Steps toward an Internet that is multilingual, yet remains global

4 December 2008 - A Workshop on Diversity in Hyderabad, India


One of the keys to the Internet's success that is often forgotten is that it was designed and implemented as a single global network arrangement that does not require or expect national or cultural profiles or boundaries between networks. The mechanisms of the network include a global address space that is dependent on connectivity and routing rather than on geopolitical boundaries and a single, hierarchical, distributed name space that permits named references to work worldwide. That design has been important to reducing costs for connectivity, including costs for international links, as well as making it easier to communicate around the world.

This network design, that is global at the level of how the data traffic moves, is also global in terms of how one talks about users accessing information. Until recently, that has been largely done using one language and one script for access. Expansion is now happening to permit global access using many scripts and many languages. Such additions to the Internet of course create great opportunities, but only if those additions ensure continuing global reach is a key feature of the network.

As we rapidly move toward a network that is multilingual and multicultural, at least at the level of the applications and resources that are visible to casual end-users, English may already be a minority language in content (on-line materials, web sites, email message, etc.) on the network. If it is not, that day is coming soon. Local content is increasingly being adapted to local conventions and realities, including available keyboards, fonts, and display devices as well as reflecting the types of materials that are considered appropriate. Exploration began some years about how to locate materials in, and navigate among, sites and content repositories in a large variety of languages.

However, we still have some distance to go in making the Internet more accessible to a broader range of people while preserving the important properties of a global network that have made the growth and applications possible.

This workshop will address the following related themes while maintaining a focus on keeping the network, and access to resources, global:

  • The Multicultural/Multilingual Internet: what are the over-arching challenges beyond IDNs?
  • What are the issues in moving to the new multicultural reality (e.g., with English as a minority language)?
  • What criteria or conditions need to be met for a language with little or no Internet presence to thrive in a self-sustaining manner on-line?
  • Much time and attention has been focused on technical challenges, but what are the political, economic, cultural and social impediments to and opportunities for a multilingual Internet?
  • Where are we now? What additional work is needed, if any, to enable and facilitate the continued use of the Internet by populations with different languages?
  • Where does responsibility lie for facilitating this additional work? Is this primarily a local, regional or a global issue? How can the broader community help?
  • How can progress be made prior to the next IGF in 2009?

The objective of the workshop is to look at the range of challenges facing those interested in developing the multilingual Internet and identify and focus on the key issues that need to address to enable vibrant on-line multilingual communities. 

Members of the technical community, developers of Internet tools, experts on IDNs, linguists, and content developers, as well as other relevant experts with direct experience have been approached. Government speakers have been invited to present their experience with multilingual/multicultural issues pertinent to the Internet through case studies. The following have agreed to participate:


David Apasamy, Sify Corp
Ravi Shanker, Government of India
Cary Karp,Naturhistoriska riksmuseet
Qusai AlShatti (or alt)
African Academy of Languages (TBC)


ISOC has consulted widely and been joined by partners from the private sector, government, academia and civil society. The workshop organizers represent a broad range of concerned parties. To ensure it is effective, the workshop will strive to ensure global and functional diversity is seen in the selection of panelists.


The following co-organizers are confirmed at this time:

ISOC (which itself includes technical experts, business participants, and civil society interests)
Government of India
Kuwait Information Technology Society
Naturhistoriska riksmuseet

The organizers are open to collaboration with others interested in working on the future governance mechanisms required to make the Internet truly multilingual.