[Marxism] Languages, the Internet and power
walterlx at earthlink.net
Thu Mar 2 13:56:15 MST 2006
February 27, 2006
Languages, the Internet and power
JOAQUÍN RIVERY TUR
rivery at granma.cip.cu
A CubaNews translation.
Edited by Walter Lippmann.
First I heard that there are about 6,000 languages in the planet.
Never thought there were so many people on Earth speaking so many
different languages. Almost a million per each of them. And since
some nations have many millions of inhabitants, then it would only
make sense that humans had less oral ways of communication.
The second news, a bad one this time, was that UNESCO (United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) predicted the
disappearance of almost half of those languages during this century.
What I failed to find out is how many languages existed on Earth,
say, 500 years ago, when Europe set out to colonize the world and how
much their number has decreased by now, at the beginning of the 21st.
century, after they were decimated by the conquistadores.
Europe-led colonization brought about destruction of whole cultures.
We'll never know, for instance, how the Cuban Tainos, or the first
inhabitants of Hispaniola, Puerto Rico or Jamaica spoke or sang, or
how they did it elsewhere in the Caribbean. The conquistadores'
brutality and their technological strength was aimed at finding gold
to pay tribute to European powers, a fact equally valid for America,
Africa or Asia.
These attempts at colonization and exploitation those from the North
try to extend through other ways have been central to the vanishing
of languages, so UNESCO's concern is fully justified. However, we
would have to expand a little the reasons why an original language
dies between two places.
Find this statement by the United Nations entity in a report title
"Toward Knowledge Societies", which states that language extinction
is being caused by the popularization of the Internet. On the
Internet, three out of every four pages is written in English, a
proportion detrimental to other languages, at least to the most
important ones, because some languages are hardly used on the
Internet. Enter the power factor: it was invented in the United
States, whose government has in it hands the power to control
In this connection, UNESCO believes the languages spoken by African
tribes are in danger of vanishing, considering that in the next 100
years almost nine out of ten could fade away for lack of use.
It is important to bear in mind that some languages spoken by a
number of American ethnic groups, quite reduced by now, are facing a
similar risk and thus could be crushed by the advance of so-called
"civilization" through their territories in tandem with an avalanche
of conquerors seeking for new lands. How many original American
languages still exist or survive the great slaughter of westbound
The Internet's problem has a certain, if not absolute, value when one
wonders: what's the rate of Latin America's population with access to
the Internet? And in Africa? As if all Filipinos, Indonesians and
other people from the Pacific islands and Asian countries had a
computer at home.
Many of them don't even know what an ordinary telephone is, much less
the Internet, not to mention the latest generations of cell phones
with built-in cameras and TV screens.
English language preponderance sprouts, of course, from the economic
and military development of countries such as the United States and
Great Britain - mainly from Washington's power - and other nations
with languages as uncommon as Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, etc., are
forced to use English to make themselves understood.
Only 11% of the world population's today have Internet access, and
90% of its users live in the rich countries. Much remains to be done
in the Third World, mainly in Africa, before cyberspace can be deemed
The "digital gap", therefore, is nothing but a reflection of the gap
existing in the command of knowledge, the abyss between opulence and
misery, between development and underdevelopment, which must be
bridged so that our Earth becomes a little more equitable and humane.
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