The Internet Isn’t Available in Most Languages – The Atlantic

People who can’t use the Internet risk falling behind economically because they can’t take advantage of e-commerce. In Malawi, Facebook has become a key platform for Internet businesses, even though the site has not yet been translated into Chichewa. Instead, users tack-on a work-around browser plug-in, a quick-fix for languages that don’t have official translations for big social-media sites.

In 2014, Facebook added 20 new languages to its site and launched several more this year, bringing it to more than 80 languages. The site also opens up languages for community-based translation. This option is currently available for about 50 languages, including Aymara, an indigenous language spoken mainly in Bolivia, Peru, and Chile. Though it has approximately 2 million speakers, UNESCO has designated Aymara as “vulnerable.” Beginning in May of 2014, a group of 20 volunteer translators have been chipping away at the 25,000 words used on the site—and the project is on course to be finished by Christmas.

The project is important because it will encourage young people to use their native language. “We are sure when Aymara is available on Facebook as an official language, it will be a source of motivation for Aymara people,” says Elias Quisepe Chura, who manages the translation effort (it happens primarily online, unsurprisingly via a Facebook page).

Ruben Hilari, another member of the translation team, told the Spanish newspaper El Pais, “Aymara is alive. It does not need to be revitalized. It needs to be strengthened and that is exactly what we are doing. If we do not work for our language and culture today, it will be too late tomorrow to remember who we are, and we will always feel insecure about our identity.”

Despite its reputation as the so-called information superhighway, the Internet is only legible to speakers of a few languages; this limit to the web’s accessibility proves that it can be as just as insular and discriminative as the modern world at large.

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