Language in an increasingly digital world

From search and social media platforms to apps, much of our digital experience relies on language.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, some languages that are already widely used and reflected digitally are becoming increasingly dominant online.

However, there are many global communities that do not use these dominant languages, or for whom these languages are not their mother tongue. As a result, they could be locked out from accessing certain digital tools and resources. Technological advances such as word recognition are particularly challenging to those who speak a language that can’t be recognized digitally.

To help address the digital language divide, OUP’s Oxford Languages team has enabled more interactions with digitally under-represented languages through its Oxford Global Languages programme. Through the programme, the team has partnered with language specialists, content creators, and local speakers from language communities with limited digital presences to build quality lexical data and resources for speakers, learners, and developers worldwide. More than 20 low-resource languages are currently available through the programme, including Urdu, Tok Pisin, Serbian, Tamil, and Northern Sotho.

In addition, the team has also been advancing lexical data in leading languages, to make sure that we aren’t reliant on one single variation of language to drive forward a digital community. For example, our English datasets cover Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK and US and we recently added 26 Korean English words to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Alongside this ongoing work, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for crucial information to be available in various languages so that communities worldwide could access the right information about the crisis.

In response, the Oxford Languages team worked established the COVID-19 Multilingual Project. The aim of the project was to create a standard vocabulary—based on corpus data—and subsequent translations around COVID-19, so that information could be shared clearly, precisely, and as widely as possible.

As efforts continue to tackle the digital divide on a global scale, it is vital that those working in publishing and technology consider language when exploring how to make resources as widely available as possible.