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Home   >   News   >   Press release

[Brussels | 9th November 2006]

At the UN?s first Internet Governance Forum in Athens - held from 30 October to 2 November 2006 - experts issued a stark warning on the dominant position of English on the Internet. More than 90% of the world?s 6,000 languages are not represented online, denying a large part of the global population access to information and knowledge. As English-speaking websites proliferate, they risk elbowing out the already limited linguistic diversity on the net. Sociologists and linguists also stressed that ancient cultures and traditions could be lost if English is not kept in check, arguing that the linguistic divide needs to be bridged just as urgently as its digital counterpart.

The prevalence of English on the Internet poses a serious obstacle to non-English-speaking researchers setting up websites in different languages. A large share of the software was developed for English content, leading individual countries to create their own variant. Although addressing the issue at local level provides a solution for local Internet users, it could eventually also lead to fragmentation. One Internet address could produce different links depending on where the user is accessing the Internet from, and e-mails could get lost on their way to their destination. Diversifying online language use is a vast and complicated task, but crucial to democratic Internet governance.

English remains the lingua franca in cyberspace. For many people, typing a query into a search engine and obtaining search results in their own language and script is a luxury that is not within reach. Different ethic groups have a right to preserve and use their own language and share it with the rest of the world. A democratic information society depends as much on equal access to the Internet as on equal linguistic rights in cyberspace, the Forum concluded.

The United Nations General Assembly gave the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) a five-year charter in 2005. In 2010 the Assembly will assess Forum?s progress in implementing the objectives of the World Summit on the Information Society, held in Tunis in November 2005. The Tunis Summit culminated in a formal pledge to guarantee that ?people everywhere can create, access, utilise and share information and knowledge?. The 2007 IGF Summit in Rio will allow for more in-depth discussion of the issues at stake, and assess the effectiveness of the Forum.

For more information on the first Internet Governance Forum, please visit: