Imagine a situation where an online website does not support English, or your mother tongue. Or try imagining to write something on your social media page just to find out it does not recognize your language.
While these hypothetical situations are hard to imagine, it is situation that a big population outside of the 12 biggest languages online face on a daily basis.
The Linguistic Society of America estimates that there are about 7,000 languages that is still being used today. However, in all of the online materials available, only 7% of those languages are utilized.
In 2008, a survey by UNESCO showed that for 98% of all the online websites, a total of 12 languages were used. More than half of all the websites were in English. Facebook was the notable exception, as it supports more than 110 languages for its users around the world.
In an increasingly digitized world, having little to no representation online could spell the end of many indigenous languages. That was one of the reasons why the inaugural Latin American Festival of Indigenous Languages on the Internet was hosted last year.
Miguel Angel Oxlaj Kumez was one of the organizers for the event. Kumez is also one of the 500,000 speakers of his mother tongue, Kaqchikel Mayan. Most native speakers are from Guatemala where the languages is passed on by older family members.
Kumez says that almost all the websites that he accesses personally are either in English or Spanish. He says that he is finding it difficult for him to find ways to justify teaching his kids the language that his people have spoken for generations.
Kumez says that when his children ask why they must learn a language that is not on television nor the internet, he has no good answer for them. That is why he and other linguistic activists are working to have their language supported on Wikipedia and Firefox.
The root cause of this linguistic inequality stems from limited access to online infrastructures. Even though more than three quarters of online users are from outside Europe and North America, most of content creators use English. In fact, more than one third of all programming languages and almost all prominent ones are in English.
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