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A global monolanguage/monoculture

By McElroy Translation,
Austin, Texas 78701 USA


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The writer of this article laments the coming of one or two great monocultures (such as U.S. and Chinese), and he is not the first to predict such a thing will happen. Indeed, with the acceleration of globalization, and the increase of broadband and internet access worldwide, the extinction of hundreds, if not thousands of languages and cultures seems imminent. Every other week, a news article proclaims that English will soon be the only language the world speaks, and everyone will read Harry Potter, drink Starbucks and listen to Britney Spears.

However, the evolving ideas, technologies, and even new cultures that the Internet has created are only the tip of the iceberg for how humans will choose to align, do business and communicate with each other in the future.

Indeed, in the early and mid nineties, before the commercialization of the Internet, one could find many articles [see footnotes] lamenting the death of the written word and creative mind in children, as too many Western children seemed doomed to lifetimes of passively receiving their entertainment via television.

Even up until the widespread popularity of blogs, and the introduction of Youtube, experts were announcing the death of active creativity in future generations, or calling popular resurgences in personal creativity “nostalgic.” Now, of course, so much of this has been turned on its head, and it is getting very hard to find a web site that isn’t begging you to join in a discussion, comment on its articles, and contribute your own original content.

So, what do blogs and Youtube have to do with the preservation (and creation) of distinct cultures worldwide? The evolution of the Internet is witnessing the empowerment of the user. In the next 10-20 years, almost all new Internet users will arrive as non-native English speakers, if they speak English at all, thanks to the permeation of broadband and wireless technologies into all areas of the globe, and efforts like the $100 laptop initiative are bringing more and more children in impoverished and developing parts of the world online.

In all likelihood, the Internet’s newest arrivals will likely want to know about Western culture, but they will hardly wish to remain passive observers and users of it. Like so many users worldwide--Brazilians on Orkut and Koreans on Cyworld, for instance--these new Internet users will want to leave their own personal marks on the Internet, participate in discussions with their distinct voices, and yes, bring their own unique cultures and languages into the mix.

Not only will the Internet see the introduction of real-world cultures, offering their artistic and creative forms of expression, the Internet has, of course, provided us with a myriad of distinct subcultures that may very well one day become kinds of virtual cultures of their own (some would argue that they have already)--for instance, txt spk (Text Speak):

  • AAMF--as a matter of fact
  • AFAIC--as far as I’m concerned
  • BBFN--bye bye for now
  • BCNU--be seeing you
  • DM--don’t mind
  • F2T--free to talk
  • HTH--hope this/to help
  • ICCL--I couldn’t care less
  • IYSS--if you say so
  • IMO--in my opinion
  • LOL--laughing out loud
  • ROFL--rolling on the floor laughing
  • TTFN--ta ta for now

...the unique language of Leet, e.g.:

  • 0w|\| or 0wn3d - One of the most popular l33t words it is very loosely defined as beaten or can simply be an expression of awe, for example, ’I 0wn3d you’ means ’I have beaten you in a very humiliating fashion’, or ’0wn4ge!’ which means ’That was (or is) very nifty’.
  • w00t - Derived from ’hoot’, this is defined as ’yay’, it can be used, for example, upon victory or, possibly, the release and procurement of a new video card.
  • 13wt - Treasure, good merchandise, possessions, a misspelling of loot. Most commonly referring to pirated software, items in a game or promotional giveaways.
  • h4x0r - Hacker, can be used for a real hacker or simply a very skillful person. This is the most common occurrence of the -0r clause.
  • ph33r - Fear, most commonly used in such phrases as, ’Ph33r m3!’ or ’Ph33r |\/|y 1337 sk1llz!’ It can also be written as, ’ph34r’.
  • sk1llz - Obviously derived from ’skill’, referring to skill in some type of online game, programming or hacking. Many times used in conjunction with ’m4d’. As a general rule, if one has sk1llz, one is to be ph33r3d.
  • m4d - Mad, mostly used as a descriptive term meaning great, for example, ’h3s g0t m4d sk1llz’.

...and who-knows-what cultures will materialize within more advanced virtual environments like SecondLife?

Professor Salikoko S. Mufwene doesn’t think that English isn’t a “language killer,” but that the spreading and evolution of languages among groups is much more complex. He also says that the economically-dominant one doesn’t always “win” in different times and places where several languages are spoken.

Globalization isn’t a linear, thoroughly universal process, but rather, a description of various interdependent global systems, where language use depends upon a given situation, and any given aspect of a permeated culture may be adapted at varying degrees by another. In short, our tendency to see one language and/or culture killing another is oversimplified.

An example of this would be the growing trend for U.S. businesses to translate their marketing and product content into Spanish and politicians to devote significant campaign communication in Spanish even as English spreads across the globe, and is similarly touted as the only language the world (and U.S.) needs.

What is your opinion?

Do you think that the Internet and globalization will turn all of humanity into a monocultural population, speaking the same language, reading the same books, following the same pop and sports icons?

Or, do you think that the increase of user control over the content of the Internet in recent years, coupled with more widespread Internet access to the developing world, will stimulate a new world of distinctly different cultures and viewpoints, albeit divided along more virtual lines than geopolitical ones?






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