If it is to be true to its name, the World Wide Web ought to reflect the planet's full cultural and linguistic diversity. Currently, though, many sites and tools remain optimized for English and its character set, although that's gradually changing as other countries with different languages and writing systems come online in greater numbers.
This anglocentricity can have some unexpected knock-on effects on how people use their native tongues online, as this article about the plight of the written Polish language explains:
Computer and phone keyboards require users to punch additional keys for Polish alphabet. To save time, Poles often skip the nuances, and sometimes need to guess the meaning of the message that they have received.
Of course, all languages have ambiguities -- as in this post's headline -- but in the case discussed above, the use of technology seems to be introducing some more, because special letters with extra diacritical marks are avoided and replaced by simpler versions that change a word's meaning in important ways. In the same article, a Polish linguist expresses his fears about what this might lead to:
"Today, the Polish language is threatened by the tendency to avoid its characteristic letters," Bralczyk said. "The less we use diacritical marks in text messages, the more likely they are to vanish altogether. That would mean an impoverishment of the language and of our life. I would be sorry."
He probably doesn't need to worry. Technology will soon sort out this problem of its own making: touchscreens allow all kinds of extended keyboards, including those with extra characters, and predictive technology can auto-correct as the user enters text. In due course, voice recognition will be good enough to offer a completely hands-free approach for both desktops and mobiles, and will be able to apply all the diacritical marks required as the dictation proceeds. Indeed, far from leading to diacritical marks disappearing, there's no reason why such digital writing assistants shouldn't help people use them more widely and correctly than ever before.
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