In the beginning, the language of the World Wide Web was English. Times change though, and the United States’ military’s gift to civilization knows no national boundaries, and growing worldwide adoption of the internet has changed the audience make-up to such an extent that the dominant language of the internet is about to become Chinese. That’s not to say the Chinese are all that comfortable with this either. There has just been an official decree requiring the use of Chinese translations for all English words and phrases in newspapers, magazines and web sites. While all countries have watched the unregulated global nature of the internet erode traditional cultural values and the integrity of national languages, it seems the Chinese powers-that-be have concluded that the purity of the Chinese language needs to be preserved.
Firstly, let’s start with the infographic put together by Nextweb. It is a terrific infographic, though I have my doubts about the veracity of the numbers behind it as there’s no good reason China should have slowed its internet growth to the degree indicated in the chart. My bet is that the number of Chinese internet users is far closer to the number of English internet users already, and like every measure of China’s emergence as the dominant country in the world, everyone has underestimated the growth.
The official Chinese Government edict to protect the Chinese language is an interesting one. The General Administration of Press and Publication web site announced last week that the mixing of foreign words in Chinese language publications without an accompanying Chinese language translation has been banned. The ban is all encompassing and includes the names of people and places, acronyms, abbreviations and common phrases, all of which have become increasingly common over recent years.