lingo

There are some interesting conversations floating about internet in local Indian languages. Take a look at Nikhil Pahwa‘s (Medianama) first post that emanated out of a question in the Internet Governance Forum; Mahesh‘s (Oneindia) subsequent post and more recently, Manu Prasad‘s post. Without getting into the nitti-gritties of the operational issues of getting local language internet access popular, isn’t this a simple issue of demand and supply? Markets like China, Korea, Japan,Russia and France have HUGELY popular websites in their respective local languages – so much that the venerable Google is the second most popular in some of these countries. Content is created, delivered and consumed in local languages in these countries and very few people bother to stop and ponder the fact that English is in the second rung.

So, why is this is an issue in India? Is it perhaps because we’ve 22+ leading languages and are highly fragmented in the usage? Almost all reports seem to suggest that internet usage is predominant in the top 8 urban cities and cities with a population of 5-10 lakhs. Do people in these centers want vernacular content? Oh sure, they may. Would vernacular internet access be their primary interest? May be not!

I believe the use of local languages in internet (in India) would be around 2 areas – news (vernacular dailies/ publication) and user-created content, excluding email.

Most vernacular media have either epapers or local language versions on the net. States which have popular vernacular magazines (Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh etc.) have seen a proliferation of weekly magazines going online. I’ve seen this working fabulously well in Tamil Nadu (Vikatan, Kumudam and Dinakaran’s online versions). In large cities with migrant/ floating population, accessing vernacular publications via the internet is seen as a way to keep in touch with your roots.

The second is user generated content – excluding email. This may be centered largely around blogs – local language blogs that have built a community around them, much like the vernacular press. Rediff’s recent launch of email in 22 Indian languages seems rather strange. I personally do not think there is any specific need for so many languages for email, unless the country in question follows one national language (Japan, China…). In India, this seems like a gimmick, much like the assorted gimmicks of Times Internet in popularizing their Indiatimes email service.

Sify used to deliver local language content reasonably well, but what that requires is sheer quality – after all, they’re competing with more established and credible print media who also have epaper versions now. Many Indian languages have highly regarded and popular content creators (Tamil: Cho Ramaswamy, Gnani…; Kannada: U.R. Anantha Murthy…). The need is to build and deliver content from known/ credible content creators in each language.

Parking this vernacular media discussion for a minute, let us ponder on how to integrate the assortment of languages we have. Is there a way to bridge people across languages, the way Google Translate helps? I have a music review blog that tracks film music across Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and a smattering of Malayalam. I can read/ write/ speak/ think in the first two and shamefully minimal of the last three. But, its music. And, taking the sound at face value, I review soundtracks, depending on friends occasionally for translations. Even with this effort there seems to be considerable trepidation to venture into music in an alien language, within the blog’s community – but this seems to be changing now, thankfully. Using this analogy, can Rediff create a ‘Read in your own language’ option in email, through which a chettan could mail his gujju ben friend – both reading their mails in their respective languages? This could perhaps happen only when internet access becomes considerably more popular in cities that do not depend on English as the primary mode of communication.

At one point last year, I had started a new blog, to review Tamil film music in Tamil. Besides the inordinate time I took to start thinking in Tamil (and not merely transliterate my thoughts and expressions from English to Tamil), it was a harrowing experience to write in Tamil using an online tool. I scrapped the idea after about 25 odd posts. From my perspetive, there’s very limited life for Indian local languages on the web. The queen rules, at least for now.

Photo courtesy: Troutfactory from Flickr

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