Internet attaches £5.5bn price tag to English

The Internet age makes the English language a valuable commodity, say leading academics

The Internet revolution has increased the value of the English language to £5.5bn economists argued on Friday, now that it is the leading language of the Internet.

Nine out of ten computers connected to the Internet are located in English speaking countries, and more than 80 percent of Web site home pages are written in English. At least four fifths of all international companies also use English as their main operating language.

The new technology has caused the biggest revolution in human communication English professors argued at a conference organised by the Royal Society of Arts on language and the Internet. Claims went so far as to suggest that the Internet could eventually lead to creating entirely new forms of communication.

"So far we have been communicating in speech, writing and with sign language. But the Internet is neither speech nor writing. It has aspects of both and represents a new form," said David Crystal, editor of the Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English language at the conference.

Dr Jennifer Neville, lecturer in Medieval literature at London University's Royal Holloway College, agreed -- to a point. "Language is more ephemeral as a written form of communication," when it's on the Internet, she said. "Writing used to be seen as fixed and permanent, but the Net is turning it back into speech."

However, Neville is more sceptical about whether modes of communication enabled by the Internet is really new. "In language, nothing is ever completely new," she said. "Dialogue on the Internet is no more immediate than a phone conversation -- it's simply an extension of existing forms of language usage."

Crystal estimates that the Internet is increasing the vocabulary of colloquial "world" English by 5,000 new words every year. Meanwhile Dr Neville argues that the global reach of the Web is largely responsible for the continued expansion of the English language.

At the moment, no other language is anyway near as popular as English on the Internet. German, valued at £1.8bn by economists, comes the closest, but less than five percent of Internet home pages are in German.

"I'm not sure whether English will remain the language of the Internet in the future," said Neville. "It's dominant now, but I believe Spanish could take the lead in a few years."

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