally", then, there has been a time just within recent memory when the English language predominated far more than it does today. During the 1950s a particular linguistic culture became widespread globally, and within it -- "top to bottom", in this case, from great matters of art and music to the way one shined one's shoes, or had them shined -- all was in English, said in English, explained in English, all information about any of it was communicated in that one language. A case of vertical integration in English, then.

Likewise the 1950s saw the beginnings of what we now call Globalization, but as a thing so completely dominated at that time by the English-medium US that virtually all its activities were conducted in that one language: this was horizontal integration, in that no matter where one traveled in the world, in the 1950s, one's traveling companions used English -- US businessmen were the only people who could afford travel, after the preceding terrible war -- also, in business activities at least, the local people one met overseas tried to approximate the dominant language, in their Airport English, and all commercial documentation and certainly all "instruction manuals" were in English.

The domination of certain sectors of societies by a single language is nothing new. And the story of "lingua franca" is nothing new anywhere on the planet: just as English over the past fifty years has seen its day of global domination both dawn and now perhaps either flood or ebb -- see more below -- so at other times have the French language, and Mandarin Chinese, and various Muslim tongues and scripts. As Hindi in India and Spanish contests with native languages in The New World attest -- also the Maori and Aboriginal and other New World "missionary Bible" languages of New Zealand and Australia and pioneer America2 -- supposedly-dominant languages have come-and-gone often, in history.

Just so, things have changed for English since the 1950s. The US share of global economic activity has shrunk from its 1950s postwar 40% to a mere 20%, now3. And the mighty postwar US dollar, which in the 1950s bought 360 Japanese yen, now commands only 1204. People concerned with US economic domination most often get this backwards: the US exerts far less economic domination of the globe today than it did 50 years ago, not more.

The geopolitical world map, moreover, no longer is "2/3 British pink", as it was in my mother's day; and two nations basket-cases back then -- "starving China" and "teeming India" -- have become the economic and geopolitical leaders of the globalizing future5. Nor are the men's clubs around the globe still aping London's Pall Mall models, with whispered conversations of "redingotes" and "Oh I say" held in English-only -- they are not even exclusively "men's" clubs, any more.

Change is the hardest thing to accept in language, as it is in anything else perhaps. That what one generation called "cool" now must be called "rad" always is unacceptable to seniors, just as the idea that it might once have been labeled the former is unimaginable to juniors, too. And that cultural and global practices so completely accepted in the 1950s might change entirely, in only fifty years, often is difficult for those with short memories to understand.

Even more difficult is the idea that things may not change in a linear and irrevocable fashion, but may instead change back-and-forth: that a language such as French might dominate for a while, relapse for a period, then re-emerge later to dominate again, for all sorts of economic and social and geopolitical and cultural reasons -- and that this cycle might re-occur, historically, over and over, as it has for Chinese, and perhaps for "minority" languages re-emerging thanks to the Internet... And perhaps this is happening to English, now --

English language expert David Crystal believes that it is: he suggests,

-- and the result now is, he says --

-- and, even --

-- so Crystal feels change not only is dethroning the dominant English-medium paradigm, now, change even is providing new chances to the many minority languages which since the 1950s have seemed to be disappearing.

Is modernity a matter of accepting the demise of English language domination? No, that is not what is being suggested, here. Or is language merely a matter of Market Economics -- "like everything else", one is tempted to add -- an arena filled with angry competitors thirsting for combat, no-holds-barred and may-the-best-language-win? No, not that either. The suggestion is, simply, that things change, and that they never stop changing, in language as in so much else. The modern world, rapidly-globalizing as it is, might teach us nothing more effectively than that these things are dynamic, not static: that language has changed, and most importantly that it will change again.

The problem we face, though, is that we cannot deal with a concept as Protean as constantly-changing linguistic practice, if we try do so using static tools and ideas. That would be "taking aim at a moving target", and doing so while standing still: taking the Star Wars-chance, that one shot might reach a thing in mid-flight from an in-place position on the ground -- not much chance of that.

Beginnings at constructing dynamic solutions to the problem have been made. We know, for example, that we will need not just one or a few but many different solutions, to the modern era's problems of multilingual access: that, "one size does not fit all", when it comes to language -- that, as Umberto Eco so wisely suggested, in his The Search for a Universal Language,

Perhaps even Eco cannot realize how true his own words are, as easily as any traveler now can, alighting in the linguistic Babels of the airports at Dubai, or Shanghai. Or perhaps best at Chennai: the wildly-varied language mixtures of the modern Madras airport, once English-medium overwhelmingly, back in its post-Raj & US Business late-20th c. days, now in the 21st put the lie to any attempt at imposing universality, linguistic or other, upon the human condition8.

 

2) Language Access

Language not only is fluid, it is provided, or not. The current globalizing world has made many changes in cultures, one being the means by which language is acquired and developed.

Traditional language acquisition still is active: small communities still develop spoken and written communication -- a small town or urban neighborhood, as always, produces babies who may be born with innate mental linguistic structures but still largely receive initial language exposure and instruction from family and peers9.

The reach of modern travel, however, has brought new pressures. The days of the isolation of the remote tiny town seem numbered, for example. Since the 1960s mass-market travelers reach far corners of the planet, with the explosive development of air, land and sea transport, global business, and global tourism. From South Pacific islets to Andes villages, formerly-isolated towns now enjoy and in some ways suffer from an influx of "foreign" visitors, all speaking and writing -- and being demanding in -- "foreign" languages. Where a half-century ago exotic adventure stories still could be written about a place as remote as Tibet, in 2006 China opened a railroad bringing tourists on short-hop trips to Lhasa10 -- tourists speaking Chinese, French, Japanese, English, and most of the world's other major languages.

Increasingly, too, "multinational" business firms are becoming trans-national, in that nationality simply matters to them less and less -- overseas units contain more local personnel, now both staff and also senior managers11, communicating among themselves in their own local languages. Now business schools recruit for language proficiency12, and include arrays of foreign languages in curricula, rather than just commercial lingua franca English as always before. The modern manager posted "abroad" without some prior local language knowledge increasingly is rare: business schools now can find plenty of native speakers to compete for such positions, after all.

As 20th c. geopolitical power-centers shifted, too -- away from concentration on the European theater to broad distribution over the ex-colonial territories -- personnel and languages shifted. A century ago a diplomat might have needed both French and English, but perhaps those two languages alone -- now the power exerted by former-"developing" nations requires training in Thai, in various forms of Chinese, in the languages of India, and in Spanish, Japanese, and all the languages of the complex Middle East. Wealth still is a factor, but increasingly that of the client-state more than that of the dominant power: the tables have turned -- as pre-20th c. Western ambassadors to "The Divine Port" for centuries learned Turkish, then 20th c. Turkish politicians studied French and English, now international diplomats are studying Turkish once again13.

And language increasingly has become a lately-acquired thing. Now there is continuing education, and lifelong learning. And pop music: a farming family living near ancient Urumchi might have seen Marco Polo's caravan pass through once, or an occasional wandering Buddhist monk -- now, though, radio and television are on all day, and like her peers everywhere elsewhere the teenaged daughter is on the cellphone 24/7, learning who-knows-what from the latest hip-hop videos, and jabbering at her friends in their newest "whatever" invented-language14.

The Internet, then, is the latest development in a travel and communications shift reaching back at least a century. David Crystal wonders whether minority languages will enjoy a rebirth in this era because of the Internet; but all of the new transportation and communication may be encouraging such a trend, in a world which is globalizing.

A world thus growing smaller could favor its largest players: its most powerful nations, its largest corporations, its most omnipresent languages. But an interconnected world offers new opportunities to small players too: new publics and publishing opportunities for minority languages, new global markets for small entrepreneurs more nimble than their overgrown and less flexible 1950s competitors15, new trans-national political structures for NGO's16, new access to the tables of power for small nations, new platforms for "the mouse that roared"17. The new train to Lhasa runs in both directions.

 

3) Language Tools and Change

The new language tools convey not just languages, but also change in languages. The tools of infancy no longer are enough: now, for business or politics or entertainment or even personal life, it seems one needs a Web-enabled cellphone simply to keep up.

But print media still benefit from centuries -- from millennia, if manuscript and earlier techniques are considered -- of accepted convention regarding written formats. The process of verifying written language benefits, too, from elaborate social constructs which provide such services: the question of "who and what can I trust", in print, is aided by printers' standards, by great library collections and their indexing and reference tools -- and their librarians -- and by great editorial industries devoted to sharpening and verifying written language.

Audio, too, carries an authority derived from decades of corporate and government and library regulation -- from millennia before that, as well, of user experience with the spoken word -- ancient audiences "listened" to oral renditions of the Homeric epics and of the Vedas, and the techniques of listening, and of judging the veracity of a speaker's words, are well-known.

Even video: "ceci tuera cela" were Victor Hugo's terms18 for differences between new and old in visual texts -- the mere words of a text versus cathedral sculptures, paintings, stained glass, architecture, music. Hugo's Claude Frollo thought texts in books were better, as did the Reformation; others protested that something important thereby was lost -- and our television age often seems to revert back to bygone eras in which images reigned supreme19. Like audio, and print, video has both a recent and an ancient lineage.

Digital, though, is new. Its advantage lies in search & retrieval, and in manipulation: it is the engineer's dream, the ideal of "homo faber"20, of "humans who make things" -- tools offering small bits, literally, arranged to form larger patterns, but also broken down to their basic units, for searching & retrieving and using those patterns in innumerable ways. Digital is the librarian's dream, as well: innumerable access-points. And users love digital: as sellers of information in other packages -- purveyors of paper books, celluloid movies, radio and television waves -- have discovered to their peril, customers enjoy the adventure digital brings.

Another thing new from digital, however, is a lack of custom and control in its regulation. Unlike other media, with their millennia of cultural practice devoted to structure and discipline and verification, digital is new territory. Comparatively there are few rules for "digital", yet.

The question about media is not neutrality, then, but control. Language presented in digital formats is easily changed, "corrupted", stretched to encompass different meanings from those originally intended. At the same time, language more easily hidden by older media -- forbidden words, copyrighted materials, scandalous images, or merely "incorrect" usages -- now gets copied and communicated effortlessly. The old barriers are down, the old strictures off: the old concerns for "who and what to trust" seem impossible to safeguard, amid digital's Age of Incunabula population of "hackers" and "spammers" and "Wikipedians" and "botnets"21. Democracy rules: to some, a rule-of-the-demos of the type which Plato so feared -- to others it all seems simply to be "malware" chaos22.

 

What languages, though? Which languages?

"Systems of freedom of expression"23 exist in every society, for governing traditional media -- in breach as much as observance, in many cases, but at least the systems are well-known. Stretching these to govern the new digital media, though, is a task awaiting completion: in telecommunications policy, copyright and antitrust law, education policy -- the new administrative structures have not successfully been designed, yet.

It is the same for language policy: impossible, to envisage rules for the continually changing deluge of new digital information which now engulfs us. When a teenager in Urumchi can flip open her cellphone to chat in "whatever" language, with anyone anywhere in the world, about anything, and view videos and express opinions and order merchandise, all regulatory bets are off.

What we have in place for now instead, then, governing the choice of languages as well as other aspects of digital information, and instead of the regulation which controls other communications industries, is an unregulated Market Economics24 approach.

This is not by deliberate design, perhaps, although some may claim so... maybe it simply is by default -- new digital techniques and their impacts are as-yet imperfectly understood, by their would-be regulators, so by default "the law of the jungle" rules until regulations are developed... So go two of the prevailing views of the current state of our globalizing communications infrastructure: Government Regulation versus Market Economics -- it is an old dichotomy.

But the Internet has been a global phenomenon now since at least the 1992-325 introduction of the Web -- and globalized information, if "computerization" and "office automation" and "multinational corporation"26 phenomena are included, since decades earlier.

The problem no longer is ignorance of the new techniques, then, it is change. Digital information, unlike other technologies, seems reluctant to become "invisible", once considered a hallmark of success27. Instead information technologies stay onstage, by changing paradigms frequently, moving rapidly from "command line data entry" to "graphical user interface", from "user-designed software" to "off-the-shelf", from "no-commercial-use" to "e-commerce", from the hesitant beginnings of "digital convergence" to shrugged acceptance now of phenomenal multi-platform packages such as the new "iPhone"28.

Little wonder, then, that regulations miss their mark: from 1980s no-commercial-use policies29, to the 1990s V-chip30, to 2000s efforts to censor or distort Internet content31, things-digital change too fast for regulatory measures to work -- by the time the slow political wheels of law-making grind out a regulation, the digital juggernaut has moved on to something more exciting and "completely different".

We confront a congeries of default and legacy and largely-ineffective language policies, on the Internet and generally in digital information. While some jurisdictions, such as France or India or Québec, develop such policies formally -- declaring certain languages to be "national", requiring their use in certain documents -- all others also face the problems of a multilingual globalizing world, in which language represents a power-base often as significant as money or guns or any other political factor.

The greatest difficulty, though, of our current Market Economics approach to language policy, default or intentional, is that great advantages accrue to the "first-to-market". Just as in software marketing, or soda-pop marketing, under this system whoever launches their product first can realize economies of scale, leading to market dominance -- even oligopoly or monopoly -- even irrespective of whether the product really is best-suited for its purpose.

Markets function smoothly, though, only under perfect competition... and as Joseph Stiglitz and his co-winners won their 2001 Nobel Prizes for pointing out32, market imperfections such as "incomplete information" are more characteristic of real life than any model demanding perfection might be. As with software and sodas, then, if the English language happens to arrive "first-to-market" in digital information, it can realize economies of scale and monopolize, making things difficult for competitor-languages which follow.

But things change, even for monopolies. As David Crystal now points out, minority languages at last are increasing, on the Internet so dominated in its initial 1990s by English. Perhaps the view itself which focuses upon market domination is too static. We need dynamic models: we need to accept that change occurs, that language never is "neutral", that today's monopoly may become tomorrow's minority, and we need to develop tools and ways of thinking which can adapt along with such changes.

A technical system such as the Internet, then, for a cultural and social and perhaps political and legal calculation, such as the predominance of one language over another, may begin biased toward the language of its inventors -- merely historically or by design -- but then shift toward a bias in favor of its most numerous users, who may not be English-speakers. This last may be a day dawning soon, per the commentators Crystal cites33, plus economic and geopolitical common sense34.

 

4) Language Politics

So if nothing is neutral, value-free, "wertfrei"... if digital tools for language are no more "neutral" than video or audio or print media which preceded them, if the process is like any other marketing scheme, in which initial laurels via economies-of-scale get awarded to the initial victor, and if the initial victor in digital language dominance just happened to be English... only because people who spoke English invented the techniques, in a globalizing Market Economics environment in which government institutions and regulation simply were not yet in place... The Wild West -- few laws or law enforcers were in-place back then, either -- of Globalization35.

Social balancing, however, of the basic instincts which govern lawless situations, waits neither for the formalities of world government and administrative regulation and legal discipline, nor for anything particularly alien to a political arena such as Globalization. All Market Economics responds to demand, so demand in languages as in anything else can create power. And power can be "hard" or "soft", as commentators have been warning the US government over its international policies36.

David Crystal describes the reversal:

    "In certain parts of the world, the local language is already dominant... 90 per cent of web pages in Japan are now in Japanese... Most sources expect Chinese to be the majority language of Internet users by 2007. The 33 million in Latin America and the tiny 6 million in Africa show the potential for growth in those areas one day."37

Outright political opposition to English language domination, too, recently surfaced: in France no less than the [now-former] président of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Jean-Noël Jeanneney, has become one of the more thoughtful and eloquent commentators on the several issues involved38 --

    ""I remember very well my experience at the 'Bicentenaire de la Révolution", in 1989, when I was in charge of the celebrations. It was unfortunate and very damaging for our nation, for both its image to others and that which we have it ourselves, of its past, its events glorious or sad, that we had to search in databases which then were only English or American and so found interpretations which were biased in numerous ways:

    "The Scarlet Pimpernel crushing '93, the valiant British aristocrats triumphing over the bloodthirsty Jacobins -- the guillotine, obscuring the Rights of Man and the wonderful insights of the Convention.

    "This example was instructive, and it puts us on our guard." [tr. JK]

So the interest-balancing process is under way.

Perhaps it really is just marketing: per the economists, perhaps the "dismal science" is correct and demand ultimately will dictate, if not necessarily the new monopoly then at least change in the dominant paradigm. There being more Indians and Chinese than other consumer groups on the planet, now, perhaps as those two become rich and demand goods and services, room will be made for their languages simply as a result -- the old sales axiom that one must "speak the customer's language" being as true of digital information as it is of selling shoes.

Or perhaps all this is more complicated. Political pressures can stem from so many sources. Or maybe even more general cultural pressures are involved: some attribute to religion the modern world's "clash of civilizations"39, after all, while others say the changing role of women or ageing populations are more significant, still others credit environmental degradation, or Global City urbanization40, or the sheer speed and complexity and intensity of modern transportation and communications development. And some would say it's language...41

The point surely is, though, before finding and blaming first causes, at least to keep up with the changes. These language policy politics still are unsettled, as are the Internet and digital information generally -- the jury still is out, perhaps, on whether and to what extent English will continue to be the lingua franca of the Internet. But all politics is changing politics: and all systems unable to cope with change rigidify and crumble, overthrown by more flexible competitors42. So the militancy of a Jeanneney, the emergence of minority languages, the turbulence of Globalization and of language policy debates and of nationalist and other reactions to the Internet, all must be seen as vital parts of a normal process of continual re-balancing -- of "checks and balances" -- in an ongoing effort to scale the technology to changing uses. The users will change: and if the technology does not, it will be discarded.

 

5) Flexibility, in a multilingual world

What must we provide, then, to enable the use of many languages? How to build in flexibility, to a world not only becoming more multilingual, but one in which multilingualism constantly changes? How to build revolution into institutions...

Libraries have adopted many methods, to meet the growing demand for multilingual access: adding multilingual personnel, providing multilingual resources, rebalancing collections to build up "foreign language sections", innovating in inter-library lending and document delivery, forming consortia with "foreign" libraries, others. The general trend is seen nowhere more clearly than on the Web . the Web being where the overseas user, or the local but simply-shy user, most often resides.

 

Web homepages

Already homepages offer translated versions in other languages. The default translation largely is English still -- either that or in some cases English even may be the original, on the homepage, and the local language the additional version43.

The Web displays the minority languages opportunity noted by Crystal: increasingly homepages appear which are not just bilingual but multilingual --

  1. monolingual translated: linked to other language versions --

  2. polyglot: multiple languages on the same page --

One technical problem of the monolingual approach being presentation: user-knowledge of the correct URL address can guide them to a homepage in their language, but that URL is not always known. So alternative-language sites need to be registered with search engines, and their domain names need to be advertised. The Andorran site in #1 above, for instance, offers four URLs,

-- each one of which, though, needs full visibility on Google and Yahoo and other search engines, specific mention on other web sites, availability in library and other literature. Just a little icon-link, alone, on a strange-looking website, is insufficient: online users tend to be timid or distracted -- a non-catalá user is too easily discouraged or frustrated by a catalá web page, even if it can be used to link to other things.

 

Home page "+"

In addition to homepages, then, we have entered an era of deep indexing and data-mining: no longer just the homepage but the entire library website now may be searched by "knowbots" and "spyders" and other creatures roaming the Internet -- also by the users, who have become as curious and fearless and knowledgeable as the knowbots and spyders have been. A multilingual homepage no longer is sufficient: too many websites still offer only the one page, translated into the "foreign" languages, which amounts nearly to false advertising . the website content, in addition, needs translation.

Some library functions do not require extensive translation. Catalog searching, for example, may be the only purpose of a foreign user -- as long as the user can find the catalog link and data-entry fields -- but at least the OPAC data-entry page now also demands translation, and few are.

Search & retrieval, furthermore, now is more than just "look-up". OPAC front-end software enables users to pre-coordinate and post-coordinate, specifying parameters and grouping and sorting retrievals. Other OPAC manipulation and formatting and downloading features are offered to users online, either in cryptic labels insufficient even in the user's own language, or in complex instructions indecipherable by anyone. All of this needs translation too.

But if the library truly is interested in foreign-language users, it will not stop even with catalog-searching: the catalog could be the gateway to other online library resources, but only if the latter, as well, are available in the languages of the users. Few libraries anywhere, now, do not have some form of multilingual mandate: for serving truly-foreign populations who might "dial in over the Internet", or local multilingual populations among the immigrants and transient workers increasingly found in all constituencies44. So library Web resources need translation, all of them, if they are to be used.

One key to meeting this challenge might be interactivity: involvement of multilingual users -- helping one another, and the librarians, to learn and work with languages. A project most easily accomplished online: formal language classes are difficult-- the irregular hours of a globalizing workforce make scheduling impossible. And dealing with foreign language speakers at a busy helpdesk is difficult as well. But establishing online structures in which foreign language users can participate . online chatrooms, online continuing education and language classes, and particularly interactive functions such as online reference -- all offer possibilities to a timid or simply busy foreign language speaker who may not otherwise use the library.

Interesting, too, is the corresponding need for native-speakers, for any multilingual access project: who better, to assist with extensive translation and other work needed for foreign language users, than native-speakers of those languages? The way to reach them is online: some interactive format inviting foreign language users to help the library, in its efforts to reach the rest of their community -- something fun, to which all might contribute -- a Wiki45 ... -- users will do this sort of thing46, they even enjoy doing it, and it can be useful to any institution, and certainly to any truly multilingual library.

 

Changes... the Urumchi teenager

Many solutions to the "multilingual access" question have been proposed. Some involve hardware, many involve software, a few encompass entire systems, very few are predicated upon adequate user studies -- and most are being implemented in ignorance of the sort of broad-range and long-range thinking about the future of Globalization's human languages which David Crystal and his colleagues are doing now -- and all "multilingual access" solutions must be designed to accommodate change, which so far few of them do.

Information systems which "add a foreign language or two" are first steps, but so much more can be done. Those which add translation capacities offer more; those which translate on-the-fly, more still. But translate what to what? Per Crystal and increasingly others, the new opportunities now being afforded "minority languages" may see an explosion in the number of users of same: not just Telugu and Bengali and the Tibetan language, but also dialects . the Georgia Sea Islanders47 and the quilt-makers of Gee's Bend Alabama48 deserve to be heard and read in their local languages, as do those now resuscitating Occitan or Breton or Basque, "Celtic" in all its myriad forms, or the thousands of African languages and idioms and dialects and sheer local eccentricities.

The 6000 or so modern human languages49, and countless more older tongues, at last addressed perhaps but not yet really reached via Unicode50 and other leading current projects, are nowhere near enough: a good start, but there is much more out there -- "dead" languages, idioms, variants, dialects, constructed languages, unwritten languages, secret languages51 -- classical Latin and Greek, but also Aramaic, Akkadian, Sanskrit, Linear B52, Mayan -- how much more "fluent" all of us will be, if we can learn some of our history directly through such languages.

The ultimate question here is, as it is for all things-Internet and -digital and -Global, how will digital information "scale up" to a world, arriving shortly, in which not only may the lingua franca not be English, but there may be no lingua franca at all. Per what might be an apocryphal-but-accurate Wikipedia Axiom of information access, Google has become the Globalizing World's most accessible dictionary, now -- most readily-available, omnipresent, inexpensive, actually-used -- also comprehensive and up-to-date, in that it reaches more users of language than any other, repeatedly, and so stays current with changing definitions... always depending, though, on how many of those Google-users know French -- or Telugu, or Hip-Hop "slang", or Mayan -- which might be called the Mouron Rouge Corollary, to any such Wikipedia Axiom...

If libraries ever are going to keep up with all of this -- or even lead it as they should -- the users need the help -- libraries must learn to understand and accept and work with multilingualism, and with change. "A little revolution now and then", as Thomas Jefferson recommended...

 

Jack Kessler, kessler@well.com

 

________________________

 

Notes:

 

--oOo--

 

The FRAY...

        -- the phrase is taken from its frequent use on The WELL / the Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link, http://www.well.com, where I and so many other Internauts & Internautes have learned so much of what we know, about all of these "things digital", over so many years. "The Fray" refers to the scene one might find on any urban street-corner -- some times in a children's playground, other times on a very adult & bloody battlefield -- those of us who enjoy the general discussion-brawl atmosphere, online, and in fact benefit greatly from it, prefer to think of it as a forum, or perhaps better an agora...

 

    * A contrasting view, perhaps, to those of David Crystal and the above article that the number of minority languages in the world may be increasing now rather than not, thanks to the Internet -- the two views are not necessarily opposed -- also a very interesting project, devoted to actually acting upon that contrasting idea --

    Welcome to The Rosetta Project Digital Language Archive!

    "The Rosetta Project is a global collaboration of language specialists and native speakers working to build a publicly accessible digital library of human languages. Since becoming a National Science Digital Library collection in 2004, the Rosetta Archive has more than doubled its collection size, now serving nearly 100,000 pages of material documenting over 2,500 languages.the largest resource of its kind on the Net.

    "A major concern of our project is the drastic and accelerated loss of the world.s languages. Just as globalization threatens human cultural diversity, the languages of small, unique, localized human societies are at serious risk. In fact, linguists predict that we may lose as much as 90% of the world.s linguistic diversity within the next century. Language is both an embodiment of human culture, as well as the primary means of its maintenance and transmission. When languages are lost, the transmission of traditional culture is often abruptly severed meaning the loss of cultural diversity is tightly connected to loss of linguistic diversity. To stem the tide and help reverse this trend, we are working to promote human cultural and linguistic diversity, as well as to make sure that no language vanishes without a trace..."

    http://www.rosettaproject.org/about-us/about-us
    http://www.longnow.org/projects/

     

    * And further proof-positive, of the "Urumchi teenager" thesis presented above: and that image from Dagoucun, which BusinessWeek was talking about --

    -- now more hip kids wielding flipfones, this time in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan -- one kid even skateboard-avec, in a photo which looks like Pasadena. It's not The Bomb or The Bugs that's gonna get us, it's The Youth Culture.

 

--oOo--

 

          
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                |           journal published since 1992 as a small-scale,
                |           personal experiment, in the creation of large- 
                |           scale "information overload", by Jack Kessler. 
               / \          Any material written by me which appears in 
              -----         FYI France may be copied and used by anyone for 
             //   \\        any good purpose, so long as, a) they give me 
            ---------       credit and show my email address, and, b) it 
           //       \\      isn't going to make them money: if it is going 
          		  to make them money, they must get my permission 
          in advance, and share some of the money which they get with me. Use 
          of material written by others requires their permission. FYI France 
          archives may be found at http://www.cru.fr/listes/biblio-fr@cru.fr/ 
          (BIBLIO-FR archive), or http://listserv.uh.edu/archives/pacs-l.html 
          (PACS-L archive), or http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/Collections/FYIFrance/
          or http://www.fyifrance.com . Suggestions, reactions, criticisms, praise, 
          and poison-pen letters all gratefully received at kessler@well.sf.ca.us .
          
                  	Copyright 1992- , by Jack Kessler, 
          	all rights reserved except as indicated above.
          

--hjlm--

 

From this point you can link / jump up to,

The FYI France Home Page ,

or you can link / jump over to:

1.00 FYI France: Print Libraries in France
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3.00 FYI France: E-Newsletter and Archive
4.00 FYI France: Publishers in France
5.00 FYI France: Book-Dealers in France
6.00 FYI France: Calendar
7.00 FYI France: Discussion and Debate
8.00 FYI France: La Francophonie
9.00 FYI France: Internet Training & Consulting
10.00 FYI France: Essai
11.00 FYI France: Translation Services
12.00 FYI France: Bibliographies / Resource Lists
or you can,
Return to the top of this page .

M. Eiffel

Copyright © 1992- by Jack Kessler, all rights reserved.
W3 site maintained at http://www.fyifrance.com
Document maintained by: Jack Kessler, kessler@well.sf.ca.us
Last update: August 22, 2010