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Chinese language to dominate the internet

By

December 26, 2010

Infographic courtesy of Nextweb

Infographic courtesy of Nextweb

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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.

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17 Comments

Ok first of all there are a lot of Chinese people, like more than any other people and they are very good adopters of technology. So this isn't a surprise that there language will soon be the dominate language of the internet. Secondly when you say the "Chinese language" I don't really get it because doesn't the country have cantonese, mandarin and several other dialects that are used. Are they making it so any Chinese language cannot contain other languages with out a translation?

Brett Reid Himeda
27th December, 2010 @ 12:04 am PST

How is it that India has a population size rivaling that of China yet Hindi doesn't appear anywhere on the list?

Womp
27th December, 2010 @ 05:18 pm PST

Um - last time I backpacked across China there were rather a lot of folks in hand-made houses without electricity. And by "rather a lot", I'm talking about more than the combined populations of more than a few not-so-small entire countries...

I don't doubt their web presence/use is growing - but just because they've got a lot of people, don't assume they're all in their comfy carpeted loungerooms with a new iMac on their laps in front of the telly !!

christopher
27th December, 2010 @ 05:45 pm PST

I don't see anything in the new edict mentioning websites. And in fact, the law isn't new. There are some new additions, but their National Common Language Law dates back to 2001. That Infographic is hogwash. Despite the fact that there may be more Chinese users of the Web, Chinese language websites will never predominate. The language is incomprehensible to non-Chinese. English, like it or not, is the lingua franca of the 20th and 21st centuries, and sadly enough, many Chinese are taught to write and speak it better than all too many Americans. Also, there would be no way to enforce that law against any non-Chinese website short of cutting off China from the rest of the net.

Brett Himeda,

You're mistaken. Differences in dialects are only in spoken ones. The characters remain the same. There are two main varieties, Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese. The latter dominates in China, as it is sanctioned by the government as the official written language.

Gadgeteer
27th December, 2010 @ 09:54 pm PST

@Brett - Dialects are spoken. We're talking about the Chinese text here and it is either written/read in Traditional Chinese or Simplified Chinese. That is all.

@Christopher - you're right. Not all Chinese people can afford a computer.

Besides, as a Chinese myself living in Hong Kong. I would prefer English websites than Chinese ones. So the infograph doesn't account for language preference ...

I say it is a bunch of nonsense. In 5 years, it'll still be English.

Joseph Lau
27th December, 2010 @ 11:49 pm PST

I found this article personally interesting because a few years ago I had said to a friend, that the only thing keeping the Chinese language alive is its oppressive government. In the same conversation I concluded that the Internet would bring about a radical change in the Chinese government. So basically years ago I predicted that the internet would make the Chinese language obsolete in the coming decades.

I have nothing against the various dialects the Chinese speak. Its just simple. The internet like the world is ruled by money and porn. Simply put, as rich as china is as a country, its people are dirt poor. When the Chinese do business on the web they are more then happy to speak English. I don't really see porn having much influence on language.

the sad truth is the Chinese and similar languages are just not compatible with the web and the future of technology as a whole. Its a sad truth but smart phones, voice recognition and most every important technology is based around a phonetic language. More and more the world is accepting English as the primary language. I personally hate the English language. It is simply lacking in logic and beauty.

SO if there is a rise in Chinese webpages and the traffic to those sites increase that means more Chinese are getting on the web. As that happens more of them will see the importance of the English language and learn it. It may take a couple generations but it will happen. Just like the children of immigrants tend to be far more fluent then their parents. Its the same thing as the web. The first generation on there will go to Chinese speaking sites, the successors will tend towards English speaking sites. In a few generations there may be people speaking various Chinese but the characters of those languages will be rare. Simply put they are just late to the game.

One last thing.. who the hell is NextWeb and why on earth should any one care what they think?????

Michael Mantion
28th December, 2010 @ 01:30 am PST

@Michael Mantion: you wrote "I personally hate the English language. It is simply lacking in logic and beauty."

That's a strange comment as you seem to be one of the better-spoken people among average internet commenters.

The beauty of the English language is it's flexibility, which leads to a level of nuance and expressiveness not easily reached in the languages that hold to a strict and rigid structure. English does have fundamental logic, and you can reproduce every structured sentence as found in "protected" French, Chinese, etc., without deviation. You could speak like that all the time if you wished. You would sound like a robot if you did.

English is a mélange of other parts and pieces. While originally a Germanic tongue, there are structures and vocabulary from Romance and other languages, as well as unique grammar developed to accommodate those infusions.

While it's not necessarily pretty-sounding (to non-speakers, English sounds like German spoken with a mouthful of marbles), it lends itself to being comprehensible even when used by non-native speakers with a very strong accent.

If anything, the internet will be the death of the complexity of language as many users devolve into the twitter-imposed chatspeak of word truncation. Words are thoughts, limiting one unintentionally limits the other. Imagine the consequences had William Shakespeare been limited to 160 characters.

Rob Levinson
28th December, 2010 @ 05:58 am PST

What the numbers do not reveal is the fact that the vast majority of daily conversations in English do NOT occur between native speakers of English but rather between individuals / companies / representatives who have adopted English as their lingua franca! When Chinese business representatives are communicating with clients from Poland, the conversations (and emails!) take place in English, not in Polish or Chinese. The same holds true for Swedish or German company reps who are setting up joint venture projects in Vietnam.

English is NOT the domain of English-speaking nations but the true "Globish" language of the globalized world. Chinese is simply far too difficult to learn for most non-native speakers of the language and is highly unlikely to ever dominate the world of science and technology, much less even the world of mundane communications.

English is by far the best choice around for daily communication. And in response to the reader above, even in India, the majority of communications are written in English simply because of the hundreds of dialects existent and in common practice on the the subcontinent.

The real problem with the interpretation of this article is the bias English speakers have in believing that they are the only people in the world who use their language. Besides Latin and artificial languages such as Esperanto, English is the only language spoken by far more non-native speakers than by native speakers!

Wake up, world - English is here to stay.

Weihan
28th December, 2010 @ 09:58 am PST

Whoever wrote this article has a short sighted view. Let's not forget many anglo commonwealth nation still pretty much lack of adequate Internet access but will catching up in decade of so. India, for instant, will adopt English when come to surf the web or e-commerce. India still a pretty behind but with the cheap pc and tablet helping hand, in a few years will make accessible every corner in the country. Don't forget Spanish language as well. Latin America is in the process becoming dominant players en-mass in a decade or so with current left leaning politic make learning as a individual right. These younger generation will provide the next round i economy boom in the regions. We are talking about 600 mil in continental America alone, will be more international inclusive.

Beside, there will be at least 25% of the Chinese or descends prefer English when go online.

wow2010
28th December, 2010 @ 12:09 pm PST

I was in China 5 years ago, and a colleague there was learning "Chinese" (Mandarin). He was going to be there three years and was hoping to be able to communicate at the level of a three-year-old at the end of his stay. I think the Phoenicians got it right, English just happens to be the dominant phonetic language at the right time.

CleverName
28th December, 2010 @ 12:40 pm PST

Written Chinese is so backward even ancient Egyptian was superior with its use of symbols representing sounds a simple functional alphabet based upon phonetics is superior in every way to a symbolic language with literally hundreds of thousands or millions or symbols. Imagine how cumbersome English would be if every word in the dictionary required you to learn a new symbol. English uses 26 symbols not counting punctuation. Chinese's structure makes literacy difficult.they should pick disused ancient Chinese symbols and make a phonetic alphabet. Literacy would be easier for their people and easier to implement technological and socially, both in china and abroad. To be the next super power they will need to address this limitation that will hold back progress.They can keep their culture and individuality and still modernize their written language so that an alphabet of 20-40 characters is needed to be learned instead of hundreds of thousands to be literate.

darthsmurff
29th December, 2010 @ 02:07 am PST

The problem here is the concept of «domination», i e, that the language spoken by a plurality of internet users and used by them on the net can be considered to «dominate» it. Chinese speakers will, presumably, mainly use Chinese (whether written with traditional or simplified glyphs) to communicate with each other ; to communicate with non-Chinese speakers, however, they will, willy-nilly, use other languages- most often English. This, not because English is superior to other languages - the idea is absurd - but because for historical reasons it is the most widely known. But if history teaches one thing, it is that things change - if the political, economic, and, not least, military realties that have made English the predominant lingua franca change, so, I expect, will the position of the language itself. But, I suggest, not in the next five years....

Henri

mhenriday
29th December, 2010 @ 04:40 am PST

The title of the article is misleading. It is logically not possible for the Chinese language to dominate the internet. Now or in the future. English is the dominant technological language and also currently used by majority of internet users even in non English speaking countries. The number of English users in countries like India, ( which has also a billion people ), Russia, Indonesia etc are substantial and add up. Just because China has over a billion people does not mean they dominate everything, including the internet. There are over 200 nations on this planet which are familiar with English and hardly a handful which are familiar with Chinese.

pluto7
29th December, 2010 @ 05:41 am PST

The first two sentences fail to distinguish between the Internet and the World Wide Web. The former is 40 years old and was a gift from the US military, the latter is 20 years old and was a gift from Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who actually is British and created the Web in Switzerland.

craig.heintzman
29th December, 2010 @ 06:22 am PST

It is beyond doubt that the number of Chinese internet users will increase sharply for many years to come because of the sheer size of the Chinese population. But being populous is not the same as being popluar. English is already gained its place as the only global language in all parts of the world and in all aspects of life. There will be more Chinese people learning English than other people learning Chinese. When China becomes stronger and its people wealthier, the Chinese language will naturally gain importance, first in Asia and then internationally. I can see Chinese becoming an elite foreign language aspired by modern and scholarly people but not one which will replace English as the global language.

Facebook User
30th December, 2010 @ 02:12 am PST

Its a great thought. I appreciate it.

Alstom
30th December, 2010 @ 03:33 am PST

Dominate and influence are not the same thing. Lots of ways that pans out.

Charles Edward Frith
30th December, 2010 @ 11:27 pm PST
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