The Intelligible Tower of Babel

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
7 June, 2016
Editorial: 1
Fecha de publicación original: 8 enero, 1996

Date of publication: 08/01/1996. Editorial 001.

Every coin has its dark side

Internet signifies the consecration of English as the language that acts as a bridge between all other languages in the world. This is one of the uncompromising affirmations brandished about by those who take it upon themselves to philosophise about the Internet without even having ventured into it. They are in fact stating the obvious. Internet was born and bred in the academic and military spheres of the U.S. Under its protection — and thanks among other things to the policy of cheap telephone rates in the U.S. which would make any European’s mouth water — B.B.S.’s mushroomed and wove virtual communities all over the place. When Internet took the plunge led by the WWW, Anglo-Saxon culture was not only the predominant one, it was in fact the only one which brought with it a dense telematic past of any note.

Nevertheless, one year of life in the online melting pot has been sufficient to produce offspring of all colours and flavours, who have started to question the absolute supremacy of English. Home Pages in other languages are experiencing a growth similar to the formidable expansion of the net itself in 1995. Information resources in German, Spanish, Italian, Finnish, Catalan, Russian, Japanese or French are multiplying at an unparalleled rate. Everything points to the fact that we are witnessing the beginning of a process of rich cross-fertilisation thanks to the seminal contribution of the still incipient internaut population. Only Internet could have laid the original golden egg allowing this to happen.

On the one hand, as is only natural, the existence of this infrastructure has whet the appetites of many different collectives. On the other, as one might have imagined, no-one has waited to perfect their English before jumping into the electronic swimming pool. Webs in original version proliferate and at the same time act as cultural detonators: they ignite the curiosity of navigators who come across indecipherable regions on the electronic map, apparently rich with the promise of treasures and a wealth of possibilities, though locked up in a foreign language. This they feel cannot be. This is not the spirit of Internet. “We are here to understood one another”, was what thousands of internauts travelling the networks in “solution mode” apparently said to themselves.

Dictionaries which translate into various languages with the speed and simplicity of an electronic text corrector have already been developed. But this is only the beginning. When these tools mature and consolidate into yet another in-built element of the browsers on the Internet of the future (in next to no time), another revolution will be in the making. Everyone will be able to communicate in their own language without the use of English as the common denominator. Language will not be the barrier that prevents people from exploring other cultures in other tongues and understanding the keys to the message. English will be a language of exchange but not of replacement. Everything points to the fact that the Internet will evolve towards a state of affairs quite different from the prophesied world of linguistic uniformity. It is evident, to those who care to look a little further, that there are two powerful engines that propel the speed of events in the network. On the one hand, the tremendous curiosity of its inhabitants. On the other, their spirit of problem-solving and their ability to confront obstacles undaunted.

This is a powerful cocktail, which although concocted with the old ingredients, is one which has been practically abandoned by human beings in their daily routine in the real world. Internet is like a kind of knight in shining armour who has awoken the sleeping princess and nobody knows exactly how far or where he will take her. Meanwhile, in the field of linguistics –the doorway to human culture– the seeds for an unimaginable Babel have been sown. A Babel unthinkable in any anthropological and, not to mention, political treatise. While the real world is constricted in a corset of cultural hierarchification which exacts a cruel toll from its subjects, in Internet the foundations are being laid for a building of biblical dimensions but whose design is openly negotiated by its inhabitants and which takes into account their own peculiarities. In any case, this is the only way that 800 million souls, as many predict, will be able to cohabit there by the end of the century.

Translation: Bridget King