3.2. Linguistic communities online: the changing picture

Estimates on global internet statistics by Global Reach offers a broader picture of online language populations. The organisation monitors online language usage since 1995 and shows a graph of its evolution during the past ten years (last updated 30th of March 2004). In 2004, the language communities, made up of people living in different countries around the globe, were much different from a few years ago:

Others estimate there to be over 500 languages with an Internet presence today (Crystal 2000, 142). The top eight of them, according to Global Reach, are the following (as at the end of 2004):

Percentage (%) Language
14.1 Chinese
9.6 Japanese
9.0 Spanish
7.3 German
3.3 French
3.5 Portuguese
3.3 Italian

English is still in first place but its overwhelming dominance is diminishing year by year: it has dropped to 35.8% from almost 80% a couple of years ago.

The use of language on the web follows similar patterns to the paper-based world:

One of the astonishing features of the web is the visibility of minor languages on an international scale. The Internet is a place for everybody. In opposition to the fear of hastening the disappearance of some languages in favour of a few, the medium encourages diversity and localisation. It is true that many non-English sites offer a full or selective English version, as a facility for international visitors. At the same time, a growing number of sites and portals are multilingual. The commercial sector discovered long ago ( that:

Since the late 1990s there has been growing concern about the need for greater multilingualism on the World Wide Web. Today the priority is the creation of bridges between linguistic communities to facilitate the circulation of texts in more than one language (UNESCO 2003). The solution is not to fight English but to increase the number of sites in other languages and multilingual sites.


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