I am giving a presentation on this topic as a part of the Dublin Legal Workshop on Tuesday 25th April 2006, in the (Beckett-inscribed) Law School, at 7pm. I’ll post the slides etc afterwards. All welcome!

Abstract:

This presentation will consider a current legal and technological problem – how to provide for linguistic diversity in the content and architecture of the Internet – in the light of past experiences and contemporary international law and regulation.

Three case studies of prior controversies involving legal, technological and other concerns will be reviewed:

* Irish: The virtual disappearance of the ‘Gaelic’ type (cló Gaelach) in favour of the Roman type (cló Romhánach) and the roles of the Departments of Education, the Department of Finance, and others.
* Japanese: Script reform in the 20th century, and the development of Japanese word processing and information technology
* French: Application of ‘linguistic laws’ in Québec and France to the Internet

The current controversy is primary based on the need to provide for ‘internationalised domain names’ (IDNs) – to enable the use of characters and scripts outside of the standard (English) roman alphabet in email and Web addresses. ICANN, the curious legal animal that has some responsibilities for Internet regulation, as well as older international legal actors such as the International Telecommunciations Union (ITU) and UNESCO, national governments (most notably in China), NGOs, and technical or standardisation bodies (official and ad hoc) have all influenced this debate. Some have also attempted to deal with substantive questions of online language use. However on the Internet, where ‘code is law’ (Lawrence Lessig, 1999), embedded values and standards are extremely significant. What role can legal instruments play in prescribing and providing for linguistic rights in the new century?