The language industry

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
12 September, 2016
Editorial: 29
Fecha de publicación original: 23 julio, 1996

Date of publication: 23/7/1996. Editorial 029.

Put your mouth where your wallet is

Spanish is now Internet’s second language, despite us. The great web page factory in this language is to be found in the United States. Holland also has a sizeable production centre. Latin America, taken as a whole, is keeping up a steady rhythm of production – although seriously affected by connection problems which in the past few months are beginning to be solved. And what about Spain? Spain should, for many reasons, be the headquarters of the great corporation of the Spanish language on the Internet. There should be a conglomerate of companies dedicated to turning the language into a healthy industry and, at the same time, boosting the language industry, which is not necessarily the same thing.

To achieve this, our entrepreneurs — not only businesspeople in the traditional meaning of the word, but also in the sense of anyone who takes up an activity with enough ideas in their head and daring in their heart to carry it out — should put their money where their mouths are, dig under the surface of our society in search of the necessary imagination (which exists in abundance) and risk their resources at the service of developing content in Spanish on the Internet. There are convincing examples that this is a fruitful and promising path to follow as far as a future industry is concerned: take for example Partal and Maresma who have made VilaWeb into an essential catalogue of material in Catalan or about Catalonia on the web.

The environment which they created has developed to the point where it has overcome the enormous difficulties involved in making the leap from a couple on good terms to a professional company operating within the most risky industrial sector in the economy, especially because at the time they began (a year ago) nobody was willing to stick their neck out for Internet.

The general situation has changed slightly in the last twelve months. There is now an abundance of Internet service suppliers in our country, new companies appear on the web every day, we now have search engines in Spanish, and even services associated with public administration have started to develop. But the great majority of these pages still err on the side of self-promotion. What is missing is the material which would transform this momentum into an industry and attract millions of potential internauts, because it offers not only useful information (which is plentiful in other formats) but also knowledge which can only be gathered and made available with such ease and at such small cost by Internet. And all this against a backdrop of co-operative networks which relate to local and closer networks.

It would seem that we are still too attached to the age-old vices of Spanish industry – a lack of ambition and, above all, a fear of adopting the most advanced technological innovations. “Spain 1995, an interpretation of its social reality”, the report recently published by the Centre of Studies for Social Change (CECS), makes a special point of this: Spain is moving towards a society of professionals – says the study – but businessmen and women lack a vision of the future both on a medium and long-term basis. The conclusion of the report is that economic and social development is not “adequate”, a technocratic euphemism which conceals, among other things, a reference to the historic squandering of our best resources – in this case language as an industry and the creation of a powerful language industry.

Another recent study, this time by Fundesco, dwells on these concepts, but it only underlines the existing opportunities without going into any detail about how to set up the minimum common framework around which the industry of online content in Spanish can flourish. This rather limp analysis is surprising especially as Fundesco, being next of kin to Telefonica and therefore with a direct line of access to the State, should be able to see things from “inside” with enough perspective to set up specific guidelines and not simply discover that language on the Internet means serious business.

Anyway, as the English would say, the writing is on the wall for anyone who wants to read it. At the moment, the critical mass necessary to take up a privileged position in the emerging market created by the Net is not very big. But, some time before Christmas, we will already be talking about much bigger dimensions (and therefore a greater quantity of resources). It will be then that we discover that, yet again, foreign companies, and in particular those of the United States, will be the ones dictating the basic conditions under which the market develops and the ones in the best position to start converting their English services into Spanish or, more directly, to transfer over here everything that they are already doing for the Hispanic community in the United States. We will be buying their material, developed abroad; thanks to their marketing prowess, they will be everywhere and, as a result, attempts to cultivate more necessary and more useful services which are closer to home, will be strangled at birth. Disney (or America Online which in this case is the same thing) will once again have built a Port Aventura theme park in the middle of the Web, when what we really need are our own services which satisfy our own social needs.

Sooner or later, the time will come when we have to decide which cyberspace rollercoaster we are going to ride on.

PS: Thank you for your birthday party. I read your messages fascinated by the far-reaching effects which communications on the web have. Your thoughts have given me such a shot of adrenalin that you won’t be able to get rid of me even in the holidays. I’m thinking of going ahead with these articles so that you still get your weekly ration during August, while I go to a cabin in the Redwood Forests of California to listen to the sequoias grow. I’ve already told you a thousand times; don’t show journalists affection, because they’ll pay you back with articles. You have been warned!

Translation: Bridget King.