New research indicates many languages may soon become ‘extinct online,’ as Internet users tend towards using a handful of languages for online communication. As more and more Europeans become fluent in English, for example, less-spoken European languages are falling by the wayside as English becomes the default for communicating across borders using sites like Facebook.
The report, from a research team at the University of Manchester, studied not only the usage levels of 30 different European languages, but also how much support exists for those languages in terms of software (for example, spell check software).
While the trend has positive notes in some respects, indicating a greater inter-cultural exchange happening naturally around the world, it also concerns many speakers of less common languages. They fear that this trend indicates youth are less interested in maintaining their own culture and language, and even that the trend may extend beyond the Internet into everyday life, resulting in a much less diverse world.
The issue is partly one of economics – in many cases it does not make sense for large companies to translate their websites into languages that may only be spoken by a small fraction of their target customers (especially when those customers are likely to speak English, or another common language, in addition to their mother tongue).
On top of that, when it comes to software programs which compile data automatically, there is often not enough information for these programs to function effectively when it comes to languages which are used less often.
Amongst the languages most at risk are Icelandic and Greek. Critics of the trend point out that it represents a dangerous loss of cultural diversity as a result of a technology that could be used to spread and strengthen what are ‘minority’ languages on the global stage.
On a more uplifting note, a young entrepreneur is aiming to connect language learners around the world with native speakers via a new social networking site. If the site catches on it could prove to be a powerful tool for spreading inter-cultural exchange and using the power of the Internet to spread less common languages.