Communicating Compatibility

By Senta, Tarcisio Della | UN Chronicle, Fall 1998 | Go to article overview
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Communicating Compatibility


Senta, Tarcisio Della, UN Chronicle


It's called UNL for short, and it is an electronic tool that enables communication between different native languages. UNL is a software system that will reside on the Internet and will be compatible with standard network browsers. Any person with access to the Internet will be able to "enconvert" text from a range of native languages into the UNL. Just as easily, any UNL text can be "deconverted" from UNL into native languages.

The Internet holds promise of access to information to all people, but the evolution of English as the de facto standard language of the Internet limits access to the percentage of the world's population that reads and writes English. The complete fulfillment of the bright promise brought about by contemporary networking facilities is hindered by language barriers which continue to prevent worldwide communication. By allowing people to participate in global information exchange in their native languages, the UNL will fulfil the promise of the Internet. The UNL was launched by the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies (UNU/IAS) and complements its Virtual University initiative.

The UNL may become a powerful instrument to promote networking around the world (thus alleviating the isolation of scholars in developing countries), as well as supporting the development of the "virtual university" which will enhance access to knowledge. For the United Nations and other multilateral organizations, it has enormous potential as a tool to foster dialogue among nations and promote peace, culture, cooperation and development. Launched in 1996, it has already demonstrated both research and development (R&D) vigour and a capacity to motivate. It has already obtained commitments from some of the principal research centres in computer linguistics. Moreover, it has also produced tangible results that are encouraging the further expansion of commitments.

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