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The Internet

The Internet Shifts East 447

Posted by timothy
from the lots-of-proxy-servers dept.
Logic Bomb writes: "The San Francisco Chronicle has an article discussing the World Intellectual Property Organization's prediction that in less than 10 years, Chinese will be the most widely-used language on the web. Assuming the Internet becomes a truly global entity, this is an obvious (and mathematically correct) conclusion. On the other hand, the implementation of the Internet in places without certain civil liberties provides an interesting challenge to typical Western (idealist) notions about what the Internet does for society. Would you even consider the average wealthy Chinese citizen with online access truly 'on the Internet'? And how is the Internet supposed to draw people together when the same old language barrier still exists?"
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The Internet Shifts East

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  • "East" ? (Score:3, Funny)

    by mirko (198274) on Friday December 21, 2001 @03:52AM (#2736370) Journal
    Isn't China west from San Francisco ?
    • Re:"East" ? (Score:2, Funny)

      by hatchet (528688)
      Well.. it's a matter of perspective. We now know that only speed(of light) may be absolute so in the matter of fact.. china is also north and south of san francico and 5km away if you are able to bend space-time:)
    • Re:"East" ? (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Is it me or did the title illusively (subliminally) read "Internet Shit Feast" ???
  • by Transient0 (175617)
    J0 3570Y 4 N371Z3N0 comeon, we're already halfway there towards a language that everybody on the planet understands equally poorly. l33t-sp33k can be the lingua franka of the digital age.
  • Language barrier (Score:2, Interesting)

    by magicslax (532351)
    One of the great Geek Goals of science fication has been on the fly translation. If technology continues to improve as quickly as it has, I predict real time, accurate (eh....relatively) language conversion for www material and perhaps even instant messaging type applications.

    A growing Chinese user base and the currently massive English speaking web community would certainly create a market for such an app.
    • I actualy had an ICQ conversation in spanish with someone, using babelfish. I took spanish in highschool so I could sort of recognize the structure of what I was sending out. It didn't work very well, but we were able to talk.

      IBM's 'alphaworks' site had a english->chinese translation system (a long with other languages) online that actualy worked pretty well (or at least seemed to) Actualy working out the grammar as well as the words so you wouldn't end up with incoherent jiberish
      • IBM's 'alphaworks' site had a english->chinese translation system (a long with other languages) online that actualy worked pretty well (or at least seemed to) Actualy working out the grammar as well as the words so you wouldn't end up with incoherent jiberish

        I understand that grammatical word order in Chinese is pretty close to that of English. It's pronouncing those tonal shifts that's the hard part for us gwai-lo. If they made it work with translation to and from Japanese (or even Klingon, which intentionally had a fucked up word order), then you'd have something.

  • Surely, but.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    Ni hao,

    statistically speaking it might be, but I believe all the business is still being made with plain English, and a normal western surfer won't notice the difference in his daily net chores.

    Maybe a lot of computers in the Internet reside inside the Chinese borders, but what I hear their firewalling policies etc. somewhat limit access and thus any cultural influence through the Internet.

    So, will this only be an interesting sidenote in the history of the Internet?
  • by J.D. Hogg (545364) on Friday December 21, 2001 @04:00AM (#2736393) Homepage
    "Western news sites including CNN, the BBC and Reuters are routinely blocked"

    Since when CNN is a news site ? I see similarities between Chinese people who read the People's Daily and westerners who watch CNN.

    • by Phroggy (441) <slashdot3@nOSPam.phroggy.com> on Friday December 21, 2001 @04:20AM (#2736434) Homepage
      Since when CNN is a news site ?

      When comparing it to Slashdot.
    • Since when CNN is a news site ? I see similarities between Chinese people who read the People's Daily and westerners who watch CNN.

      There's a critical difference.

      In the US/Europe/Australia/the civilized world in general, people actually have the choice to read the People's Daily or whatever. When I was in college during the Reagan Years, the only problem I had with getting copies of Pravda or Izvestia was that the local newsstand didn't want to waste shelf space on publications in Russian. And I learned Spanish by listening to Radio Havana.

      The cops didn't kick down my door for reading Communist bullshit or listening to it on the radio. RH wasn't jammed by the government. And if the Chinese People's Daily is online, there's nothing stopping you from finding it other than their webmaster's incompetence.

      Think someone in China could lay hands on the Wall Street Journal's op-ed page or the Economist [economist.co.uk] so easily and with so few repercussions?

      Take Ed Abbey's masterpiece, _The Brave Cowboy_. In it, no end of trouble is caused by the fact that the protagonists/heroes refused to pay taxes, carry ID, or be drafted. Ten buck in any decent bricks-and-mortar bookstore in the US. And I'll just bet that China has no trouble whatsoever with such subversive books floating around.

      Or we can look at the books which portray the US as a corrupt, decaying empire. Heinlein's _TMIAHM_ or Pournelle's _High Justice_ or Falkenberg's Legion series. Or psuedo-subversive nonfiction like Noam Chomsky's garbage. All of it sold openly and completely unrestricted in the US. And I dare you to try to translate it into Mandarin and distribute it in China.

      Most Americans are idiots, maybe. I don't agree with that statement, but it has been made and defended here on /. Two or three generations of television and a generation of computer/video games have made our culture a culture of people who sit around, accept the entertainment given them, and make no effort to learn beyond what's presented to them. And they end up with the attention span long enough to last from one commercial break to the next on the TV news. And as a result, CNN and most other major news outlets in the US tailor their material to the short attention span crowd. And some people claim that the news is doctored to some degree to meet the wishes of co-owners or advertisers. I mean, would WB News carry an expose about how Time Magazine can't get anything right? Would NBC (or MSNBC) go in-depth about what a bloated, spying POS Windows XP is? I'm not holding my breath.

      But there's a distinction to be made. Here in the US, we CAN have better if we want it. It's a matter of just getting a decent newspaper, the BBC World Service on shortwave, or whatever. It takes more effort than turning on the latest insipid bullshit from WB/SeeBS/FOX/ABC/Whatever, but it's there.

      There are plenty of countries where that's not an option. You WILL get your news from politically-acceptable sources. You WILL view only acceptable web sites. And if you don't, then you can be dragged off to die in a slave labor camp or shot with your spouse billed for the ammunition. And China is exactly that kind of fascist rathole.

      Oops, that was a bit of a rant. Sorry about that.

      • by autopr0n (534291) on Friday December 21, 2001 @05:58AM (#2736610) Homepage Journal
        Actually, after Mao died the Deng Xiaoping and his cohorts were pretty freaked out by what happened and they began to liberalize (in the British sense of the word... like free markets and the like) both economically (Deng actually had a slogan "It's not bad to get rich") and politically. But the Tiananmen Square massacre scared them shitless, especially when people other then students began to get involved. It was suppressed. And given the background (having experienced china in the 1940s and through Mao's crap... Deng had to endure a couple of struggle sessions himself) It's easy to see why they might have been afraid.

        The problem is that when China looked around them to see what was successful they saw the Authoritarian capitalist states like Singapore, Korea and Taiwan. And they figured that it worked well. Taiwan has become a real democracy now though.

        I think after the shock of Tiananmen wares off and things start to calm down again the restrictions will once again start to come off. Well I hope. Unlike Singapore, it's a pretty big country to hold with an iron fist.
        • it's a pretty big country to hold with an iron fist.

          exactly - does china really have a future as a single big country? - with th south-east booming and leaving other areas (esp. the inland) far behind, with many different languages spoken, and with simply such a diverse country can the place really hold together?

          it seems we in 'th west' are as guilty of supporting th monolithic view of china, (which makes it easier for th authoritarian regime to maintain their illusion of power), with our tendency to think all chinese speak th same language, are of th same ethnic stock, etc. etc.

        • China now has Hong Kong and they intend to keep it capitalistic for it gives them a way to study it from all sides.

          There is something else as well. China is the only country doing economicly well right now. The reason for this is that they were not playing in the world stock market that has cause so much damage from the "card counters".

          As identified in the Trillion Dollar Bet! [pbs.org]

          "In the summer of 1997, across Thailand, property prices plummeted. This sparked a panic that swept through Asia. As banks went bust from Japan to Indonesia, people took to the streets - events so improbable they had never been included in anyone's models."

          and in Indonesia May 1998: abcnews [go.com]

          "Sources all over Asia tell Uscher that Asians know about local corruption but believe America is taking advantage of the situation to grab Asian
          markets and Asian wealth."

          and (read the article!!!): CNN [slashdot.org]

          "The austerity measures were a condition of the International Monetary Fund's $43 billion aid package to bail out the southeast Asian nation. "

          Where the US bailout was only (pbs article):
          "We expect that they're going to explain to the members of this Committee why the Federal Reserve has organized the $3.5 billion bail-out for billionaires, why Americans should be worried about the gambling practices of the Wall Street elite"

          And this rabbit hole goes deeper: More! [google.com]

          But the point is: As man moves forward in his trial and error approach to society, there is a diversity kept in place so that all of mankind is unlikely to fall should things go bad. It was said The Former Soviet Union was mans experiment gone bad.....

          China is part of the Lab. Their entrance into the WTO only helps verify this. [shrug]
      • "There are plenty of countries where that's not an option. You WILL get your news from politically-acceptable sources. You WILL view only acceptable web sites. And if you don't, then you can be dragged off to die in a slave labor camp or shot with your spouse billed for the ammunition. And China is exactly that kind of fascist rathole."

        Hmmm... you know, when I was in China... I had absolutely no problems reading /., going to the drudgereport, or accessing my mail. That's not to say that censorship does not exist in China, and their TV news shows most definitely present a slanted view of the world; especially the US... BUT, I think that the Western world gets its own healthy dose of propaganda and whenever I hear stuff about China that is of the ilk "China is a big, nasty evil country.", I question it now. Ofcourse, my ex-gf's father would tell her that certain topics could not be discussed safely over the phone, but then he would send it to her over mediaring... :-/ Perhaps I didn't stay there long enough, but my short stay there made a couple impressions on me... (1) We have alot of propoganda about China that is misleading or downright false (2) Chinese are some of the most capitalistic sobs I've ever met.
    • I see similarities between Chinese people who read the People's Daily and westerners who watch CNN.

      Hehe, that reminds of an old anecdote from days past. Khrushchev and Kennedy (or pick your favorite Cold War-era leaders) were once arguing about whose political system is better. Kennedy says, "In our country, every citizen is free to express their discontent with the government -- anybody can yell 'Down with Kennedy' in front of the White House!"
      "Big deal," retorts Khrushchev. "Anybody in Russia can go to the Red Square, and yell 'Down with Kennedy,' as well!"
  • by ssheth (92678) <slashdot&sanjaysheth,fastmail,fm> on Friday December 21, 2001 @04:01AM (#2736396) Homepage
    While the content produced will increasingly come in many different languages as we move forward over the next few years, I still see little movement on the actual programming front.
    Today, 99% of all programming is still done in English which ends up giving a definite bias towards English as the language of the web.

    If someone comes out with some programming language that can be programmed in local languages and which gets popular, that is when I see a real shift happening in the base of the web. Otherwise, the content producer still ends up embedding their original language content inside English HTML .. which ends up meaning that he/she also must understand English, thereby limiting the scope of the Web to those who at least have a passing knowledge of English.
    • Are you saying that HTML is in English?

      Knowing the very few words needed to "program" in HTML is very far from speaking English. Many of my friends can program, but don't speak English. Programming is certainly not done in any natural language ; understanding english and mastering HTML are two very diferrent things.
    • You don't really need a programming language to do this... nor do I see that the existence of such a language would help all that much. Now a markup language... that's a different story. I still don't think the barrier's that great, but it'd be good to have the capability. And XML fits the bill here. Declare the right character set, and you're off and running.


      Of course, browsers really aren't there yet... but things do look promising. Mozilla supports XML -- to a certain, rather limited, extent -- and I'm told that IE does too. CSS is not implemented in Unicode, however, so you'd have a heck of a time adding presentation information to Chinese markup, particularly in Chinese. But then there's XSL. Which is not there yet either, but seems like it will be in time. If not quickly, in much less time than it'll take for a significant portion of a billion Chinese folks to get PCs.


      While on the topic, though, a localized mainstream programming language would be nice, too. We wouldn't want to keep people from leveraging their micro-marketed e-commerce solutions with the data warehousing of feedback from dynamic interactive e-communities just because they write Sanskrit, would we?


      To do this, you'd really need to have a language with native unicode support. You'd want to be able to change operators and keywords to native glyphs, mutating their syntax along the way. The language itself might be more useful as well if you could overload or override the builtins, as well as define your own operators, subs, and what-have-you.


      Overall, sounds like Perl6.


      Which can be a good or a bad thing, depending on your perspective... oddly, not everybody likes chaos and mayhem... but it fits the bill. After all, Larry continually jokes [google.com] about turning Perl into APL... :-)

    • Today, 99% of all programming is still done in English which ends up giving a definite bias towards English as the language of the web.

      I don't know about you, but most of _my_ programming is in C or SQL, both of which owe far more to calculus and algebra than to any natural language. The idea that these are comparable to variants or dialects of English is absurd.

      • They're not variants or dialects of English, but --

        if

        else

        do

        while

        select

        from

        where

        -- are all a whole lot more obvious if you know what the words mean in everyday (English) usage.
        • if else [etc] are all a whole lot more obvious if you know what the words mean in everyday (English) usage

          Sure, and it helps to understand what how the Greek sigma symbol is pronounced if you want to do math. This doesn't mean you need to learn Greek, or to understand a word of the language. The observation that programming is an activity performed in English is simply incorrect. One might as well claim that reverse polish calculators are programmed in German or Japanese, because the verb comes after the subject and the object in those languages.

        • It's just commands wich happens to be taken from the english language.
          I wouldn't really like to program like this:

          hvis(a >= 10)
          {
          }
          ellers
          {
          gør
          {
          a++;
          }imens(a < 10);
          }

          Then again, choice is good. But I would just hate to work on an open source project with the source code in some, for me, strange foreign language. That would mean I'd not only have to learn C/C++ but perhaps C/C++/german, C/C++/russian, C/C++/chineese, etc.
    • What is a programming language but a man created abstraction set, syntax, semantics that gets TRANSLATED into that which a binary based machine can understand.

      The Translation mechanics or machinery is the same, whether you are translating human language to machine language or Human Language to Human language.

      Language is not the issue, TRANSLATION is!

      This is one place where computer science needs to get back to being a genuine science. But in doing so, the whole field of computer programming will have to change. Psuedo Programming will become something of the past as Auto-coding replaces it. Genuine Software Engineering will become The Skill it has yet to be recognized completely for. And thru the tools of Software engineering, many things even outside coding will be done, such as establishing human to human translations, along with natural human to machine translations.

      What human language you use to generate machine code is as open as it can be defined to be. For that is how we create a language - word = definition! And that can be some chinese character sequence = selected HTML tag....

      see my home page...
    • Recognizable keywords in your native lanugage aren't necessary at all. Ever use assembly language?

      XDR 0, 3
      PME 9, AX
      LLA AX, AH
      WNV BX, AX
      BCO 0, AX

      Think about Unix: How long did it take you to learn that "cat" means "display some text"? About a second? Yeah, that's about as long as it would take someone who spoke only German.
      • To ilustrate this, I am testing software, and the defect only occurs in a German release of HPUX, so we have one unix box that is installed with the German version. They keyes are all fsucked up (hit 'z' get 'y', hit SHITT+7 to get '/'), etc. But it only took me a little while to become proficient and pick out what their words meant (esp. the common ones like OK, Cancel, Help, etc).

  • by -tji (139690) on Friday December 21, 2001 @04:05AM (#2736405) Journal
    The latest UN statistics [un.org] show China's per-capita income at $798 USD.

    Does that sort of income enable the purchase of a computer, or the recurring costs of a phone line and ISP?

    If it does, then what are the Internet applications driving this incredible influx of mandarin/cantonese users? Without the huge economic/retail motive that drove American adoption, it's hard to see the huge growth in users and services. And, obviously, there is absolutely no way this will happen by 2007, as it says in the article.
    • Erm, I don't expect the growth in internet usage in China to be based on individuals buying windoze PeeCees and using dial up access. Expect it to be based around some sort of appliances, probably in communal facilities in small towns. Remember the small town US mayor who in the early days of telephony confidently predicted "someday *every* town in America will have a telephone". Remember, too, that a couple of days ago we were discussing how the uptake of software libre in China is significantly higher than in the West.

      Dunstan
    • Two words: internet cafes.
    • There are a few things to remember:

      • Even if the average per-capita invome is only $798, there are many people who make much more. Income isn't evenly distributed. If only 10% can afford internet access that's still over 100 million people.
      • Taiwan (Mandarine speaking), Hong Kong(Cantonese), are quite wealthy even by Western standards, with Shanghai closing fast.
      • Computers and everything else in China is cheaper than in the west
      • China is developing quickly.

      I can't vouch for 2007, but it passes the sniff test and I'd be inclined to believe it, especially given the fact that the Internet has only taken off in the West since 1995. Another six years for China to catch up is reasonable.

    • How much does China really need to buy, that they cannot make themselves? (Re: WTO, WIPO)

      Their production and resource cost are going to relative to their economy.

    • >this is an obvious (and mathematically correct)
      >conclusion.


      It is neither obvious, nor mathematically correct. And since when is "chinese" a language? Does he mean mandaring?


      The simple and relevant mathematical fact is that more people speak english than any other language, and taht gap is likely to widen. English will increase its dominance not because its spoken in the U.S., but because it is the language of commerce.


      Yes, there's probably in the neighborhood of a billion mandarin speakers. As you point out, this doesn't mean that they can all use the internet. Furthermore, guess what second language those that can afford the internet are more likely to speak?


      hawk

  • by ddent (166525) on Friday December 21, 2001 @04:07AM (#2736407) Homepage
    Well duh... sorry, that sounds rather america-centric. Do you really expect everyone else to learn english so you don't have to learn anything else?
    • Well duh... sorry, that sounds rather america-centric. Do you really expect everyone else to learn english so you don't have to learn anything else?

      Actually, yes I do. English speakers, whether or not that was the mother tongue of all the individuals involved, after all, developed practically all the technology involved. English is the lingua franca of international commerce. Air traffic control and hotel concierges all over the world speak English. Engineers in many disciplines use English terminology, even if the rest of their communication is in their native language, and international academic journals are published in English. Esperanto was a nice idea (I even learnt basic conversation in it once) but English, with maybe French (which I speak, altho' not fluently) or Spanish for backup, is the de facto common tongue, and will enable you to travel or to business almost anywhere in the world. Remember that English is not a static language, it freely adopts words and phrases from other languages as required. It can be both precise and expressive, as required.

      Maybe (relatively) few Chinese speak English, but relatively few Chinese even speak to non-Chinese at all. That country is not a cultural and linguistic "melting pot" like the US or UK, it is remarkably homogenous for such a large country. The question really is, will the Chinese become like us, or will they choose an isolationist policy? And don't forget, Chinese characters are available on computers at all because Western corporations decided that they should be - we are being as accomodating as we possibly can! If the Chinese want their own information infrastructure, they are free to create it for themselves - or they can choose to use ours, which we are making available freely. Why is America always the bad guy in cultural discussions?

      Besides, there are purely technical reasons why English is a "better" language than Chinese for computing - look at the numbers of characters in the alphabets, for example. English words are distinct, Chinese ideograms are much more dependent on context and the interpretation of the listener.
      • Actually, yes I do. English speakers, whether or not that was the mother tongue of all the individuals involved, after all, developed practically all the technology involved. English is the lingua franca of international commerce. Air traffic control and hotel concierges all over the world speak English.

        Keep in mind that English is a very hard language to learn for fornigners for two reasons:

        • English has nearly 200 phonetic sounds, which can not be learned unless one learns the sounds as a little kid.
        • English has horrible spelling
        My experience is that, while many people in fornign countries are taking English classes, they usually have an accent too thick to be readily understandable, and are, generally speaking, nowhere fluent in English.

        For example, in the town am in right now, it is nearly impossible (if not impossible) to purchase an English-language newspaper.

        While tourist areas currently have people who can speak something which resembles English, once one gets off the beaten path in a foreign country, one needs to have a working knowledge of the language.

        Another thing: Those statistics that say "XXX million people in the world speak English" are based on the assumption that someone who has taken a single English course in a night school "speaks English". It would be like saying that sql*kitten speaks Esperanto.

        Finally, Esperanto is alive and well, thank you very much.

        - Sam

        • As far as phonetic simplicity, consistency, and sensible orthography, Hawaiian and Japanese (kana) would be far better candidates than English, followed by Spanish.
        • Keep in mind that English is a very hard language to learn for fornigners for two reasons:
          • English has nearly 200 phonetic sounds, which can not be learned unless one learns the sounds as a little kid.
          • English has horrible spelling

          I won't debate that English can be tough to learn (I've heard it plenty of times before, and my own attempts at learning German and Spanish gave me the impression that it's fairly tough to pick up a foreign language and use it well), but 200 sounds? The speech-synthesizer chips from a couple of decades ago typically supported no more than 64 phonemes, which were supposed to be sufficient for generating any word in the English language.

          As for spelling...well, there are more rules and exceptions-to-the-rules than in most languages, but there is still a certain amount of logic to them. I don't have any problems with spelling, though I'll admit there are more than a few alleged English-speakers [slashdot.org] who have spelling issues...

      • That country is not a cultural and linguistic "melting pot" like the US or UK, it is remarkably homogenous for such a large country. The question really is, will the Chinese become like us, or will they choose an isolationist policy?
        Saying China is not a melting pot betrays exactly the kind of blind ignorance of Chinese history. China has had 5000 years of history. The written language was standardized for longer than English was chosen as the lingua franca. These are very good reason for the Chinese to be proud. But many are not. In fact, many are eagerly learning English! Think about that, and stop adopting the heads in sands approach, my American friend.
        And don't forget, Chinese characters are available on computers at all because Western corporations decided that they should be - we are being as accomodating as we possibly can!
        This is ridiculous. When Taiwanese PC clone makers were manufacturing the models in the 1980s, I saw quite a few innovators come out to market their own Chinese enabled versions of the PC. These guys came from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore. Unfortunately, standards were fragmented and there was no consensus on input methods. Then MS came in the late 1980s, and 1990s and swept these all away. This was followed by the internet. The point is that Chinese enabled PCs did start, and would have followed a natural course of evolution and competition, with or without American MNCs. It may be argued that their presence, and the internet accelerated the adoption of standards!
        If the Chinese want their own information infrastructure, they are free to create it for themselves - or they can choose to use ours, which we are making available freely.
        Yes, this will happen, as long as the Communist Government does nothing stupid like they did in the past like the Cultural Revolution.
        Why is America always the bad guy in cultural discussions?
        Becuase of holier than thou attitudes like that. Drop it, and accept the current Chinese diaspora. Live with the times. This is the only way forwards.
      • by Mike Schiraldi (18296) on Friday December 21, 2001 @11:31AM (#2737412) Homepage Journal
        English is the lingua franca of international commerce

        I agree with you, but i find it kinda funny that you use a Latin phrase meaning "French language" to illustrate your point that English is top dog.
        • I agree with you, but i find it kinda funny that you use a Latin phrase meaning "French language" to illustrate your point that English is top dog.

          I was setting up the bit where I say that English makes a good international language because it freely adopts words from foreign languages :0)
      • by cje (33931)
        Maybe (relatively) few Chinese speak English ..

        Actually, there are more English-speaking people in China than there are in the United States!

        Of course, China has a bit of a population advantage .. :-)
    • Language is a protocol, the sooner we all speak the same language, the better and whether you like it or not, English is that language.
      • Certainly in the computer language everyone uses the same protocols and standards and coding languages.

        If the 'real world' becomes anything like the computer world, people will continue stay incompatibly with each other while mindless zealots crop up on either side and duke it on news groups. Witch I guess would be an improvement over the current state where we just shoot each other.
    • Do you really expect everyone else to learn english so you don't have to learn anything else?

      I expect (in the sense of "predict", not in the sense of "demand") them to learn English, because they want some of America's money.

      The customer is always right. Speak the customer's language.

      If China ever gives up communism and decides to become productive, then it will become useful for a lot of westerners to learn Chinese. Until then, the reasons just aren't very compelling.

    • It's not a problem once computer science gets back to genuine computer science and establishes the Natural Laws of the Physical Phenomenon of Translation Mechanics/Machinery - (Abstraction manipulation mechanics).

      One you have the universal translator core, it become only a matter of doing the vocabulary, syntax and semantics programming to then be able to translate into whatever other language you want, including human to machine programming.

      Oops! And you thought the great wall of china was hard to get thru! Try the Wall of the psuedo programmer elites!

      maybe see other posts by our truely?
  • by Bowie J. Poag (16898) on Friday December 21, 2001 @04:16AM (#2736425) Homepage


    The idea that Chinese will be the predominant language on the web is absurd.

    China, despite recent moves towards a more open, capitalist society, has a problem that wont go away. Saw an interesting program on PBS a few months ago that discussed how China has changed in the past 50 years. Basically, you have a situation these days where the gap between the upper class and lower class is insanely wide. The wealthier segment of the population can often afford computers, internet access and the like, but this wealthier portion only makes up a tiny, tiny fraction of China's population. Meanwhile, the bulk of China's population are subsistance farmers who aren't allowed to even BE in (let alone conduct business in) China's main citiies. In most of these rural areas, electric power and indoor plumbing are considered high tech luxuries. Infact, China's national telecom infrastructure is considerably less extensive than most states in the U.S.

    China's on the move, yes, but they have a looooooooooooong long way to go before their influence on the Internet becomes anywhere near as large as Europe's or America's influence.

    Cheers,
    • Idiot. (Score:2, Interesting)

      by autopr0n (534291)
      Do you have any idea how many people live in Chinese cities? Hundreds of millions. There is a hell of a lot of Zhongwen on the web already, despite "This show I saw on PBS".

      Anyway, no culture or language is going to have much "influence" on the web outside of their own worlds. English speaking people are going to read English web pages and Chinese people are going to read Chinese web pages. It really makes no difference to anyone else.
    • It's not going to be about who has to learn what language in order to use the internet. But rather what language do you want to use to access the internet? Where the most used is determined by internet population of langauge use.

      Give yourself a universal translator and it don't matter what language you speak or use. But what language is used most would inherently be relative to what the native language is of most of the users.

      The article is suggesting, without saying it out right, that such a translator will exist in wide use by then.

      It's really not so difficult to believe. But what is more difficult to accept for many psuedo programmers is that the same technology can and will be used to translate human languages into programming language (auto-coding) and therefor allow anyone who learns basic programming concepts to program using their natural human language.

      mabe see other posts by yours truely?
  • by inkswamp (233692) on Friday December 21, 2001 @04:21AM (#2736437)
    And how is the Internet supposed to draw people together when the same old language barrier still exists?

    Give it time. On a Pink Floyd mailing list [meddle.org] I subscribe to, one of the more prominent posters is an intriguing fellow from Japan who doesn't speak English and has published a book in Japan [avis.ne.jp] about the band. He posts through a piece of software that provides translations both ways. The software is primitive and far from perfect. Frankly, it can sometimes turn out some pretty puzzling results (I often wonder how my messages to him come out.) Despite that, I--and many others on the list--have gotten to know him and value his contribution. I can see the development of this kind of software becoming more and more worthwhile as the Internet moves east. I look forward to it actually.

    --Rick

    • Technology exist already that is better than what you are using for translation.

      To identify the gears and bearings of translation (the naural laws of the physical phenomenon of Abstraction manipulation) in such a manner that can be created in computer functionality and accessible by all, it then become possible to apply the OSS/GPL model of the Bazzar (sp?) to create the various language translation vocabulary, syntax, semantics sets, including slang and even programming languages (any language).

      In the open model you can improve translations as you come across a place where you see a need and have the knowledge to do. Perhaps as little as a word or phrase at a time. But in time..... well....the open community force would certainly be bigger than the developer community of Linux!

      Maybe see other posts from your truely?
    • ... one of the more prominent posters is from Japan. He posts through a piece of software that provides translations both ways.

      Punk Froyd is gleat. Dalk Sido of the Moon locks, dude! Too bad Logel Watels reft the band. They was ichiban.

  • China is growing in wealth - and is set to accellerate - remember Japan? Look at China! It's going to happen - why do you think Clinton was so keen to make friends and open trade routes.

    China will be the biggest exporting economy on the planet within 10-15 years. You think they wont need PCs??

    Also - China is changing. The very heart of Capitalism - the right to found and operate a business - has been granted to every adult citizen in the Chinese constitution! You can't get a better indicator of China 'going western' than that.

    Rich countries have better human rights records because the people poke sticks at the government less, so get poked back less. China gets rich, China gets Internet, China gets better human rights.

    China will not change fundamentally because of the internet, but because of the free market. You cannot benefit from a global free market if you are not a national free market. China is moving towards a free market - so it can make money out of the rest of us.

    The 'west' has been doing it for centuries - it works - we all have laptops and comfortable pants - good luck to them.
  • by Malc (1751) on Friday December 21, 2001 @04:37AM (#2736452)
    There might be more people who can read Chinese as their first language than there are Anglophones... but what about the people who speak English or Chinese as their second language? I would say in that light that the internet would have more Anglophones using it.

    Can somebody clarify this for me: isn't English one of the main second languages in India. And isn't the population of India supposed to surpass that of China within the next 10 or 20 years?
    • Language is not an issue, translation is.

      perhaps see other posts by yours truely?
  • Fairly meaningless (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MisterBlister (539957) on Friday December 21, 2001 @05:00AM (#2736495) Homepage
    Sure, Chinese may very well be the native language of most Internet users in 10 years, due to the giant size of the Chinese population, but any claims that this will cause some great shift in how the world uses the web is pretty silly.

    Numbers alone aren't significant, if they were Chinese (which, as the article points out, has so many speakers) would be the quasi-official language of multinational business, travel, etc..Right? But it isn't...English is. My point isn't to praise English (which in many ways is a very stupid language, technically), but just point out that the numbers only tell a very small part of the story. I won't even bother to point out that many of these Chinese speakers who get on the net will be in no position to contribute much to the global economy in terms of buying goods for import, etc, due to political and economical roadblocks.

    • Sure, Chinese may very well be the native language of most Internet users in 10 years, due to the giant size of the Chinese population, but any claims that this will cause some great shift in how the world uses the web is pretty silly.

      That pretty much nails it. Think about food: Some journalist may report that a huge percentage of the meals cooked in homes around the world are, guess what? You got it. Chinese food. Does that mean that you have to start learning to like Chinese food? No.

      India produces more movies than any other country in the world. Have you (Indians please pardon me,) had to learn Hindi to enjoy the movies that you watch?
      Same probably goes for books...

      Here in my office, I am the only American - I am also the sysadmin, so I get to see what sites people visit. I know that if I see google.com logged, it was probably me who hit the site.

      The people over here have their "own" internet in effect - one that in no way influences or limits an English speaker's ability to have an "All-English" experience.

      Cheers,
      Jim in Tokyo
    • ".....but any claims that this will cause some great shift in how the world uses the web is pretty silly. "

      On the surface you are probably right, but the underside will change greatly. Under what you see in what you access, will be a translator that will not only enable a greater level of communication but this will also break thru many barriers including the programming barrier often called the "software crisis".

      Translation is a very imporant issue in all of this. The best and fastest way to enable it is thru the methodology used of OSS/GPL sort of Open teamwork by whoever and whenever and how much they want to help.

      Langage is a "commons", as Lawrence Lessig often makee use of it. The whole Point of Language is to enable communications, and it's value only goes as far as it's agreed upon use is adherd to. This naturally make it's most useful in a "commons" state. Perhaps this is a factor that Lawrence has yet to integrate into his thinking regarding his perceptions of the future of ideas?
      (as even programming languages are "language")

      Anyways, the issue of translation and fortunately the mechanics of it, is of such nature that it cannot be patented or otherwise Intellectual Property constrained from use.

      Thru such a Universal Translator, the "official Human spoken language" wouldn't change much from how that is applied today. But to determine what the most used language s on teh internet would then be a matter of population choice. And I suspect in having a universal translator you and I will use our native language most often.

      mabe se other posts by yours truely?
  • by HalfFlat (121672) on Friday December 21, 2001 @05:37AM (#2736563)

    Would you even consider the average wealthy Chinese citizen with online access truly 'on the Internet'?
    Would you consider the average Western individual with dial-up access 'on the Internet'?

    There really are two classes of Internet citizens: those who have a fixed IP and can be information sources; and those who have dynamic IPs or are forbidden to run servers, and are pretty much restricted to being information sinks. Sure it's an oversimplification, but the vast majority of people on the Internet through home-connections, are second-class Internet citizens.

    In Australia for example, it is significantly more expensive to be fully on the net - we're looking at 15 to 23 cents per received megabyte of data, and they're marketting megabytes (10e6 bytes). If one is happy with a proxied web service and a server-free presence, then for $80 a month one can download 3 gigabytes or more over ADSL.

    • There really are two classes of Internet citizens: those who have a fixed IP and can be information sources; and those who have dynamic IPs or are forbidden to run servers, and are pretty much restricted to being information sinks. Sure it's an oversimplification, but the vast majority of people on the Internet through home-connections, are second-class Internet citizens.

      That's a vast oversimplification, tho'. What about all the dialup users who simply use their ISP's static IP addresses to host web sites? Most dialup providers give a few MB of web site space for free.

      The fact that they are second class citizens is not a problem of the technology; rather it is a matter of the individuals involved choosing to participate or not.
  • jin tian xue xi han yu!
  • by seebs (15766) on Friday December 21, 2001 @06:23AM (#2736683) Homepage
    This is unclear. Many many more Chinese speak English than other people speak Chinese. Just as Latin continued to be the main Church language, even in areas where it was not otherwise widely used, English may dominate on the internet whether or not the majority of current users are native English speakers.
  • by Effugas (2378) on Friday December 21, 2001 @06:29AM (#2736694) Homepage
    From: gascan@dcst16.pt (Bill Gascoyne)
    Newsgroups: talk.origins
    Subject: The dangers of extrapolation (was Re: Speed of Light

    A cautionary thought on the dangers of extrapolation.

    It is reported that in 1977 there were 37 Elvis impersonators in the world.
    In 1993 there were 48,000. At this rate, by the year 2010 one out of every
    three people in the world will be an Elvis impersonator.

    :-)
  • And how is the Internet supposed to draw people together when the same old language barrier still exists?"

    Are you sure it will? Two words: machine translation. It is starting to get good now and by the time most Chinese people have unrestricted access to the net, it should be much better. I'm not saying that the software will translate Shakespeare perfectly but do human translators? My guess is that it'll help cross the barrier better than people who speak a language as their second but aren't professional linguists.

    We will have the same problem we've had for millennia but soon we will have a means to solve it. How good was machine translation 10 years ago?

    • I'm not saying that the software will translate Shakespeare perfectly but do human translators?

      Nobody can. Shakespeare requires too much cultural context to just be translated for someone who lacks that context. You may as well translate 'The Sound of Waves'

  • by DavidpFitz (136265) on Friday December 21, 2001 @06:54AM (#2736739) Homepage Journal
    Accenture [accenture.com] -- formerly Andersen Consulting -- reckon this will happen by 2007 [accenture.com]. It's worth a read... especially the links at the bottom talking about cultural pollution (not necessarily in a negative sense!)

    They're not often wrong.

    The figures reckon that one billion people in China will be connecting to the Web by the year 2007. It sounds a it optomistic to me, and what exactly does "connecting to the web" mean. Someone who owns a PC and is connected... or just someone who uses a CyberCafe? I wonder if in China "people per IP" would be much higher than in Europe or America.
    • Accenture [accenture.com] -- formerly Andersen Consulting -- reckon this will happen by 2007 [accenture.com]. It's worth a read... especially the links at the bottom talking about cultural pollution (not necessarily in a negative sense!)

      They're not often wrong.


      Tell that to all the employees they've laid off this year... Ass-enter is as much a smoke-and-mirrors outfit as you're likely to see...
  • by phillymjs (234426) <slashdotNO@SPAMstango.org> on Friday December 21, 2001 @10:45AM (#2737232) Homepage Journal
    And how is the Internet supposed to draw people together when the same old language barrier still exists?"

    Because on the Internet, we can communicate through the universal language of pr0n. Well, unless you're in one o' them loser countries that filters it out.

    ~Philly
  • It will be good to know both, so start loading your browsers with the Chinese language fonts and browse a few sites, even with the idea of "knowing your opponent." Get your Chinese language tapes here [amazon.com] and start ripping to MP3 so that everyone will benefit. Americans are good at adapting to these things, so let's not fall down on it now. English may be the language of business, but look at what has happened when we ignored Arabic. It has been predicted that within the next 20 years there will be a conflict between the U.S. and China over Taiwan. Could be self-fullfilling, but don't be caught sleeping.
  • English in China (Score:3, Interesting)

    by alexalexis (31082) <alexalexis@hotmail.com> on Friday December 21, 2001 @12:56PM (#2737816)
    Because of the massive movement in China to teach it's children English, there have been a few estimates that say there will be more English speakers in China than there are in North America and Europe combined, by the year 2010.

    After traveling around China, I'm somewhat skeptical ... but I can pretty much guarantee that the majority of people with Internet connections will have basic English skills. Only the priviledged and educated classes have regular access to computers, and that's a pretty miniscule percentage of the Chinese population.

    As a slightly off topic side node, what really surprised me about China was the lack of Communism. Sure, there's a good amount of government subsidising, but it's basically the same as it is in the United States ... only the people doling out the cash seem to band together and spend all the money in one place at a time .. like Bejing, for the upcoming olympics in 2008. It's basicaly a capitalistic, entrepenurial country, and it won't surprise me if the Internet floodgates spring open in the next five years.
  • If I only had access to email from inside the United States, web sites that conformed to a narrow ideological range (ACLU, Sierra Club, Greenpeace, NPR), could that really be considered use of the Internet?

    Perhaps a better way of saying it would be, "The Chinese will account for the highest percentage of users of Internet technology".

    Take away unimpeded access to content, and all you have is a giant socio-capitalist WAN.

  • by Saeger (456549) <`farrellj' `at' `gmail.com'> on Friday December 21, 2001 @02:14PM (#2738159) Homepage
    Even if Chinese did become the predominate online language in a decade, so what?

    It's a virtual certainty that before 2010 most operating systems -- including the one in your "phone" -- will have a language translation module built-in, enabling anyone to communicate with anyone else in their native spoken and written language (if for no other reason, it's good for business).

    "Universal Translators" are hardly science fiction...

    --

"Someone's been mean to you! Tell me who it is, so I can punch him tastefully." -- Ralph Bakshi's Mighty Mouse

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