5 Fun Facts about Foreign Languages and Computing around the World
English is often considered to be the lingua franca of computing and the Internet, and although localization is far more prevalent than it once was, English remains by far the most dominant language in the industry.
Due to the technical limitations of early computers and the Internet (technologies which were largely developed in the English-speaking world in the first place), localization was relatively limited, and the global community largely had to put up with what little they had to work with in their own languages. Although these limitations are rapidly disappearing in most areas of the computing industry, there are a few things which remain almost entirely English-based, such as programming languages, Web design, keyboard shortcuts, Web and email addresses and even system BIOS utilities. However, the world of computers and Internet is not quite as biased towards the English language as some may assume, as demonstrated by the facts in this article.
1. Internationalized Web Addresses
Little more than a third of the world’s population use the Latin alphabet, and those from places such as China, India, Russia or the Middle East have long had to switch between keyboard setups just to type in a Web address. Additionally, many languages which do use the Latin alphabet use letters with accents and other diacritics which were also incompatible with Web addresses.
Although it is taking a while to become popular in most countries, due largely to the fact that most current Internet users are already used to using the Latin alphabet, it is now possible to register international domain names including specialized top-level domains (the last part of a Web address). Supported scripts include Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Hindi, Arabic and Russian among others.
2. Non-English-Based Programming Languages
In spite of the overwhelming dominance of the English language in programming and Web design, there are actually some niche programming languages which derive their vocabularies from languages other than English, some of which even use their own writing systems entirely. Most of these are Chinese, though there are numerous other minor local programming languages.
3. Typing in Non-Alphabetic Systems
Due to the prevalence of English in computing and on the Internet, virtually every modern computer keyboard comes with Latin letters, even if they also display foreign scripts such as Cyrillic or Chinese. However, while alphabetic writing systems such as Latin, Greek or Arabic have relatively small inventories of characters, Chinese, Japanese and Korean have tens of thousands.
A keyboard with ten-thousand buttons isn’t exactly practical, so the computing industry has had to find a completely new way to enter text in such scripts. For this purpose, a special input method editor is used. For example, many such languages have their own alphabetic systems too, allowing people to type normally and have the text automatically converted into the more complicated scripts.
4. Localized Social Networking
With 1.28 billion users and counting, Facebook might seem like the go-to social network for the whole planet. While the likes of Facebook, Google+ and Twitter are enormous global corporations headquartered in the United States and originally marketed primarily to that market, there are actually many local social networking services elsewhere in the world as well.
Although Facebook is dominant in all but ten countries, VKontakte (dubbed the Russian Facebook) dominates in Russia and several of the former Soviet republics, QQ dominates the Chinese market and Cloob is the main social network in Iran where Facebook is largely censored. Surprisingly, tiny Latvia has Draugiem.lv, its own social network and the most popular one in that country.
5. Languages of the Web
Although little over a quarter of the Internet’s users are English speakers, the English language represents well over half of all Web content. The number of Chinese-speaking Internet users is also rapidly on the rise, and will likely overtake the number of English speakers in the next couple of years. In spite of this, only around 3.3% of the Internet’s content is written in Chinese.
The next most common languages among Internet users are Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, German, Arabic, French, Russian and Korean. Again, these statistics do not reflect the content language of the Internet where Russian holds the second place with six percent of the Web being in that language. The next most common are German, Japanese, Spanish and French with Chinese being in the seventh place.