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Multilingualism on internet: Old challenges and new prospects

On November 17, the final day of the Internet Governance Forum 2020 (IGF 2020), participants continued to discuss multilingualism on the internet and the problems that arise with using national languages and alphabets.

The online session, Multilingualism Online: Old Challenges and New Perspectives, moderated by Ilona Stadnik, the curator of youth projects at the Coordination Center for TLD .RU/.РФ, covered such issues as how the wider use of national languages and alphabets online may boost the use of the internet and attract more local communities. One of the biggest concerns associated with linguistic diversity online is that the internet may become divided and split into language segments.

Speakers noted that, in addition to purely technical difficulties related to supporting even those 150 national languages which are already available in Unicode, there are differences in cultures, mentality, and psycholinguistic nuances. Multilingualism on the internet is primarily driven by the need to create more local content in national languages and dialects as this content will appeal to non-English-speaking audiences and attract new users.

Session contributors also shared their experience with promoting internationalized domain names (IDNs) and email address internationalization (EAI). Chief Analyst of the Coordination Center Maria Kolesnikova reported on the launch and development of the Cyrillic domain .РФ in Russia which marks 10 years in 2020. Maria noted that the success of .РФ indicates that users do want to use domain names and emails in their mother tongues. For example, since many businesses have moved online this year due to the pandemic, the number of registrations in the .РФ domain has grown by 26 percent.

Despite Russian being one of the most widely used languages on the internet, there are still some unresolved issues, including the lack of support for IDNs and EAI by major tech platforms such as Facebook, a very popular social network in Russia. “We should not forget that the content that drives the use and development of these platforms is entirely user-generated, therefore, users’ preferences should be taken into account,” Maria added.

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