1 November 2006: Diversity Session

"What does diversity mean to you?" was the question posed by the moderator Mr. Yoshinori Imai from the Japan to the panelists. The first statement was made by Mr. Nikolay Vassilev, Minister of State Administration and Administrative Reform in Bulgaria. He explained how difficult it is to juggle spelling and transcriptions from various languages. He was very detailed and provided examples including those based on his own name. Bulgaria decided to put an end to confusion and introduce unified rules for transcription and spelling.

Basically most of the time of the panel was spent on language diversity issues. The speakers agreed that multilingualism on the internet is a must and those communities who do not use Latin scripts face various challenges. It is hard to express identity on the net with no possibility to use native language. For example, In Senegal there are 13 codified languages and no one common language. Or in Indonesia there are 742 local languages and only one is law-protected. It is also difficult for illiterate people to transcribe into the Latin alphabet.

It becomes very hard for the countries with such diversity and low levels of literacy to keep up with the internet.

The panelists discussed various ways how to overcome this situation, well summarized by the moderator Yoshinori Imai: "Today, more than one billion people use the Internet. Many of these people cannot read or write in English. They use languages which do not come from Latin alphabet. Some 90% of 6,000 languages used in the world today are not represented on the internet."

Mr. Adama Samassekou, who is the president of the African Academy of Languages in Bamako in Mali, used different words to express the same concern. He first greeted the forum in a few languages which was lovely. He said that the world's vision is under question now. The wealth in the world lies in thousands of languages and the destiny of humankind depends on our languages. The new society leaves people isolated and marginalized and the voiceless part of the world is huge. Internet opens up the possibility for improvement.

Lots of that discussion covered the IDN issues. The audience was ensured that there has been lots of progress and ICANN is currently testing on how IDN will work in the root zone files. One of the oppinions actually presented IDN as non-useful given that most people rely on search engines and single URLs were replaced by search strings.

Lots of emphasis was put on the need to generate local content. The economic value of language was raised: It is hard to produce content in a language that covers only a small market. However, there were voices well heard which promoted ideas of protection of information of nature of indigenous traditional knowledge and cultural heritage no matter what the market values are (for example from Julian Casasbuenas from Colombia, director of Colnodo, member APC; or from Ms. Elizabeth Longworth, who is the executive director of the office of the director general of UNESCO).

Also technology solutions were mentioned such as software translations, automatic translators, the use of video, or capturing oral content, which according to Mr. Vint Cerf of Google, should be equally explored medium. It was also suggested that more effort should go into eradicating illiteracy which should be done digitally.

Surprisingly enough, disability and gender were very very marginal topics. Disability came across as one of the statements from the floor which emphasized that 17% of population lives with disability and their needs should be reflected on the internet. Women were mentioned a few times as part of the marginalized group in general terms. This session certainly had the potential to have included gender and disability issues much more and in a better sophisticated way. They are part of diversity!

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