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Joe Stuteville
IU School of Informatics
317-946-9930 (cell)

Last modified: Thursday, November 9, 2006

Online language diversity may be operating at ‘Net’ loss, IU study claims

Nov. 9, 2006

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- While worldwide Internet usage may be climbing, language diversity on the Web is having a hard time keeping up, a researcher at the Indiana University School of Informatics concludes in a recent study.

Internet linguistic diversity is far less than actual global linguistic diversity, and even less than that experienced in many countries in the world, said John C. Paolillo, an associate professor of informatics.

"The concentration of Internet hosts is in countries with the lowest linguistic diversity worldwide, primarily North America and Europe," said Paolillo. "Moreover, if global Internet user projections are accurate, Internet linguistic diversity is tapering off to a level close to what is experienced in daily life by a typical country in Southeast Asia or Oceania, and it's not likely to increase anytime soon."

Paolillo is the author of the study, Linguistic Diversity in the Digital World, which he recently presented at the Internet Governance Forum in Athens, Greece. The study largely was funded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

"The results are significant because they contradict the popular notion that linguistics diversity on the net is on the rise," said Paolillo, "and they point out the technical and institutional challenges that many nations face as they strive to adopt Internet technologies for many purposes."

Most previous studies about Internet linguistic neutrality have been conducted by private marketing firms (often pitching their own services and products) or government telecommunications monopolies that have vested interests in hawking certain outcomes. Paolillo's investigation is said to be the first to critically evaluate those studies and compare online diversity with diversity experienced by people in their daily lives in countries around the world.

Many popular online services -- Google, MySpace and OhMyNews, to name but a few -- serve speakers of many different languages from many different countries. Internet usage is on the rise in regions such as East Asia, South America and the Indian subcontinent.

While the English language has an international communication role in many of these places, the reality is people overwhelmingly speak hundreds of other languages in their daily lives.

"This makes language contact -- when speakers of different languages come into contact with a need to communicate with one another -- much more common than without the Internet," said Paolillo, who holds IU academic appoints in information science and linguistics.

"Hence, people have a need to appreciate the diversity of spoken languages that they might encounter in their daily use of the Internet."

To arrange an interview with John Paolillo, contact Joe Stuteville at 317-946-9930 or