May 10, 2024

The global divide in digital languages

80% of all online content is catered to just 10 languages. Read here about the inequalities in digital languages on the internet.

The global divide in digital languages

The internet is undoubtedly English-dominated, and it’s something we are able to take utterly for granted. But there is a major flaw when considering that of more than 7,000 existing languages, only a few hundred are thought to be in use on the Internet.

How can we expect the World Wide Web to truly connect us globally when less developed countries, normally geographically distant from the Western World, are unable to embrace digitisation across their society due to inherent language and accessibility barriers

To highlight the issue, consider this. Having been the first language to be used online, English previously accounted for 80% of digital content in the mid 1990s when the Internet was introduced. Today, 80% of the web is reflective of these 10 languages: English, Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese, Japanese, Russian, German, French, and Malaysian. With a total of around 130 languages currently circulated online, this means that the other 20% of online content must be made up of the remaining 120 languages.


Languages and Social Media

This language inequality is found in all spheres of digital life. Much like the idea that a multilingual person’s personality changes depending on which language they’re using, social media usage trends differ according to which language it’s used in.

Twitter use especially seems to vary, primarily due to the character limit which will of course affect different languages. In Germany, where words are typically long in length, people tend to use Twitter mostly to share hash tags and URLs, whereas in Chinese and Korean, where the character limit allows for more words than English Twitter is much more conversational. In fact, the aforementioned link between language and personality has been shown to apply to bilinguals using social media in different languages, such that how they use whichever platform does indeed change to fit with the trends of that language.


Information inequality

There is still so far to go in terms of making digital access equal globally, and language must play a huge part. Researchers online found a striking difference between Google searches in different languages. Searches in Arabic resulted in just 20% of the number of results that same term had in English; there are a multitude of these languages we commonly find in the West, compared to smaller more niche languages.

Unless a language improves its visibility in the digital world it is heading for extinction. - Edmond Kachale

Why should one have access to less information simply because we don’t share their native tongue? We are inherently at an advantage as English speakers, with English being the most used language, with the greatest geographical reach as well, but clearly not everyone is so lucky.

Bridge the language gap

50% of the world will soon be online. In 2022 this could and frankly should be higher, and the issue is no longer network access, but rather illiteracy, perceived relevance, and affordability – Hindi, with over 180 million speakers worldwide, represents less than 0.1% of online content.

The digital infrastructure to allow everyone to understand your services simply isn’t there yet, so start making sure your services and content cater to their languages to help this get to 100%. In doing so you reach a more diverse audience; and therefore, helping them helps you too.  


Time to democratise digital languages

These countries’ voices are wholly under-represented on the Internet, and there is not doubt that this limits their digital potential. Rather than forcing our culture and language onto them, speaking for them and setting the rules, surely it’s time to recognize their value – both in themselves, such that they deserve equal access to the Internet as us, and also to us, whereby we can harness their ideas, business, and societies.

It is clear that there are still so many marginalized communities, but our cutting-edge AI and natural language processing (NLP) technology used in our chat-bots at Algomo can join the attempts to democratize digital knowledge. Using these chat-bots can not only benefit communities all around the world, as they receive support in the language the feel most comfortable in, but also companies who want to connect with their audience and deliver the best product that they can.

Opening up the doorway to this digital world through language accessibility is already expected to occur in the next few decades; the rate at which English as a digital language has grown in use between 2000-2018 stands at 650%, which although seems significant, is nothing compared to that of Chinese, 2,391% and Arabic, 8,616%. These shifts are just the start, so don’t get left behind as more services realise the need to accommodate an increasingly diverse geographic demographic.


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