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Internet Governance 9 November 2012

Towards a multilingual Internet

Nabl Benamar
By Nabl BenamarGuest Author

Among the main aspects of the early days of Internet until recently, is without doubt, the predominance of English as the language of Internet. In fact, this is not surprising if we take into account that Internet is an American invention, and that its development has been initiated in the USA. However, with the spread of Internet all over the world, it has become a universal medium, the major source of information, and no more monolingual. Consequently, the need of a multilingual Internet becomes a necessity to ensure that Internet is for everyone, as it has been written by Irina Bokova, “A multilingual Internet is essential for nations, communities and individuals to access, share and use information and resources which are critical for sustainable development and for managing innovation and change” [1].

Although some technical challenges have been already solved, there still more to do to achieve the noble goal of a truly multilingual Internet where values like transparency, tolerance, mutual understanding are the main characteristics. Indeed, it has been said in the Holy Quran: ” O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another ” [2]. So what has been realized so far to preserve the linguistic diversity in the cyberspace? And what are the real challenges remaining ?

Last month, the Broadband Commission published its 2012 report [3], where we can read that by 2015, Chinese will be the most dominant language of the web. Thanks to the adoption of UNICODE, it has been possible to represent many non-Roman characters in the web, and I am pretty sure that Arabic content will be in better ranking in upcoming years with regard to its actual growth estimated to more than 2%. However, the web is only one of the different services of Internet; what about the others?

There is growing evidence that with the adoption of Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) by ICANN, the edification of a multilingual Internet is on the right way. The DNS is thus internationalized, and as an Arabic Internet user, I can find my way around the web with my own language. When I want to access the Aljazeera website for example, there are many possibilities how to spell it using Roman characters (aljazera, alajazira or aljazeera) because this is an Arabic word that has been written using non Arabic scripts. However, there is one Arabic spelling for this website which is الجزيرة.

Registration of IDNs have been available first for second level (IDN.TLD), and in 2010, ” it became possible to register IDNs under internationalized country code top-level-domain (IDN.ccTLDs)” [4] like موقع.وزارة-الأتصالات.مصر. That’s a great step towards the openness of Internet’s addressing system to the majority of its users who don’t use Latin scripts, especially for languages that are written from right to the left where there is no more need to change the direction of the writing as it is the case with (IDN.TLD).

Despite the important role played by IDNs, there are still some limitations of its use. Indeed, it’s not possible for the moment to create an email account using non Latin scripts, and there is limited “awareness by industry and end users alike” [5]. Also, in some countries (Arab region) there is no great demand on IDNs, simply because there is a correlation between Internet access, growth of local content, country’s domain name registry management, freedom of expression and the growth of IDNs.

The multi-stakeholder model of Internet Governance have permitted overcoming many challenges in the Internet ecosystem and Multilingualism is no different. Everyone has his/her part to play for a better Internet where policy makers, private sector, governments and civil society are all aware of the importance of a multilingual Internet. Yet, the number of IDNs registrations is still modest in many countries. But looking at the growth in local content, one can think about an increase of a market demand for IDNs in the upcoming years. Also, when other Internet services, like email, will be possible with non-Latin scripts, we will surely be in the era of a truly multilingual Internet.


  1. Irina Bokova, “Preserving and promoting linguistic diversity”, in Net.lang, towards the multilingual cyberspace, marsh 2012, by C&F editions.

  2. Holy Quran (49:13) (http://quran.com/49)

  3. http://www.broadbandcommission.org/Documents/bb-annualreport2012.pdf

  4. http://www.eurid.eu/flipbooks/IDN-state-of-play/index.html

  5. http://www.emilytaylor.eu/2012/09/speaking-your-language.html#.UIfOUM–ivR

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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