Korea and the Internet

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Korea and the Internet

Since its birth a generation ago, the Internet has been dominated by the English language and North American culture. In a 1998 survey conducted by the Internet research group, eMarketer, two-thirds (68 percent) of a little over 60 million Internet users worldwide reside in just two countries, the United States, with 37 million users, and Canada, which has just over 4 million. About 60 percent of the Internet host computers are located in the United States. Nine out of 10 Internet users today are English-speaking. No fewer than 82 percent of home pages (web sites) are in English, according to the Internet Society’s survey of 60,000 computers with Internet addresses.

Yet some foresee an end to this electronic hegemony. The number of non-U.S. Internet users is about to outnumber those inside the country soon and increase by nine-fold over the next five years, from 16.4 million in 1997 to 143 million by the year 2002, representing an annual growth rate of 70 percent. In that case, the present practice of conducting business, presenting news and information, and performing discussion on the Internet will have to be drastically changed. The widespread use of English will eventually be contested and the Internet itself will become multicultural. This is already happening.

A consortium of American computer companies has developed a universal digital code known as Unicode to allow computers to represent the letters and characters of virtually all the world’s languages. Major search engines like Yahoo and Excite offer their services in multiple languages. Netscape Communications in partnership with the leading Latin American Internet service, Star Media Network, provides a free Internet guide in Spanish and Portuguese. Internet services in languages other than English, like Star Media, are starting to provide world and regional news, weather, stock listings, e-mail, chat rooms, Internet access and more, all in the users’ native language.

Given such developments, optimists argue that far from ending diversity, the Internet will promote it by allowing even small groups of people to disseminate their messages worldwide. By overtaking the "middle range" languages, it may actually protect minority languages threatened with extinction. A wider range of languages on the Internet means at least in theory that a wider range of ideas will be exchanged in a cyberspace, the long-promised global village.

Despite a tremendous influx of non-English languages in recent years, however, the Internet has a long way to go before it becomes a truly multilingual medium.
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