Daily Post Column
August 14th 2018

Language is crucial to the way we communicate with our family and friends, in the workplace and in our social life. It is also central to our identity. But as we use more and more digital technology the more we see a focus on some languages at the expense of others.

There is no reason why we canít have Siri speaking Welsh or Alexa speaking Lithuanian as well as making it easier for sign language users to have full access to new digital technology.

I discussed my report 'Language Equality in the Digital Age' about bridging the digital language divide during an event held at the Eisteddfod in the Senedd building in Cardiff Bay. I was joined by Delyth Prys from Canolfan Bedwyr in Bangor University where they are pioneering new research in technology and the Welsh language. They work with partners across the EU and beyond and have really put Wales on the map. They have shown that Wales can be one of the leaders in this field internationally.

The report received cross-party support in the European Parliament's Culture Committee earlier this year.

The report notes that whilst so much of our everyday activity now takes place online, in reality a linguistic digital divide exists. This means that speakers of smaller and lesser used languages, including sign language, face significant challenges compared to users of larger or more dominant languages.

The EU's 500 million citizens share around 80 different languages, but online some languages dominate, whilst others are virtually excluded.

Help may be at hand however with the use of new technologies which can adapt to meet the needs of a multilingual online space. My report calls on the European Commission to take action to support the development of digital products that work in a variety of languages.

This is not only a problem for minority languages. Many EU languages are majority languages in their own countries but have become minority languages online.

The creative use of new digital technologies will help us bridge this divide. This will mean a better service for Europeans who speak languages which are not yet used by technology such as Siri or Alexa.

It is time for the European Commission to bring forward a range of measures to ensure equality for all languages, including giving responsibility for 'multilingualism and language technology' to one European Commissioner.

We need a long term major funding programme to ensure that all people have access to the digital technology which can improve our communcation. That means investing in research and education, as well as increasing support for both private companies and public bodies to make better use of language technologies.

The technology already exists. We now need the political will to achieve real change.


Photo: Jill Evans