1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Duolingo
  4. >
  5. Digital Language Death


Digital Language Death

Has anyone ever read about this concept? Digital language death is basically a scenario where a given language fails to put itself into practical use in digital aspects. We're talking website presence, apps, software, operating systems, online communication, etc.

The article below basically talks about how there's a digital divide: that only a few languages dominate the online space, whereas the rest of the world's languages, a majority of them in fact, will fail to "transcend" into the online realm and slowly wither away into obscurity.

It's actually something I've been thinking about a while back when I realized that a lot of popular sites and operating systems only support a small number of languages. Makes me wonder if certain people in the world abandon their smaller language to adapt to the more popular ones.

It's an interesting read, and I'm curious if you guys have any thoughts on this:

Article: http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/3/language-linguisticstechnologyinternetdigitaldivideicann.html

Original study: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0077056

April 24, 2017



This is a process of evolution, and more precisely the less liked part: the natural selection. In case of languages it has little to do with their intrinsic properties, but it's still a similar process as with organisms.

The following pattern happened in the West and is happening, at various speeds, in many other places:

In 17th century, people would rarely move and wouldn't receive much education, so only talking to people within your vicinity mattered for most people. In such situation, you could have a different dialect or a different language every 30 kilometres.

With introduction of universal education, people learnt how to read and write the standard language. Then, industrialisation started, so people from different backgrounds started migrating and mixing together. What they spoke? A mixture of their own dialects and whatever they were taught at schools, forming new urban dialects. Often it led to people dropping a language they spoke at home at countryside and switching to a language everyone was taught at school, like it happened with Celtic languages in the British Empire and in France, or is also happening now with smaller Chinese languages. People got close together, the world became smaller, there was no room for as much language variety.

Then, mass media like radio and television became popular, printed material became cheaper, train travel became cheaper, plane travel became a possibility, higher education started getting more popular. People started move more and more, meeting people from even further places, listening to speech from hundreds of kilometres away daily. Languages with such support could become more uniform, which made them an even more attractive offer for minority speakers, who were now unable to compete on even foot which majority speakers when it comes to education, media, or even being understood when getting off a train or a plane. Again, people got closer together, the world became smaller, there was even less room for such language variety.

Then we got the Internet. Instead of just receiving one or two languages from mass media few hundred kilometres away, people can now both receive and send information thousands of kilometres, reaching even more people, who don't necessarily hear the same language when turning on a radio. With information becoming an easily tradeable good, and the international trade opening even more, people now need to access the global community, instead of just the community of their own country. American and British English start becoming more similar. People in Africa no longer see English or French as some nuisance to deal with in rare cases when dealing with the administration, but as an opportunity to access education, international markets, or even exchange ideas with their compatriots from the other end of the country who speaks a totally different language at home. Again, people got closer together, the world became smaller, you know the drill.


thank you for an excellent/ informative post


Oh hey! I didn't see this until just now. I was just discussing this situation as it applies to Icelandic.

Last year I think it was, Google underwent a huge project to expand the number of language fonts (and therefore languages) the internet could recognize. This should result in less "tofu" and more access to languages previously unsupported by the Internet. Here is more about that

> "Tofu" is what the pros call those tiny, empty rectangles that show up when a script isn't supported. This is where Google's new font family, "Noto," gets its name: "No Tofu."

Learn a language in just 5 minutes a day. For free.