The Global Language – A Preview

Perhaps the greatest advantage offered by the Internet and the World Wide Web today is the fact that it is truly “world wide,” and opens up an unprecedented international marketplace for the delivery of goods and services. Small companies can now sell into marketplaces never dreamed of before, while large multinational companies can streamline their internal communications; and cross-border and cross-cultural cooperation has become a reality.

However the global marketplace also raises a fundamental issue – that of global communications.

Global communication raises the idea of a common language that will easily be understood by all who use the information being delivered. It is still a common misconception that the dominant language on the web is English and is the de-facto language of business. This stems from the fact that the early days of internet growth was primarily from within the United States, but was quickly overtaken by other cultures, especially in Asia and the Pacific Rim.

While English is still the most popular language on the web[1] (only just – Chinese is close behind) it represents only 42% of all websites. On a global scale English is also in decline as a spoken language. The spoken language with the largest numbers of users is Chinese. As a written language it relies not on abstract symbols (letters), but on ideograms – pictorial representations of ideas. Perhaps this is where the answer to a global language lies. In pictures.

Scott McCloud, a leading theoretician on using graphics to communicate points out[2] that “pictures are received information (they) need no formal education to ‘get the message.’ – The message is instantaneous. Writing is perceived, it takes time and specialized knowledge to decode the abstract symbols of language.”

In the 21st Century it may be that visual iconography will finally help us realize a form of universal communication.

….. The above is the opening to an article on using graphics, symbols and icons in technical communications that I have just completed for the STC’s INTERCOM magazine. – Look out for the full article in the December issue.

[2] McCloud, Scott – “Understanding Comics” – Kitchen Sink (1993)

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