Languages and the Digital Single Market

21-09-2018

The citizens of the European Union communicate in its 24 official languages, approximately 60 regional and minority languages, and 31 national and regional sign languages. Some of these have many millions of native and foreign speakers, whereas others are spoken by just a few thousand people each. Dominant languages can threaten the survival of 'smaller' ones with many fewer native speakers and which thus need protection. Multilingualism policy in areas such as language teaching and learning, and translation and interpretation, is necessary to facilitate communication among various language communities and for supporting languages with fewer speakers. Moreover, unaddressed language barriers hinder the economy of individual Member States and the EU in general. The digital shift and ICT technologies open rich possibilities of expression and business, yet these are not spread equally across language communities. Smaller languages are under-represented in digital environments, which could entail their digital extinction. New technologies can facilitate language learning, translation and interpretation. However, paradoxically, the smaller languages, which could benefit the most from these technologies, are the least resourced in data, in researchers specialising in both language and technology, and in human and financial means. Some solutions to these challenges could emerge from EU-supported and coordinated projects, a clear focus on language technologies in EU policies, and dedicated funding, provided in the clear awareness that these challenges not only have a human dimension but also economic implications for the digital single market and the economy of the EU as a whole.

The citizens of the European Union communicate in its 24 official languages, approximately 60 regional and minority languages, and 31 national and regional sign languages. Some of these have many millions of native and foreign speakers, whereas others are spoken by just a few thousand people each. Dominant languages can threaten the survival of 'smaller' ones with many fewer native speakers and which thus need protection. Multilingualism policy in areas such as language teaching and learning, and translation and interpretation, is necessary to facilitate communication among various language communities and for supporting languages with fewer speakers. Moreover, unaddressed language barriers hinder the economy of individual Member States and the EU in general. The digital shift and ICT technologies open rich possibilities of expression and business, yet these are not spread equally across language communities. Smaller languages are under-represented in digital environments, which could entail their digital extinction. New technologies can facilitate language learning, translation and interpretation. However, paradoxically, the smaller languages, which could benefit the most from these technologies, are the least resourced in data, in researchers specialising in both language and technology, and in human and financial means. Some solutions to these challenges could emerge from EU-supported and coordinated projects, a clear focus on language technologies in EU policies, and dedicated funding, provided in the clear awareness that these challenges not only have a human dimension but also economic implications for the digital single market and the economy of the EU as a whole.