96% of the World's Languages are Digitally Dead


Tue, Dec 3rd, 2013 10:00 by capnasty NEWS

According to the Priceonomics blog, only 4% of languages are used online. Of the remaining 96%, they "appear to be dead when it comes to use on cell phones, laptops, and tablets, meaning that the Internet could be to languages what a certain comet was to the dinosaurs." The Internet World Stats has a chart with the most spoken languages online, with (unsurprisingly) English, Chinese and Spanish as the top three.

Three main warning signs alert concerned researchers about the danger to a language:

First, there is loss of function, seen whenever other languages take over entire functional areas such as commerce. Next, there is loss of prestige, especially clearly reflected in the attitudes of the younger generation. Finally, there is loss of competence, manifested by the emergence of ‘semi-speakers’ who still understand the older generation, but adopt a drastically simplified (reanalyzed) version of the grammar.

Kornai notes that the same foreshadowing applies to language use on digital devices. But whereas researchers are used to watching for languages in decline, in the digital case, the question is whether languages can undergo the opposite process and establish themselves as viable options for digital use. Is it possible to fully communicate online in that language? Is it seen as a digital language? Can one become a digital native within that language?



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