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May 6, 2010 4:57 AM   Subscribe

Today the first three production non-Latin top-level domains were placed in the DNS root zone. This means they are live! Here is one newly enabled domain with a functional website that works right now: وزارة-الأتصالات.مصر

If your software does not have full IDN support, this might not work exactly as expected. You may see a mangled string of letters and numbers, and perhaps some percent signs or a couple of “xn--”s mixed into the address bar. Or it may not work at all.
The three new top-level domains are السعودية. (“Al-Saudiah”), امارات. ( “Emarat”) and مصر. (“Misr”). All three are Arabic script domains, and will enable domain names written fully right-to-left. Expect more as we continue to process other applications using the “fast track” methodology.
The BBC points out that [s]ome countries, such as China and Thailand, had already introduced workarounds that allow computer users to enter web addresses in their own language. However, these were not internationally approved and do not necessarily work on all computers.
posted by aqsakal (70 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
cool
posted by Danila at 5:01 AM on May 6, 2010


I find it odd that this is what I see in my URL bar: http://xn--4gbrim.xn----rmckbbajlc6dj7bxne2c.xn--wgbh1c/ar/default.aspx

Why not just use the Arabic script there, too?
posted by oddman at 5:26 AM on May 6, 2010


oddman, did you read the post?

If your software does not have full IDN support, this might not work exactly as expected. You may see a mangled string of letters and numbers, and perhaps some percent signs or a couple of “xn--”s mixed into the address bar.

I mean, it's right there.
posted by splice at 5:28 AM on May 6, 2010


Why can't that be linked?
posted by wilful at 5:28 AM on May 6, 2010


Just testing: وزارة-الأتصالات.مصر

(Interestingly the right-to-leftness of the text confuses firefox and breaks the link html unless I include some english characters inside the link. I18n is hard.
posted by ook at 5:34 AM on May 6, 2010


That's a url?

If I was a spammer/scammer/phisher, I'd be rapidly dehydrating from all those multiple orgasms right now...
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 5:34 AM on May 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Why not just use the Arabic script there, too?

Well, so do I, but if you look at the source for the page, it says:

[title]وزارة الإتصالات وتكنولوجيا المعلومات[title] (I had to use [] instead of <> to make that work)

so I guess it's just that you and I don't have the appropriate font loaded. I also get a message bar pop up (in IE8 on XP SP3) telling me the page contains characters or symbols not supported by my current language settings.

What I enjoy most is how my cursor moves from right to left when i put the entry point into the middle of that and use the left- and right-arrows!
posted by aqsakal at 5:36 AM on May 6, 2010


oh, duh. Maybe if I remember to include the http in the link وزارة-الأتصالات.مصر
posted by ook at 5:36 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


For firefox, if you want the full effect, go to about:config (type that in your address bar), then right click in the list, new -> boolean value, the name is "network.IDN.whitelist.xn--wgbh1c", and set that value to "true". You'll then be able to see the "emarat" domain like it was meant to be (امارات). If you want the rest as well, find a web site that uses that TLD, find the punycode string for the TLD, and add a new "network.IDN.whitelist." whatever the TLD is in punycode and you're set.
posted by splice at 5:37 AM on May 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


If I was a spammer/scammer/phisher, I'd be rapidly dehydrating from all those multiple orgasms right now...

And this is why Firefox ships by default with IDN disabled for all domains except a select few where you'd expect it (.cn for china, etc). If you had IDN enabled for .com, people could use letters from different scripts (say, the cyrillic "a") and make a URL for "paypal.com" that would actually go to "p(cyrillic a)ypal.com" instead, and no one would be the wiser.
posted by splice at 5:39 AM on May 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Awesome! But yes, this seems like something that might make phishing easier.
posted by sveskemus at 5:40 AM on May 6, 2010


And this is why Firefox ships by default with IDN disabled for all domains except a select few where you'd expect it (.cn for china, etc).

Oh, clever. Do all browsers do this, or only Firefox?
posted by sveskemus at 5:41 AM on May 6, 2010


Shows the non-Latin domain name:
Safari (Mac and Windows)
Opera (Mac)

Shows a mangled Latin character string:
Chrome (Mac and Windows)
Firefox (Mac and Windows)
Internet Explorer (Windows)

The Javascript on that page linked in aqsakal's post is pretty bad: Opening the page in five or six browsers at once brought my computer to its knees.
posted by ardgedee at 5:43 AM on May 6, 2010


This is so very cool.
posted by tellurian at 5:48 AM on May 6, 2010


From a wiki page on the IDN homograph attack:
Firefox and Opera display punycode for IDNs unless the top-level domain (TLD, for example, .ac or .museum) prevents homograph attacks by restricting which characters can be used in domain names.[1] They both also allow users to manually add TLDs to the allowed list.[2][3]

Internet Explorer 7 allows IDNs except for labels that mix scripts for different languages. Labels that mix scripts are displayed in punycode. There are exceptions to locales where ASCII characters are commonly mixed with localized scripts.[4]
posted by splice at 5:48 AM on May 6, 2010


I can see the script, but the right-to-leftness also breaks highlighting. As in, if I click in the middle and drag, it highlights in both directions.

Anyway, I look forward to most of the Internet being incomprehensible on a glyph level rather than at the idea level it is currently incomprehensible.
posted by DU at 5:50 AM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


sodium lights the horizon : If I was a spammer/scammer/phisher, I'd be rapidly dehydrating from all those multiple orgasms right now

My thoughts exactly - Yay, three new TLDs I need to add to my blacklist.
posted by pla at 5:54 AM on May 6, 2010


pla, I don't get what you're saying. Are you somehow concerned that you'll confuse the "امارات" domain with something else that looks like it? Do you think you'll get confused by the punycode for it ("xn--wgbh1c")?

Do you really think you'll mistake http://paypal.com.xn--wgbh1c with paypal.com? Or paypal.امارات?

I think you're just reacting with very little idea of what the risks of IDN are. Adding those three domains to a blacklist won't do you a lick of good against phishers.
posted by splice at 6:01 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


So this Zalgo, he .c̙͙͖ͮ͂ͣ͋̄ͅo͑͛́̃̾ms?
posted by oulipian at 6:06 AM on May 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


pla, no need to do that for the Arabic domains, as they restrict characters to Arabic only, the issue is more with scripts like Cyrillic which have a glyph overlap.
posted by atrazine at 6:07 AM on May 6, 2010


the right-to-leftness also breaks highlighting
Yes, that's going to take some getting used to.
posted by tellurian at 6:08 AM on May 6, 2010


For those not following the jargon:

TLD = Top-level Domain. It's the .com, .net, .uk, .مصر... part of the domain name.

IDN = Internationalized Domain Name, the subject of this post.
(See also: IDN Homograph Attack, the problem that multiple comments here point to; the difficulty of preventing people from registering, for example, ibm.com but with nonlatin characters that look almost exactly like the latin characters. Firefox displays gibberish in the address bar in place of nonlatin characters for all but the few top-level domains in its whitelist. splice tells you how to add more top-level domain names to its whitelist.)

Punycode = the method of encoding a complex writing system (such as Chinese) into a limited set of Latin characters and symbols. It's why the Arabic script in the domain name looks like gibberish in the address bar of some browsers.

Incidentally, here's the English-language page for the Egyptian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.
posted by ardgedee at 6:11 AM on May 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


I wonder how many humans would be required to provide simultaneous translation between the top 5, say, world languages for all the text produced on the internet. (Consider only "real" text, not generated stuff, since that could be translated piecewise in the first place.)
posted by DU at 6:17 AM on May 6, 2010


I like how people are arguing over the display of the arabic letters or whether they work in firefox or not. The arabic script displays fine for me, and the links work as well. Now if I could only read arabic...
posted by Pastabagel at 6:28 AM on May 6, 2010


Pastabagel, it's not about just displaying arabic characters in firefox or the links working, it's about the address bar displaying http://وزارة-الأتصالات.مصر when you go to the website (and keep the arabic characters in the address bar when going to links on that website) instead of displaying "http://xn--4gbrim.xn----rmckbbajlc6dj7bxne2c.xn--wgbh1c/ar/default.aspx".

Guaranteed that firefox by default displays the latter unless a very recent build included the new TLDs or you manually added the TLD to the IDN whitelist.
posted by splice at 6:31 AM on May 6, 2010


This is an important step for internationalizing the Internet. The discussion above is all about phishing attacks, and those are important. But we've survived URL ambiguities forever (I vs l, yourbank.m.tk, etc). It's important to be able to write a domain name in your own language.
posted by Nelson at 6:43 AM on May 6, 2010


It's important to be able to write a domain name in your own language.
This.
A World Wide Web.
posted by tellurian at 6:59 AM on May 6, 2010


splice pla, I don't get what you're saying. Are you somehow concerned that you'll confuse the "امارات" domain with something else that looks like it? Do you think you'll get confused by the punycode for it ("xn--wgbh1c")?

No, my browser renders the characters correctly.

I mean that any new domain, within hours of creation, rapidly turns into the single biggest source of spam on the planet. This has happened repeatedly, and will continue to happen.

It has nothing to do with the language in question, the character set, or whether or not I can easily tell phishing sites from legit ones. Not a matter of politics or race or religion. Spam will come from there (and at least for me, nothing legitimate), simple as that.


I think you're just reacting with very little idea of what the risks of IDN are. Adding those three domains to a blacklist won't do you a lick of good against phishers.

I understand quite well what IDN means, thankyouverymuch. And as I have no reason not to block them, doing so counts as a pure win.



Nelson : This is an important step for internationalizing the Internet.

You say that like a good thing.

The internet already has "perfect" internationalization - It uses Latin-1 and English, for the most part.

And I don't say that as a sociocentrism - If something as wonderful as the internet had standardized on Mandarin Chinese, I'd damned well learn that. But turning the internet into a modern Tower of Babel won't make it a better place, it will just lead to increased segregation into "the English internet", "the Mandarin internet", "the Farsi internet", etc. 100% interoperability with close to 0% comprehension between the various linguistic ghettos.
posted by pla at 7:03 AM on May 6, 2010


That's a fine, lucid demonstration of fearing what you don't understand. Thanks for being an example, pla.
posted by ardgedee at 7:12 AM on May 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


turning the internet into a modern Tower of Babel won't make it a better place

A technically competent person, surely you realize that monocultures are a bad idea.
posted by DU at 7:13 AM on May 6, 2010


DU : A technically competent person, surely you realize that monocultures are a bad idea.

A standardized means of communication doesn't mean having a monoculture among those communicating. Whether you favor peeing standing up or consider it the most barbaric thing ever, you can express that idea in English or German or Martian for all it matters; But if you want to sell others on the advantages of your personal stance on the issue, doing it in a language they don't speak won't get you very far.

If anything, a shared language reduces the risk of multiple-but-segregated-cultures, which I see as a far more real risk.

Then again, I've also heard a reasonable argument made that only our barriers to effective communication keep us wiping each other out, so take the above with a few grains of salt. "Wait... So you really do believe idea-X? Not just a matter of ignorance of idea-Y? Wow... Just... Wow. Sorry, you need a killin' now." ;)
posted by pla at 7:32 AM on May 6, 2010


A standardized means of communication doesn't mean having a monoculture among those communicating.Whether you favor peeing standing up or consider it the most barbaric thing ever, you can express that idea in English or German or Martian for all it matters; But if you want to sell others on the advantages of your personal stance on the issue, doing it in a language they don't speak won't get you very far.

In the sphere of communication it does. By your logic, there are no monocultures, even if we all run Windows and grow exactly the same soybeans and corn strains, because some of us have different skin colors or different numbers of floors in our houses. These things are orthogonal to each other. "Monoculture" refers to a set of related variables, not the entirety of the universe put together.
posted by DU at 7:44 AM on May 6, 2010


Latin? Don't you mean Roman?
posted by grubi at 7:58 AM on May 6, 2010


DU : "Monoculture" refers to a set of related variables, not the entirety of the universe put together.

Fair enough. But by that interpretation, I would disagree with your unqualified assertion that "monocultures are a bad idea". Most monocultures, I would still agree with you.

Homogeneity in itself, however, doesn't count as good or bad, except in a given context. In genetics, it leaves an organism far more vulnerable to extinction from one effective pathogen. In OSs, same applies, but it also means all software "just works" (bugs aside). In manufacturing, it make mass production of high-quality products for low cost possible. In human cultures, it leads to stagnation.

In electronic communication, it leads to an increased risk of attack, but far better interoperability (used a token ring network lately?) between devices. And in human/human communication, we have no concept analogous to "attack", so homogeneity of language leads only to improved comprehension and efficiency.


In the sphere of communication it does.

I think I must have misinterpreted that - How does it accomplish anything (except "frustration") to speak to someone in a language they don't know?



grubi : Latin? Don't you mean Roman?

Nope. I said Latin-1 for technical and historic reasons.
posted by pla at 8:21 AM on May 6, 2010


The internet already has "perfect" internationalization - It uses Latin-1 and English, for the most part.

Ah yes, "as long as I get mine...".

Maybe you'd like to talk about that "perfect internationalization" with Japanese and Chinese speakers. I'm sure they enjoy, for example, differentiating "http://xn--rny76j.jp/" from "http://xn--5lwu2s.jp/".

But hey, after all, latin-1 and English should be good enough for everyone!
posted by splice at 8:27 AM on May 6, 2010


splice : But hey, after all, latin-1 and English should be good enough for everyone!

pla : "And I don't say that as a sociocentrism - If something as wonderful as the internet had standardized on Mandarin Chinese, I'd damned well learn that."

Nice try, though.
posted by pla at 8:36 AM on May 6, 2010


Looking forward to امارات.mp3.
posted by fuq at 8:38 AM on May 6, 2010


Yeah, sure, pla. I believe you. It just so happens that the current standard caters to you directly, but of course any other standard would have been fine too. Since we've standardized on english in the past though, we should never change or adapt it.

Such a convenient excuse.
posted by splice at 8:43 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


وزارة-الأتصالات.مصر was an inside job
posted by evilgenius at 8:57 AM on May 6, 2010


Speak English or Die.
posted by Nelson at 8:58 AM on May 6, 2010


any new domain, within hours of creation, rapidly turns into the single biggest source of spam on the planet

Mos of my spam still comes from .com, I'm pretty sure. Though .cn, .uk and .br are pretty well represented.
posted by hattifattener at 9:00 AM on May 6, 2010


On the Media had a great piece last weekend about bridging the online language barrier, and how it's shifting from people from many countries using a common language to translation becoming better and more widespread. So, the piece posits, we're understanding each other better (and perhaps seeing more of how people talk when they're speaking to their own cultural group instead of as cultural ambassadors).
posted by ocherdraco at 9:07 AM on May 6, 2010


I agree with PLA, here. If Mandarin were the dominant language on the Internet, I'd learn it immediately. I'm planning on taking a class in it this fall because it's already such a major player.

That having been said, the Internet is probably the best chance we have of getting everyone on this planet capable of understanding one another. Having everyone on speaking a single language is a worthwhile endeavor, and English's combination of grammatical simplicity and rich vocabulary makes it an excellent candidate (despite the psychotic spelling).

Learning to read Mandarin is going to require my learning at least 4000 characters. Spanish, like most romance languages, forces us to deal with gendered nouns and lacks substantial media/technical penetration.

These do not make them attractive candidates for a standardized human language, and none of the other languages have a sufficiently large and culturally/geographically diverse set of speakers.

I realize that there's justified fear of cultural imperialism, but this is a necessary, painful component of our species getting its act together.
posted by Ryvar at 9:14 AM on May 6, 2010


Ryvar: Please explain how "standardizing human language" is any different than, say, "standardizing human religion" or "standardizing human skin colour".
posted by oulipian at 9:30 AM on May 6, 2010


Esperanto != fascism
posted by rosswald at 9:33 AM on May 6, 2010


splice : It just so happens that the current standard caters to you directly, but of course any other standard would have been fine too.

That argument leads nowhere. I can't prove my motives or sincerity, and you can't disprove them.

I can, however, address a factual error in your claim - The current standard most certainly does not "just so happen" to cater to me. The internet came about as the product of an English-speaking culture that values (or at least, used to value) science, engineering, and communcation to the point that DARPA saw the need to make sure we could continue all of the above even in the midst of a global nuclear war.

Japan could have done that - But didn't. China could have done that - But didn't. Even the most obvious alternative (at the time), the USSR, could have done that - But they, too, did not.

So yes, a product of my culture caters to me, by design. Color me shocked. And to repeat myself, if Japan dominated the internet, I'd learn Japanese.

Funny, how many people complain about "ugly Americans" for refusing to speak the local language, yet cry foul when faced with turnabout.


hattifattener : Mos of my spam still comes from .com, I'm pretty sure.

Fair call, and I'll take the ding on that one. I should have put either "new" or "unfiltered" in there somewhere. Basically, I mean that every time a new TLD appears, the bulk of spam actually making it into my inbox (and I can say that as the former mail filter admin of a medium-sized company, not just personally) comes from that new domain.

I don't blame the domains themselves, but as I said, for a domain from which I have no expectation of receiving any legitimate email, simply blacklisting the whole TLD proves an extremely effective filter.


oulipian : Please explain how "standardizing human language" is any different than, say, "standardizing human religion" or "standardizing human skin colour".

Because unlike your examples, standardizing language actually has some value to the species. Skin color and religion, while points of contention between various groups, really don't matter in any context other than those contentions.
posted by pla at 9:33 AM on May 6, 2010


Ryvar: Please explain how "standardizing human language" is any different than, say, "standardizing human religion" or "standardizing human skin colour".

Religion is a set of beliefs, similar to a culture, and like cultural diversity should be encouraged. We are all enriched by a proliferation of outlooks on the world and understandings of our roles within it, because it forces us to think outside our preconceptions.

Skin color is a heritable genetic trait, and therefore largely deterministic. It would be nice if it were standardized for the sole reason that people would finally shut up about it, or stop using it as a straw man to imply others are racists (translation: don't be a jerk towards people who are making a good faith attempt to engage in a meaningful conversation with you, kthx).

Language is a tool for communication. People being able to freely express their diversity of cultural and religious beliefs, being able to more easily pool their intellect for the betterment of all - these are good things, and differing languages serve as a barrier to them.
posted by Ryvar at 10:10 AM on May 6, 2010


How I type Arabic?
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:17 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


is it google.مصر or مصر.elgoog?
posted by maus at 10:37 AM on May 6, 2010


I don't understand how you can write "cultural diversity should be encouraged" while at the same time advocating the abolishment / abandonment of every other human language besides English. There are about 7000 human languages. Only about 20% of the world's population speaks English.

Language is the medium in which cultures live and thrive. You can't simply translate everything from one language into another and expect that nothing will be lost, any more than you can take a freshwater fish and throw it into the ocean and expect it to adapt. Cultures will die.

Language is also an art form. Are you going to ban all non-English literature, too?

How do you imagine this standard might be encouraged or enforced?
posted by oulipian at 10:48 AM on May 6, 2010


pla: Funny, how many people complain about "ugly Americans" for refusing to speak the local language, yet cry foul when faced with turnabout.

How is English "local" to the Internet? Because some of the concepts involved in the Internet were originally developed in the US? That's like arguing that all firearm afficionados must speak Chinese when discussing guns since gunpowder was originally invented there.
posted by nfg at 11:05 AM on May 6, 2010


Is this only for Arabic right now? I'd love to see some Asian languages included in this.
posted by reductiondesign at 11:19 AM on May 6, 2010


oulipian: it's true, there's no cultural diversity present across North America, the United Kingdom, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong...

There's a point here: language can be a contributing factor to the erosion of cultural barriers, but it does not have to erode cultural identity. I can identify as a New Englander, as completely culturally distinct from someone living in the Texas panhandle as I am from someone living in the slums of Detroit, without any of us being wholly incomprehensible to each other.

You're assuming that I'm insisting that people give up their culture, or even that their culture must be translated into English - far from it! I don't care if people speak French, Cantonese, or a Khoisan click language at home - I just want to be able to understand them and for them to be able to understand me.

I don't believe that language is an art form; rather, I believe it is a medium through which art can be expressed. Some art receives richer expression in its native language, and that's great, but it has nothing to do with my larger point. My being able to conduct a conversation with the person who created that art, even if we're not speaking in the language of it, does nothing to impede their ability to continue creating art in their native tongue.

To sum: you present a false dichotomy. That all people speaking one tongue prevents them from speaking others, or finding means of expression in others. This is not the case, and for English, French, and Russian in particular it is not the case as they boast by far the highest numbers of secondary speakers. Your hysteria about 'enforcing' it, or 'banning all non-English literature' does your argument no service, because nobody here is talking about that or even contemplating it. If you can't persuade others of your viewpoint without resorting to strawmen, it may be time for you to reexamine said viewpoint.
posted by Ryvar at 11:32 AM on May 6, 2010


If something as wonderful as the internet had standardized on Mandarin Chinese, I'd damned well learn that.

Shenanigans. I assume that you are a native speaker of English, and a person of at least reasonable intelligence. As such, you will feel comfortable expressing complex concepts in a forum such as this one. Or maybe you are a programmer, and all the commands -- though often opaque or counter-intuitive -- are all in your native tongue, and you'll have a native affinity with what things like "while" or "array" mean. Or maybe you're someone who uses computers and the internet to do something like graphic design or audio recording, and finds that even if the interface of the applications you use are multi-lingual, documentation is only available in English.

Well, *I* am all of the above, except for the native speaker part (and the intelligence is of course debatable). It just so happens that through sheer luck and happenstance I had the advantage of growing up in Holland, where basic English proficiency is widespread, where I had ready access to language and technology education, and so on. I feel comfortable expressing myself in English. But still, even though I first learnt computer programming (and a lot of English!) as a kid avidly bashing away on a Commodore 64, I never knew words like "array" or "template" in their non-technical senses until much later in life. That is, an array was a variable containing multiple items, I never realized it could be a collection of things in general.

If this doesn't illustrate my point sufficiently, allow me a more direct example. I still feel quite stupid and frustrated when designing, say, a Dutch-language website and have to do something like:

<style type="text/css">

#kop {
font-size: 20px;
font-weight:bold;
}

#voet {
text-align: left;
border: 1 px dotted black;
}

</style>


Now, you'll think okay, you have static CSS names in English and ids in whatever language you're writing in, that's overcomeable, right? And it is. But imagine it was the other way around:

<stijl soort="tekst/css">

#header {
tekst-grootte: 20px;
tekst-gewicht: vet;
}

#footer {
tekst-uitlijning: links;
rand: 1 px gestippeld zwart;
}

</stijl>


And this is Dutch: it uses Latin characters and you can read half the words anyway. Do you still maintain with a straight face that if Chinese were the hegemonic language of the web you would feel just as comfortable interacting with technology like this?

Secondly, it strikes me as downright arrogant that one should argue the case for English as the singular language of web technology from the very convenient position of being a native or otherwise highly proficient speaker of English.

No person decided that English should be the de facto lingua franca of modern times. The British and later American empires have simply exerted unrivalled influence over the world, and the ubiquity of English is just how the cards happen to be dealt.

You know this. You know it is unlikely to change very soon. You should at least know that languages define peoples, define cultures. One minor change in policy allows for non-Latin domain names and out comes the tired "English should be good enough for everyone" argument: "...but if it were Chinese I'd surely learn that" then, is the last refuge of a scoundrel. It is aking to arguing that language extinction is no big deal, because the dead languages were going to be supplanted anyway.

I'm sorry, but let's face it: you are not entitled to have this opinion. Just like using the n-word in jokes as a white man, as a speaker of English you have the choice of either staying mum about it, or not and coming off as a gigantic asshole in the process.

Unfair? Well, English being shoved down the world's voiceboxes as the only valid or useful language in a wide array (yes!) of areas of business isn't exactly fair either, now is it?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:04 PM on May 6, 2010 [9 favorites]


Having everyone on speaking a single language is a worthwhile endeavor, and English's combination of grammatical simplicity and rich vocabulary makes it an excellent candidate (despite the psychotic spelling).

Oh, please. Go learn Turkish or something. You can get a basic conversation going in an afternoon, and teach toddlers in a few weeks if you put your mind to it. Transparent ("phonetic") spelling. vritually no irregular verbs, no genders for nouns, no definite article (turns out you don't need one), and once you get the hang of the suffixes you can put them together like Lego, no catch.

What was that about English? How many languages do you *know* anyway?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:04 PM on May 6, 2010


oulipian : Language is the medium in which cultures live and thrive. You can't simply translate everything from one language into another and expect that nothing will be lost

I don't believe that, for the simple reason that English counts as a dynamic language. If English currently can't express concept-X, it has the ability to subsume the (transliterations of) the relevant terms needed to then express concept-X.

As a good example, "otaku". English (or at least, the US) largely lacks the sort of culture where people go to such extreme levels of fandom, but adopt a handful of words from Japanese, and suddenly we can easily talk about people who spend insane amounts of money to dress up in mech suits and follow anime conventions around the country.


nfg : How is English "local" to the Internet?

Would you prefer I answer that in terms of origins, history, current usage (language or location), core infrastructure, server locations, or content production? Because they all point to the same inescapable conclusion.

The only angle from which you could argue otherwise, "current growth", makes Chinese look somewhat better; But that glosses over what "Chinese" means... The second-most-common "language" used on the Internet (by a factor of three over the distant third, Spanish) actually includes Mandarin, Cantonese, Gan, Hokkien-Taiwanese, Shanghaiese, Fuzhou, Xiang, Hakka, and I've probably missed a few of the more obscure ones.


Ryvar : I don't believe that language is an art form; rather, I believe it is a medium through which art can be expressed.

I would point out that a small number of counterexamples exist (Lewis Carrol and James Joyce come to mind) that twisted the raw language itself into their art, distinct from the concepts expressed. But as you say, no one has called for banning all other languages, merely a standardization in a limited context.
posted by pla at 12:05 PM on May 6, 2010


goodnewsfortheinsane : no definite article (turns out you don't need one)

Sincerely curious... How does that work? Some trick with possessives?
posted by pla at 12:08 PM on May 6, 2010


where and how can these domains be registered?
posted by cell divide at 12:12 PM on May 6, 2010


Ryvar: it does not have to erode cultural identity. I can identify as a New Englander, as completely culturally distinct from someone living in the Texas panhandle as I am from someone living in the slums of Detroit

Your point is demonstrated only if distinct languages were originally part of the equation, and are not anymore. Seems unlikely, since you employ geography as the (sole) marker for demarcating cultures.

Many people in developing countries, certainly India, are not as comfortable with English as they are with the vernacular. An insistence that they become comfortable with English in order to fruitfully become involved in the Web, especially social networking, will serve as a barrier to entry for most. The ones who speak English with fluency still constitute a small minority in India.

In real life, knowing and using English doesn't suppress my use of other languages, because there are enough interactions where the use of the local tongue is more natural, and crucially, doesn't require any mediation, say, a la universal translator in Star Trek. Whereas, the internet is a artificial technical phenomenon. Tools & platforms intervene in the effort to interact with other people. If there's a drive to keep the web mostly-English, then tools & platform for other languages won't be developed as much, and that will contribute to nearly killing other languages on the web,
posted by Gyan at 12:21 PM on May 6, 2010


Sincerely curious... How does that work? Some trick with possessives?

You only "miss" a feature like this if you speak a language that has it. While sounding stilted to English-minded ears, "I went to store to buy book but book was too expensive" is semantically quite intelligible. Turkish has an indefinite article, which is the same word as "one" so you would say maybe "I went to store to buy one book but book was too expensive", but there are also languages without indefinite articles and it turns out people rely heavily on context to figure these things out (in any language really) and the absence of such features poses hardly any obstacles (again, if you *know* the language).

Look at it this way, English doesn't have an indefinite article for the plural, but French does. Do English speakers feel their language is inadequate because of this? Of course not. (The French, of course, will feel superior, but that is because they are French. ;))

Not that such features have no value. Myself I like to ask English speakers what the opposite of "not" is. (They will often reply "yes" or "it is"). This is endlessly entertaining to Dutch speakers simply because Dutch has a word that exactly means the opposite of "not". Nice word to have, but you're fine without it.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:27 PM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


goodnewsfortheinsane : Nice word to have, but you're fine without it.

Thanks for the answer, and especially thanks for the opposite of "not" idea - You just gave me a very enjoyable five minutes of musing on the concept.
posted by pla at 12:45 PM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Your point is demonstrated only if distinct languages were originally part of the equation, and are not anymore. Seems unlikely, since you employ geography as the (sole) marker for demarcating cultures.

I'm a videogame developer in Boston comparing myself to 'a person' in the panhandle of Texas and another in the slums of Detroit, with all the stereotypes that my demographic holds regarding those locations and living conditions. The implied differences there are at the very least geographic, economic, religious, political, and patois.

Then we bring in someone from Singapore and the differences become *really* drastic, but they all can exist under the umbrella of English. Hence my point.

I'm sorry, but let's face it: you are not entitled to have this opinion. Just like using the n-word in jokes as a white man, as a speaker of English you have the choice of either staying mum about it, or not and coming off as a gigantic asshole in the process.

This. This is everything wrong with the modern cultural dialogue in a nutshell. There can be no conversation in good faith with you, because you deny my right to hold an opinion you disagree with. You're not substantially younger than me, but you're going to need to do some growing up before we can actually hold a discussion.
posted by Ryvar at 12:51 PM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


pla: "But as you say, no one has called for banning all other languages, merely a standardization in a limited context."

What value is standardizing human language supposed to bring? Do you propose that it will make human communication more efficient? Somehow, I doubt that demanding that 80% of the world's population learn a new language will be more efficient for everyone involved, compared to present methods of communicating across language barriers. Of course, surely it will be more efficient and convenient for people who already speak English.

This is the problem with your argument, as goodnewsfortheinsane pointed out. You are arguing for a standardization which would result in a huge political and cultural advantage to a group you are a part of, while insisting that your intentions are entirely benign and that it so obviously better for everyone.
posted by oulipian at 1:18 PM on May 6, 2010


oulipian : Of course, surely it will be more efficient and convenient for people who already speak English.

No. Easy strawman to make, but I really don't care about which language. Pick another one and find a way to enforce it, and I'd start learning it tomorrow.

Yes, I happen to speak English. Yes, standardizing on English would end up more convenient for me than for some. But which takes more effort - Everyone learning every other language, or most people learning a single additional language?

Hell, make it Esperanto for all I care, or some other synthetic language, if you really insist on some sadistic "everyone must suffer the same" requirement in adopting a standard. But the amount of wasted effort that goes into translation and internationalization, just so we can still have such legendary failures as "bite the wax tadpole" (though admittedly an offline example)? Just a mind-blowingly pointless waste of resources.
posted by pla at 1:53 PM on May 6, 2010


What value is standardizing human language supposed to bring?

More than the mind-blowingly pointless wast of resources (with which I'm intimately familiar: part of my job as a voiceover producer is overseeing localization), is the amount of war, genocide, and destructive ethnic hatreds generated by failures to communicate. People are at the least less likely to butcher those whose anguish and worldview they can understand.

You are arguing for a standardization which would result in a huge political and cultural advantage to a group you are a part of, while insisting that your intentions are entirely benign and that it so obviously better for everyone.

Entirely the reverse. By encouraging more people to have access to resources like the English-language Wikipedia, fuller participation in technology and an easier time gaining technology-based jobs, I am creating competition for myself. This makes my life that much harder, because I have to work that much more in order to distinguish myself from a pool of competition that is four to five times larger and likely to work for less money. Meanwhile, employment opportunities for people like goodnewsfortheinsane (a Dutch speaker working in English markup or programming languages) are vastly increased, making it that much harder for me to get a job in the first place.

There is nothing selfish about this - if anything it's suicidal from a job security and income viewpoint. Why advocate for it? This grants everyone the fruits of our shared intellect - where there was one Isaac Newton, there could be five all easily able to pool their ideas. The whole human race is pushed forward that much more quickly, and *everyone* benefits.

That's the value of standardizing.
posted by Ryvar at 2:32 PM on May 6, 2010


A point that pla does make with the creation of entirely new TLDs is that, as a network admin, I will be blocking them flat out to begin with. Much like the Southeast Asian TLDs and many Eastern European TLDs, the people on my network have no business, legitimate or illegitimate, to be interacting with those networks. I'm not saying they don't have worthwhile content, etc. I just am not in the mood to clean up the spam and phishing sites that will inevitably arrive to them, much like they arrived at the .us and other US TLDs. That ignores the greater discussion of worldwide English, etc. I'm purely talking from a network security POV. Let people browse the Egyptian Ministry websites at home.
posted by msbutah at 3:03 PM on May 6, 2010


I find life is easiest if I only talk to people from the United States. And who speak English. Why would I bother being interested in other countries or languages?

Be sure to ban all URLs from .ly, btw, since it's Libya.
posted by Nelson at 3:29 PM on May 6, 2010


There would certainly be value in having a standard global language that everyone spoke, perhaps in addition to their mother tongues. We could have one Wikipedia instead of 240 and it could have the same content for everyone. Global scientific communities could collaborate freely. We wouldn't have to spend resources on translation and internationalization, and we wouldn't have to build frameworks flexible enough to handle the variety of languages people currently speak.

The problem is that we currently don't have such a language, which is plain to see. Obviously, if such a language were somehow imposed, a burden is placed on those who don't speak it natively, and a comparative advantage is awarded to those who do. If you advocate for enshrining English (or any other language) as the lingua franca, so to speak, you are advocating for cutting non-speakers out of the conversation. Or, looking at it in another way, you are advocating for putting a price tag on admission into the conversation. It's free for you, but others have to pay - significant amounts of time, and likely money - to gain English literacy. Most of the world can't afford this luxury; this should also be pretty plain to see.

Maybe standardizing to one language should be a long-term global policy goal. But rightfully so, it is low on the list of priorities behind a host of developmental issues, e.g. eradicating poverty. An internet with "linguistic ghettos" (a telling characterization) might be suboptimal from your or my point of view, but from the often lower-income populations who speak some of those "ghetto"-ized languages and who don't speak any others, it's hugely important: information access leads to economic growth and a higher standard of living, a much more urgent goal for most of the world's population than a harmonized Wikipedia. Obviously people derive value from being able to communicate online in their own languages, or else they wouldn't be doing it. Saying things would be better if everyone learned English is frankly missing the point.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:19 PM on May 6, 2010


PercussivePaul: that's a really good counter-argument, and while we might have differing opinions on where learning a universal language might fall under 'optimal' priorities, I can understand the logic of "any Internet, now, is a higher priority".

As to the question of which language, I'm not particularly beholden to English, it's just that the latest estimates show it with 900 million speakers (India has the second largest English-speaking population? Nigeria has the third??) over a vast distribution of cultures and geography, and it can be written (if not spelled) by non-native-speakers.

Your point about cost is well-taken: I wonder if there's a charity to help pay for ESL lessons for people who want to learn English but can't afford to?
posted by Ryvar at 6:26 PM on May 6, 2010


Well, they didn't learn English because it's an innately great language, they learned it because they were both former British colonies. It wins on inertia alone, if it wins at all, don't kid yourself. Wikipedia actually has a really neat page on World languages to contextualize English against other candidates.
posted by PercussivePaul at 7:36 PM on May 6, 2010


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