A friend suggested that I might want to look into a website called Priceonomics.com. She was right. The business of the site seems to be crawling the web for data and selling the results; their blog is a potpourri of odd and less odd factoids collected along the way. It's fun for a stats geek.
I was particularly struck by a posting that reports: Only 4% of Languages Are Used Online. The author became aware that his Egyptian friends largely used Latin characters on the web rather than Arabic letters. Arabic is in no danger of erasure by technological change, but the web does "endanger" many less widely used tongues.
This fit with some of what I saw on my recent trip to Bhutan. Dzongkha, the national language of Bhutan, is just the sort of language that gets left out of the international discourse on the web. According to an article in the Wikipedia, on Wikipedia, only about 160,000 of the Bhutanese are native speakers; the other 540,000 have other home tongues. Though Dzongkha is required for official business and is used for self-consciously Bhutanese culture (see this artist, for example), the language of instruction in the schools is English. English serves to bridge language gaps between Bhutanese and also with their large, sometimes culturally encroaching, neighbor India. And English is easily used on the web.
Bhutan is one of the those countries which is leaping much of the industrial age to move directly into the digital one. Instead of installing the wiring for telephone communication, they've gone straight to ubiquitous cell phone coverage. People don't listen to radio; because so many have electricity, a byproduct of the national export of hydropower to India, they've gone straight to television and computers.
|A Bhutanese living room in an unpretentious house|
Bhutan aims to retain much of its traditional culture while adapting and succeeding in a very different present. Language will be an issue and could be a stumbling block …