Sunday, August 14, 2011

What makes a #language a living language

The #Wikimedia Foundation provides hosting to any and all languages that are able to comply with the minimal requirements that have been defined in the language policy. For languages that have sufficient vitality and infrastructure this is a godsend; a Wikipedia is seen as recognition for a language.

Wikipedia is well positioned for this because of one early design decision for MediaWiki; the exclusive use of Unicode fonts. All languages that are supported with fonts are in luck. Recent work on for instance right to left languages will percolate into production in the near future, we are working on WebFonts and input methods and all this will be a game changer for many of the existing Wikimedia languages.

The Wikimedia Foundation has always been clear that its primary interest is not in the preservation of languages but in providing information to the people of the world. It has taken its time before the WMF is getting involved in increasing its support for languages. This is driven largely by the lack of growth in the "global north" and an astounding room for growth in the "global south".

When a language is a living language, it will at some stage have a presence on the Internet. Failure to do so will mean it will be increasingly marginalised. There may be mitigating circumstances like the use by a locked in community like the deaf and their many sign languages.

In the WMF language committee there is a big discussion about what to do with the languages that do not have a WMF project. Should we go out and stimulate people to start a WMF project in their language. Should we technically enable languages for the Internet and stimulate its use in the hope of a living WMF project at some later date...

Projects like are very much the kind of projects we can support to further the use of more languages on the Internet. Even the use of Facebook or Google+ is a net gain when people use their language on the Internet. I am all for it, I am even for providing social software at the WMF. When we can help people use the Internet in any way, it will stimulate a language, a culture. First you give them their voice and then we may find a request for a new Wikimedia project. At the same time the chance of finding content about such a culture and language in for instance the English Wikipedia will increase. Now that, the sum of all knowledge, is what the WMF is about.
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