World Culture and Languages on the Internet

Written by Adok

The Internet has revolutionized the culture of communication. Not only has communication got much faster and more immediate, but you can also write to people from anywhere in the world without a big delay. This helps breaking borders, increases the contact between the individual cultures and may even help create a world culture one day. However, an old problem of mankind has still not been solved yet: the variety of languages.

Back in the days of snailmail, it was easy to find out what your communication partner's spoke as his native language, as you always knew what country he came from. If you did not speak the same native language, you could write in an universal language your correspondent was likely to speak at least a little bit, such as English, and maybe agree on using a certain language you both knew during your letter exchange.

However, on the Internet it is not always possible to identify a person's home country as many people use e-mail addresses with international endings like .net or .com, be it because that comes from their providers or because they want to stay anonymous. That may lead to some funny encounters.

Some weeks ago, a South-African guy mailed me offering to paint a picture for Hugi - in English, of course. I immediately answered him. The only snag: I answered in German, because I could not guess from the e-mail address from where he came from, and as he had a German name (Thomas Ludwig) I thought he came from a German-speaking country. Instead of telling me that I chose the wrong language, however, I did not hear anything of him for a long time until I happened to bump into him on IRC one day, and we cleared the misunderstanding.

As a result of this, I decided always to answer mails in the language I get them. So when one day Ghandy of Darkage, Faith, Gods & Chemical Reaction, from Germany, sent me a mail in English, I also answered in English. We first kept writing in English until he suddenly realized one day: "Argh! Why don't we actually chat in German?? You come from Austria and I come from Germany and we are writing mails in English all the time. VERY FUNNY!"

Sometimes people post messages to English-language newsgroups or talk in chat channels in other languages than English. At the beginning, this may be funny, but if someone repeats doing that, it will become a provocation for the others. I think it is sad that the governments of some countries, e.g. France, encourage their peoples using non-universal languages in the Internet aggressively in order to reach what these languages have not reached in a natural way, namely international importance. It does not contribute to the social aim of the Internet, namely to create a peaceful world-culture. Different languages have always been a reason for war.

While discussing the task of the next competition in the Hugi Size Coding Competition mailinglist, we once came to an interesting situation. We had already agreed to make the task of the next compo writing an interpreter for a simple programming language that had been developed on the Amiga. The name of the programming language: "Brainfuck."

One day Bushy (from Australia) posted the following mail to the Hugi Compo mailinglist:

"My only 'gripe' is that the name of this compo would offend a hell of a lot of people in the western side of this planet... I do not know the origins of the name... Is it Swedish/Finnish?

"If I was a normal human being, I would be highly offended at the name... although I will still take part in this compo. I can only assume that the name has a different meaning other than that in most English speaking countries. Am I wrong? Am I a loser? Am I not normal?"

I answered:

"The name is not Swedish or Finnish. The Europeans tend to imitate the language the Americans and the Australians use. They think it's usual there to use these four-letter-words. For instance, in the German language, rude words are rarely used. The rudest common phrases are 'kiss my arse' and 'shit'. Almost only the lower-educated people use them. The more educated people are, the more do they argument factually. Usually people are very polite with eachother.

"The Internet has installed contact between Americans, Australians, and Europeans. But this contact is often only superficial. Just think of chatting. One person says a sentence, another one reads it and thinks that some kind of behaviour is typical of a certain group of people, such as Americans or Australians. As regards myself, my English-teacher's assistant is the only English native-speaker with whom I have ever talked face-to-face.

"A Dutch reader of Hugi has even written a funny article for Hugi diskmag #14, in which he tries to find an answer to the question why many Australians on the IRCNet channel #coders often use the word 'arse' [see Gaffer's arse]. I think further articles about such phenomenons would be interesting for Hugi. Maybe Americans or Australians will even write about their impressions they have of German, Swedish, Dutch, or Finnish people. It could be an interesting experience."

Bushy replied:

"Thanks for clearing some of that up for me, Adok. I didn't put 2 and 2 together.... [...] What you suggested could be rather deadly if the target audience were to take it the wrong way though. But I guess a joke is a joke if it is taken as a joke."

But it is a serious problem.

- adok^hugi

"afghanistan is a beautiful country"