The Internet’s Linguistic Borders


Robin Sloan laments the lack of translation in web culture:

Consider a webcomic like xkcd. It’s a touchstone of internet culture, and yet it’s presented only in English. (There are a handful of unofficial translation sites, but they seem to be spotty at best, abandoned at worst.) You could argue that xkcd’s core audience of programmers, scientists, and students all speak English, wherever they are… but I don’t know. I think there must be a few hundred thousand internet users out of China’s half-billion who would absolutely love the comic—who would feel, as so many xkcd readers do, that it’s somehow speaking to them directly—but whose English isn’t up to snuff. What a thing that would be, to make this bit of culture available to them!

We, the internet culture makers: we don’t translate enough. We don’t push hard enough against these linguistic and social borders. Instead, we pat each other on the back for our elegant file-format choices. Instead, we talk mostly to ourselves.

(Above: Map of the Twitter languages of Manhattan, captured in 8.5 million tweets, between January 2010 and February 2013 by Ed Manley. Interactive version here.)