The rise and fall of non-English writing in Internet communities

This article documents some observations on the evolution of non-English writing systems on internet communities, such as chat, newsgroups and forums.In the mid and late 1990s, the growth of internet usage was explosive, specially as it spread outside North America and Western Europe.Early adopters are technically savvy people, who most likely can speak and read English because of their education and/or work, such as scientists, and programmers.Then as technology spreads among the less technologically savvy, people who do not know English well want to express themselves in their native language.At some point, non-English Western European languages are expressed in English characters only, such as the removal of accents from French, or the removal of the strokes and umlauts from Scandinavian/Germanic languages.In languages that use a non-Latin based character set, there is a phase where internet communication uses Latin characters to represent their own language. I have seen this in Arabic, and Hindi, where they were written in the Latin alphabet, with some modifiers that provide the sounds not present in Latin, such as the Semitic sounds ع خ ح ص and the like, as well as being written from left to right.Eventually, many "dialects" evolve as various people in various parts of the world, or on various online communities use and continue to evolve the Latin based writing system of their language.The use of this workaround is sometimes out of necessity, since the early versions of applications used (e.g. chat clients, web browsers, text editors only support Latin based characters, and do not support right to left orientation.I have documented how Arabic used these systems in the transliteration section of the Arabic on the Internet article.This phase becomes a transitionary one on these online communities.Later, as their own language becomes more wide spread and accepted, with applications supporting non-Western languages, and in particular right to left languages, more people get to use computers and the internet, even those who do not know any language other than their own.As those who do not speak or type English become more in numbers, they start to get annoyed or even offended that English is used by the early adopters bilingual group. This leads to the more numerous late comers demanding that only their native language be used in forums that are about their country/society/language/... etc.Anyone who speaks a "foreign" language in those forums is reminded that the primary language in that forum is so and so, and not to confuse others by writing in a language or character set that is incomprehensible to most visitors/members. Some even make this a matter of national pride, some take it as mere courtsey, others take it as common sense, and yet others take it as a mere form of communication. This all depends on really who the person is, and their outlook, and biases.At the time of writing this article, there is a language war underway at the Orkut social networking web site. This was discussed on Slashdot, a technology oriented web site.It would be interesting to see how this language war on Orkut gets resolved eventually, at least for those who are, like me, interested in observing the new frontiers that the internet have defined or merged.

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