Recommendation # 12: Language diversity
Q 1 What is your Recommendation?
The Wikimedia movement must adopt explicit and focused strategic principles to ensure the movement’s language diversity, and to take specific actions to ensure these principles are applied. This document proposes these principles and actions. Some of these are already practiced, and they must be documented and preserved, and some will require changes.
Q 2-1 What assumptions are you making about the future context that led you to make this Recommendation?
There are many kinds of diversity among humans. Diversity in race, gender, age, religion, and sexual orientation is frequently discussed in media, particularly in the United States. However, one type of diversity is often forgotten, despite being very important for humanity and for Wikimedia projects: diversity of Languages.
It is often overlooked in American media because in the United States everyone is (wrongly) assumed to know English. The Wikimedia movement, however, is supposed to work on the world scale: our vision is to imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge, and if we count all the human beings in the world, they speak thousands of languages, and most of them don’t know English.
Furthermore, while a lot of information can be represented as data and dry facts that can be reliably translated, much of human knowledge is encoded in the languages themselves: in the narrative style, in each language’s unique grammar features, in folk stories that always lose something in translation, and in each language’s unique sounds and word play.
Q 2-2 What is your thinking and logic behind this recommendation?
Q3-1 What will change because of the Recommendation?
In a world where this is the reality, every human is able to easily find useful educational and reference information about a variety of topics without having to learn any other language. In this world “every human” truly means “every human”, and not just humans who are lucky to have been born in countries with a well-developed public school system that teaches subjects in the same language in which they speak to their parents, or in countries that have a long tradition of publishing encyclopedias and other books.
What will change or shift? (both direct and indirect impact)
- The level of accessibility that billions of people have to useful knowledge.
- The organizational policies of the Wikimedia Foundation and all its affiliated organizations and wiki projects
- The software that runs Wikimedia projects.
How will this recommendation change the structures to enable programmatic work towards becoming the support system for the free knowledge movement to be more effective?
The organizations that support Wikimedia projects worldwide will be more representative of all humanity, according to the vision.
The organizations that support Wikimedia projects in particular regions or for particular groups of people will have to adapt policies that make them better at global coordination and mutual assistance.
All Wikimedia organizations and projects will have to find ways to partner with other relevant organizations (see details below).
Q 3-2 Who specifically will be influenced by this recommendation?
What is the key target group for the recommendation, e.g. user groups, chapters, WMF, project communities, external partners, individual editors, etc.
- WMF: as the leading and most powerful organization, it will have to practice more language diversity in its own administration, to give example to all other relevant organizations and individual, and to empower them.
- User groups and chapters will have to find ways to partner with other relevant organizations and practice mutual assistance. For example, chapters in countries with highly developed languages can help chapters in countries with less developed languages, or to help developing languages in their own countries.
- Project communities will have to adapt some practices that facilitate reuse, internationalization, and translation of content and technical tools, such as gadgets and templates.
- External partners will be chosen according to their professional ability to contribute to the goal of language development.
- Individual editors will be empowered by all of the above. New contributors will be able to join more easily, and existing editors will be able to continue their work without having to relearn everything.
Q4-1. Could this Recommendation have a negative impact/change?
- Carrying out this recommendation will require some changes in the software, which will require resources to implement, and may cause some changes in the sites’ functionality, however, this is a natural part of all software development.
- Carrying out this recommendation will require some changes in the administration practices of some of the organizations in the movement, especially the WMF. In particular, it will require more language diversity in the board. This may create challenges, such as difficulties in communication and reaching consensus.
Q4-2. What could be done to mitigate this risk?
- Planning the change well will mitigate the risk of rejection the software changes by the community of editors.
- These challenges can be addressed by correct usage of interpretation and cultural tolerance. Striving to fulfill our vision is worth this effort.
Q 5 How does this Recommendation relate to the current structural reality? Does it keep something, change something, stop something, or add something new?
- It keeps:
- Our mission.
- Our general commitment to providing knowledge in many languages.
- Practically all of our software platform and associated practices, with considerable, but ultimately evolutionary changes.
- It changes:
- This is perhaps the most central point in the whole document: While it keeps the mission, it changes the scope and the ambition of fulfilling it. In the first twenty years of Wikipedia and associated projects we have been successful at making knowledge more accessible to people who can already access it in schools, libraries, and websites. While this covers hundreds of millions of people, there are many people to whom knowledge is not yet truly accessible, and language development is one of the key blockers.
- Some things in the software: Increased sharing of content and tools across different languages through the globalization of templates and modules, more use of structured data, and new practices for creating content that is easy not just to read in the language in which it was written, but also to translate to other languages.