The Issue of Armenian Language on the Internet - IMHO (Part 2)

17.05.2011, Critique

Journalist, Digital Anthropologist, Lusine coordinates the Media Literacy project at Media Initiatives Center.

The language issue on the Internet is not just an Armenian problem: the dominance of English on the Net is a concern even for developed non-English speaking countries, and many small nations see the Internet as a globalization tool that comes to destroy the local national values and self-identification that usually starts from the language. But the question is not only about using the national alphabet but also about creating and spreading content in the local language. 
 
Let’s look into Wikipedia statistics: there are over 40,000 Wikipedia articles in Azerbaijani, over 48,000 in Georgian, 130,000 in Lithuanian and only 13,000 in Armenian. Of course, how popular the language is on the Internet depends on the number of people using it. Also, the percentage of internet users in the given language community matters.

The Armenian-speaking audience is very limited and many people prefer sharing English or Russian content to reach a wider audience. It’s common from blogs that don’t want to lose, say, a large Russian-speaking audience on LiveJournal, to corporate websites that despite operating in Armenia do not have an Armenian-language version. For instance: http://aray.am/, http://www.hotelyerevan.com/, http://www.visaconcord.am/, http://armavia.am...

Well, maintaining a trilingual website is quite expensive, so if you need to save money by getting rid of a language, Armenian is the most convenient one: you would think that Armenians using the Internet know at least Russian or English, don’t they?

Moreover, though language in traditional commercials and outdoor advertisements is regulated by legislation, Internet language is not monitored and controlled for now.
 
Internet natives can argue that the Net has its own language which is not possible to translate. How would you translate Internet slang? Gegham Vardanyan did it in this short guide. But this is more about explaining the terms and helping to use them correctly rather than suggesting the Armenian equivalents.
So even if you try to write in Armenian you still have to press Alt-Shift at least once if you intend to use Internet slang, terms or just a :). 

Armenian translations of some basic technical terms don’t sound nice or at the least sound unusual and you still have doubts every time you use them: դիտարկիչ (browser), միջներես (interface), հավանել (like), պիտակել (tag)... (And these are just Eastern Armenian versions — if you put them together with Western Armenian ones the situation gets worse).

And here the technical, linguistic and habitual aspects of the language issue meet: if you have to change the language every time to write something on the Net, it’s strange, but it really can be easier to write in Latin letters...

Along with solving the technical issues we should promote Internet usage in Armenia: if internet becomes part of our everyday life and we start using it for paying taxes, doing the shopping or for internet banking, then the usage of Armenian language will gradually become more and more popular.
 
Now in our thinking the usage of English terms separates the reality from the virtual life. For example, talking about Facebook friends we’d use English word “friend” to distinguish them from real friends whom we call ընկեր (the Russian version of this works for users of Odnokassniki.ru).

As Aleksey Chalabyan mentioned once on Facebook, paper is no longer the main medium for language; it's digital technologies. And the language we use on iPad, on the computer and on the phone largely affects the way we view language and the way we think.

In my humble opinion it’s time to start thinking about the language issue on the Net, before it starts defining the language in which we think.

Lusine Grigoryan

See also The Issue of Armenian Language on the Internet - IMHO (Part 1)

The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.

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