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BizReport : Internet : December 03, 2008

Does "Internet for all" require larger variety of languages?

English, Chinese and Spanish are the top three languages used on the Internet but, to enable the next billion people to have access to the Internet, should a larger range of languages be supported?

by Helen Leggatt

According to Internet World Stats the majority of Internet users use English (29.4%), followed by Chinese (18.9%) and Spanish (8.5%). After that the usage drops off with the tenth most used language, Italian, at just 2.4% of all Internet users. I say 'just', that still accounts for over 34.5 million users.

Addressing attendees of an Internet Governance Forum in Hyderabad, India, vice chair of the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) of ICANN, Manal Ismail, said that "Internet for all" means going beyond those who speak English and should encompass content, hardware, software and internationalized domain names.

Search engines, in particular, should support multiple languages, said Ismail, as it is the way most people navigate the Internet. In July this year, Google launched a Maori version of the search engine, a language spoken by just 150,000 or so people living mainly in New Zealand.

However, some participants raised doubts as to whether there is a significantly high enough demand for using the Internet in local languages. As Ajit Balakrishnan, chairman and CEO of Indian portal said, higher education in India, for example, is predominately in English and becoming an "aspirational" language.

Tags: Chinese, English, ICANN, India, Internet, languages, Maori, multi-lingual, search engines, Spanish

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