IGF 2020 WS #20 Exploring the future of endangered languages in cyberspace

Thematic Track

Organizer 1: Naeem Uddin, Torwali Research Forum
Organizer 2: Jaewon Son, Korea Internet Governance Alliance
Organizer 3: Elliott Mann, Swinburne Law School

Speaker 1: Judith Hellerstein, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Subhashish Panigrahi, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 3: Jaewon Son, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 4: Naeem Uddin, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group


Naeem Uddin, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group

Online Moderator

Elliott Mann, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Elliott Mann, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Round Table - Circle - 90 Min

Policy Question(s)

The policy questions to be addressed are as followed: 1) How much does the Internet have to offer in endangered languages? 2) Is the Internet boosting the process of language extinction? 3) Can the Internet be used to revitalize endangered languages? If yes, How? 4) Are safe languages digitally endangered? 5) How to make the Internet more inclusive for endangered languages? 6) What could be the youth-specific roles in safeguarding endangered languages? 7) What could be the respective roles of different stakeholder groups in digital language safeguarding?

In this workshop, we will highlight the issues such as digital language endangerment, the effects of the Internet and technology on endangered languages, and cultures and the catalytic boost in the process of extinction due to internet, digital presence of endangered languages, and the challenges i-e how to safeguard them digitally and ensuring multilingualism, universal access, and sustaining diversity in cyberspace. We will also explore the opportunities that allow the use of technology as a tool to revitalize endangered languages, promoting awareness, sustaining and encouraging digital linguistic diversity, and adoption of new revitalization measures.


GOAL 10: Reduced Inequalities
GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
GOAL 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
GOAL 17: Partnerships for the Goals


As the Internet gains widespread adoption, there are thousands of languages being endangered, with some going to extinction. According to a study by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), around 50% of endangered languages will disappear by 2100. This exponential growth calls for a deviation from traditional approaches to language safeguarding because of emerging issues such as digital endangerment. In this internet age, cyberspace should be a virtual world where every community and ethnic group has equal rights of identity and presence. Therefore, there is a need to promote multilingualism and universal access to cyberspace. The aim of this session is to bring this issue of language endangerment to the IGF and highlight how the Internet can be used to help preserve endangered languages. While at a high-level the workshop will consist of a panel discussion between speakers with academic interests in the topic, it is hoped that the panel also has practical utility as speakers share their methods of helping preserve endangered languages. As youth can be active agents for language shift and victims of negative impacts of globalization, chiefly because of growing use of the internet, this session will strive to highlight the unique challenges faced by youth when considering endangered languages. With this in mind, while initially the session will consist of a panel discussion, most of the session will be dedicated to whole-of-session discussion and questions where attendees will be encouraged to share their thoughts and reflect on it. This session specially aims to relate the two seemingly inevitable processes (exponential growth of the Internet and language endangerment) and to raise awareness on the digital divide and issues such as linguistic identity in cyberspace. It will reflect and find the relation between endangered languages and cultures and technology in cyberspace from the youth perspective. The intended agenda will be to highlight issues such as the impact of the internet on endangered and marginalized speech communities and linguistic and cultural diversity in cyberspace. Agenda 1) Introduction: 10 mins The moderator will start the session by introducing the issue of language endangerment and giving a broad overview as to how the internet can be used to reduce that risk. 2) Panel Discussion: 25 mins The moderator will then invite speakers from different stakeholder groups, including the technical community, the private sector, government/ intergovernmental organization, and civil society, to share their opinions and views on the topic, and invite them to share what they see as the actual and future solutions to the issue. Sharing from each speaker will be set to 4-5 minutes. 3) Open Floor Discussion: 35 mins To further expand and deepen the discussion, the floor will be opened for comments, questions, and suggestions for further actions of different communities and stakeholder groups. By setting up an open-floor discussion, it allows and empowers attendees to advocate their opinions and points of view of the communities they are representing. Particularly, the organizers would be interested in hearing from individuals coming from linguistically diverse communities. This session is expected to be dynamic and interactive, in which the moderator will queue up the audience and speakers for questions, responses or comments upon requests. The discussion will also be sought from remote participants, who will be welcome to engage and be involved in the open floor discussion. 4) Session Summary: 10 mins Based on the collective experiences in the session, the moderator(s) will summarize the discussions in the previous section and move forward to explore any potential actions, activities or collaborations for regional initiatives and other stakeholder groups.

Expected Outcomes

1) The points raised during the discussion on this session can be published as workshop findings and conclusions and can also become inputs in the form of suggestions from participants to make necessary changes in the digital revitalization efforts for endangered languages in order to ensure an inclusive and diverse digital world. 2) Understanding stakeholder and youth specific roles in digital safeguarding of endangered languages. 3) Understanding the role of Cyberspace on "language endangerment" and "language safeguarding". 4) The session will devise methodologies to bridge language barriers that exist in Information societies as well as understanding the role of ICTs in language preservation.

To facilitate and encourage interaction and participation, the floor will be opened for open discussion among the participants and the speakers, In which the organizers will deliver the whole session concept and invite speaker to shed light on it based on their personal experiences/research and perspectives after which the participants will be asked to raise questions and comments and will be asked to relate the subject matter with their linguistic and ethnic backgrounds. The discussion will include online participants and there will also be a reserved time slot during Q&A for questions from online participants.

Relevance to Internet Governance: The rapid growth of the Internet has presented consequences that need to be addressed. Some of the consequences include; limited digital presence of endangered and marginalized languages, indigenous and peripheral communities being underserved and underrepresented, limited diversity in cyberspace. Endangered language inclusion and in cyberspace is more an act of revival and digital rights than utility which requires awareness and efforts of all stakeholders to make substantive inclusive policies.

Relevance to Theme: The proposed session is related to the selected thematic track “Digital Inclusion.” As the Internet has very little or nothing to offer in the marginalized and endangered languages, these language groups lack the digital presence as they are underserved and suppressed. Big tech companies don't pay attention to the inclusion of endangered, small and marginalized languages due to various reasons which include economic concerns. Considering ICTs and Cyberspace as a tool to resurrect endangered languages and giving them digital rights of presence, The session will encourage the inclusion of endangered and marginalized communities and the youth's voice in Internet Governance.

Online Participation


Usage of IGF Official Tool. Additional Tools proposed: We will be using Zoom to interact and encourage online participation.