IGF 2019 WS #393 Making the Internet Multilingual


Organizer 1: Nikolis Smith, Verisign
Organizer 2: Emily Taylor, Oxford Information Labs Limited
Organizer 3: Lars Steffen, Herr

Speaker 1: Sarmad Hussain, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Ram Mohan, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: Giovanni Seppia, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Policy Question(s): 

What inclusion challenges do speakers of indigenous languages face when communicating or transacting online?

How can Universal Acceptance of internationalised domain names improve access to equitable opportunities in a digital age, and which actors are best placed to develop and promote appropriate policies?

What lessons can the domain name industry supply chain learn from successful examples of support for linguistic diversity in other online context, such as search and social media platforms?

How can inclusive language policies enable indigenous communities to harness intellectual property rights in their customs and local products?

‘What examples of good practices in the online environment, including social media, search and new technologies are delivering digital inclusion with the involvement of indigenous and other language communities?’

‘What specific challenges are faced by women and girls in indigenous and other language communities in the online environment?

Relevance to Theme: In 2007, Facebook ‘turbocharged international growth by crowdsourcing translation of the site’ (FT.com, March 28, 2019). Today, Facebook supports more than 120 languages, including some of the world’s endangered languages. Why hasn’t the domain name sector managed to deliver a multilingual experience for global users, despite IDNs being on the market for 15 years? Unlike the large online platforms, the domain name system is a distributed resource, with no single operator or actor being able to deliver change unilaterally. Yet, the potential stakes and rewards are high - both the promise of digital inclusion, and the opening up of new markets.

Delivering a multilingual domain name system relies on cooperation and coordination between numerous actors in the domain name system. Technical and language communities have been collaborating through initiatives such as the ICANN Universal Acceptance Steering Group, or private-sector-led solutions such as XGen plus. But more work is needed throughout the supply-chain. Urgent action is required to guarantee so-called ‘universal acceptance’ of IDNs.

The topic of multilingualism on the Internet is directly relevant to the theme of Digital Inclusion; a truly multilingual Internet will enable end users to communicate and transact online in their own language. The deployment of Internationalized Domain Names*, and Universal Acceptance-readiness**, will help bring the next billion online. Indigenous language communities, especially women and girls in such communities, can face particular digital inclusion challenges. Are there lessons to be learned from the way that online platforms have harnessed the language capacity of such communities to enhance linguistic diversity in cyberspace?

According to UNESCO, in 2008 only 12 languages accounted for 98% of Internet web pages; English, with 72% of web pages, was the dominant language online. By 2017, the use of English as the primary language of web content had declined by 20%, but English still represents the language of more than half of website. Meanwhile, popular social media platforms and search now support more than 100 languages, and globally, 60% of users now access Facebook in a language that is not English (see https://idnworldreport.eu/launch-of-the-2017-idn-world-report/).

This session will feature a diverse set of panelists and attendees playing different roles in the advancement of a multilingual Internet, including ICANN representatives, members of the Universal Acceptance Steering Group, civil society advocates, indigenous language speakers, private sector members with experience in IDNs and UA-readiness, and government representatives.

*Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs) expand the allowable character set beyond a-z, 0-9 and the hyphen to a rich array of scripts necessary to support the world’s languages. According to the World Report on Internationalised Domain Names (a research project by EURid and UNESCO with the support of Verisign and the regional ccTLD organisations), web content associated with IDNs is more linguistically diverse than that of traditional domains, with major languages such as Chinese, Russian and German well represented. A rich array of more than 80 languages are found in IDN web content, including some languages on the UNESCO endangered language lists.

**Universal Acceptance (UA) is the concept that all domain names should be treated equally. Software - e.g. email, a webform, browser, or database - is “UA ready” when it can accept, validate, process, store and/or display any type of domain name or email address, regardless of the: 1) domain name extension (e.g. .tech and other new gTLDs), or 2) script (e.g. Arabic, Han) used.

Relevance to Internet Governance: Language is an access issue. People from communities whose language is not represented in the online environment struggle to find relevant content in a language they can understand, and to express themselves in the way that others take for granted. Research shows that support for local and indigenous languages can have a transformative effect on the online experience of individuals, and even provide a boost in employment, computer ownership and income.

Language is sometimes overlooked as an instrument to deliver digital inclusion, particularly for women and girls, and indigenous language communities.
2019 has been designated the International Year of Indigenous Languages, coordinated by UNESCO. This workshop will provide a unique insight into the struggles faced by indigenous language communities in the online environment, and will feature at least one speaker from an indigenous language community.

Multilingualism on the Internet, facilitated by IDN implementation and UA-readiness, will better enable the development and application of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet by “including and amplifying marginalized voices” in Internet Governance deliberations.


Panel - Auditorium - 90 Min

Description: 5mins Welcome and panelist introductions
10mins Introduction of the IDN World Report, which addresses linguistic
barriers on the Internet.
10mins Testimonial on the challenges of communicating and/or transacting in one’s native language/script, including testimonial from indigenous language speakers.
10mins Questions and discussion, including sharing experiences, on these
20mins Policy question discussion with panelists - see policy questions
listed above.
15mins Open discussion with all session attendees
10mins Conclusion

Expected Outcomes: The outcomes we expect from this workshop include:

An exchange of perspectives amongst participants who would not otherwise have the opportunity to solve problems together;

Insights on the various ways that different stakeholders can work together to promote a multilingual internet;

A brief report as required by the IGF Secretariat;

A “blog post” like article about the discussion that will be circulated on various lists and promoted via social media

A short video about the session with interviews of key participants.

Onsite Moderator: 

Emily Taylor, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator: 

Nikolis Smith, Private Sector, Asia-Pacific Group


Nikolis Smith, Private Sector, Asia-Pacific Group

Discussion Facilitation: 

The purpose of the panel is to share information and insights with attendees, and attendees will be encouraged to ask questions of the panelists. Moderated discussion involving all participants - attendees as well as panelists - is purposefully built into the agenda. The agenda intentionally balances the provision of information with the importance of discussion.

Online Participation: 

We plan use social media for online participation.

Proposed Additional Tools: We will use Twitter to field questions, and share content, under the hashtag #UAatIGF


GOAL 10: Reduced Inequalities