The internet is becoming more multilingual: Study

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Internationalised domain names (IDNs), which are seen as an essential building block for creating a multilingual internet, are growing in number, according to a new report.

The EURid-UNESCO World report on Internationalised Domain Names includes data drawn from 90% of the world’s top domains.

The report, published Tuesday (6 November), also uses case studies from Egypt, South Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

It concludes that there is a significant correlation between IDNs and local content.

EURid is a non-profit organisation that operates the .eu top-level domain.

Within the past two years since IDNs have become available, at least 3.5 million have been registered since 2005. The countries that have embraced IDNs at the top level include Russia and the South Korea, which together have seen approximately one million registrations so far.

“The introduction of internationalised domain names at country level was a very positive development towards fostering multilingualism in cyberspace and providing new opportunities to access information for those who do not use the Latin script in their language," said Janis Karklins, assistant director-general for communication and information at UNESCO.

"UNESCO is working with various partners to turn this opportunity to the advantage of people around the world,” Karklins added.

The European Commission, while stressing its supporting role behind the member states, says it regards respect for linguistic diversity as a core value of the European Union.

Millions using .eu domain name

The .eu domain ranks among the largest top-level domains in the world. It connects 500 million people in the 27 countries to one internet identity.

Many companies and brands use a .eu website as a practical solution to convey a clear European identity and their business ambitions, among those Fairtrade International, Foot Locker, Louis Vuitton, the MAN Group, Microsoft Corporation, Orangina and Toyota.

“The scripts of the 23 European Union languages are supported under .eu and therefore, we see the relationship between local language and geographical location in the IDN registration patterns and understand its importance,” said EURid General Manager Marc Van Wesemael.

The European Union is committed to promoting multilingualism and aims to have every EU citizen speak at least two foreign languages.

However, in practice the websites of many EU institutions and agencies limit themselves to one or two working languages.

The question of language-use is sometimes a contentious one. For instance, attempts to create a European Patent using only the English, French and German languages have been opposed by Italy and Spain as discriminatory.

The predominance of English has been criticised in particular by French-speaking groups such as the Francophonie and the Association pour la Défense de la Langue Française (DLF).

The latter has often granted a satirical prize to EU officials – including Romano Prodi and Jean-Claude Trichet – for "overuse" of English.

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