Volapük or English?
The internet boom could be argued to be still booming, but the use
of English as the main internet language to communicate is definitely
on the slow down.
There is indeed a language change taking place in the internet. With
the enlargement of the EU and the new Chinese market linguistic and
cultural needs are becoming more increasingly sensitive to internet
users. Using Everture's expertise in international research, we support
businesses with multinational markets to tune-in their internet presence
according to local needs and increase local market share. In this article,
we share with you the the challenges we experience in our clients' markets
from London to Hong Kong to Sydney, to achieve that.
From the Tower of Babel to Willy Brandt
The debate of a single language in Europe such as Esperanto or a world
language such as Volapük, has probably been a contentious issue
since the biblical story of The Tower of Babel. But in the internet
society, English has steam rollered its way to being the main language
for communication. There has been over 60% influx of non-English speaking
internet users in the last three years compared to a 26% rise of English
speakers [www.glreach.com]. This has brought the debate of language
preference back into life especially as global businesses scramble to
'localise' their sites to meet local language needs. But is it really
On the European continent you could fly for two hours
in any direction and you'll be confronted with a different language,
different tastes and different traditions and you may even notice that
people here have a different body language. If you really want to be
successful at integrating and being accepted into one of these other
cultures, you will need to learn from it and adapt accordingly. This
could never be more true if you wish to conduct business there
"If I'm selling to you, I speak your language.
If I'm buying, dann mussen Sie de sprechen"
[Former German Chancellor, Willy Brandt]
One nation, many voices
China is the classic example of language dependence. According to the
most recent study conducted by CNNIC, the number of Chinese accessing
the internet has risen from 2 million in 1998 to nearly 56 million today.
Over the next five years growth is expected to increase exponentially.
This is all happening despite the fact that vast numbers of Chinese
do not understand each others spoken language. The majority of China's
1.3 billion population, however, do read and write a common language.
This huge population is dependant on a written language that cannot
easily be input into a web browser. In order to enter Chinese into a
PC using a Western keyboard, Chinese speakers use a number of different
Chinese input programmes that allocate a number of characters to individual
roman letters and enable Chinese users to laboriously enter characters
using a series of key strokes. A small minority of westernised Chinese
use Pinyin, a system of language that was refined by the Chinese communist
party from an earlier western method that allocates a phonetic definition
of each character. The characters are then spelled out in western letters
as they sound.
New technology has been developed to accept Chinese characters written
on a keypad of a PDA for example and on mobile phones. A few strokes
and the program recognises the character and completes it. While developed
mainly for the Chinese market, it is being adapted for other languages,
as well. Like another Chinese invention, the type set printing press,
new technologies like this hold the promise to strengthen and unify
the Chinese peoples.
The issue of National Identity
entering characters is not a problem for the French speaking countries,
the notion of language preference permeates French and some other European
cultures. There are over 11 million users online in France and 22 million
native French speaking users online in total. These figures are expected
to rise significantly by 2005 according to Mintel, the French state
run system providing infrastructure for the past decade. The French
consciously study and preserve their language as a central part of their
culture. For most cultures, language preference is connected to national
identity and traditions. On one hand, cultural preservation must be
respected and preserved, on the other hand, the influence of instantaneous
global trade will have a significant impact on the way internet users
think about language and choose to communicate with their far flung
One Nation, Many cultures
The cultural heritage of some countries, most notably the United States
and Canada, is one of a melting pot of cultures and languages. According
to a recently published survey by Espanol.com, an online retailer for
Spanish speakers, most US Hispanics are bilingual and express language
indifference. In fact only 8% would prefer a Spanish site, 41% said
they would prefer an English site and 51% indicated that they have no
preference when it comes to site language. This may be a result of acculturation
and assimilation of Hispanic population in North America. Most likely
this indifference may be a reaction to the lack of good quality Spanish
language content. This is rapidly changing however, as more Spanish
speakers come online. Visit the stylish portal terra.com for a look
at the future of Latin culture on the web. As sites like terra.com sweep
the globe in search of the next surge of online consumers, language
fluidity may develop in their wake.
Online culture, online language
The influx of non-English speaking internet users, brings with it new
marketing opportunities. As global businesses take advantage of these
'emerging' markets, a fourth condition may emerge: E-lingua. E-lingua
is a state of language fluidity that moves between language preference
and indifference. As web populations become more familiar with multinational
sites two possibilities may occur to accommodate trade: a) instantaneous
translation to the language of preference will occur, or b) the use
of a hybrid language, not unlike lingua franca, the mixture of Italian,
Spanish, French, Greek and Arabic used to conduct business on Mediterranean
shores for centuries. While this hybrid may not take into account the
cultural nuances that language preference affords, it begins to define
the cultural subtleties of another culture - that of the global citizen
trying to integrate the offline corner store and the online hyper-market.
There is no doubt that the buyer will continue to dictate the language
of trade, and that multi-lingual software and language specific communications
will be a part of the online experience in the years to come. As this
progresses at light speed, look for the E-lingua effect at the next
site you visit.