Local Indian languages — "not dead"

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"Wikipedia woos India with local languages", Hindustan Times, 11/19/2011:

Adding an article on a local Maharashtrian delicacy or making changes to an existing page on ‘Misal Pav’ on the Marathi Wikipedia could now earn you the title of the ‘Global Wikipedian of the Year’. The Wikimedia Foundation has instituted an annual award for regular contributors and editors of the online community resource. “Regular contributions need to be acknowledged. From this year, the foundation will honour one Wikipedian for his effort,” said Jimmy Wales, the site’s founder, who addressed 700 Wikipedians on the first day of the WikiConference 2011 in [Mumbai] on Friday.

This year’s award will go to a Wikipedian from Kazakhstan, most prolific amongst the contributors of his community. In 2011 the number of editors making five edits on the Kazakh Wikipage per day rose from 15 to 231, said Wales. The winner will get a direct entry to the next WikiConference with a fully paid ‘delegate pass’.

Part of Mr. Wales' pitch, at least as quoted in this story, struck Antariksh Bothale as rather odd:

Wales added that regional languages such as Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu have a great scope to grow. “In languages such as Latin, expressing an idea becomes difficult because the language is not commonly spoken and written. However, Indian languages are living languages, where expressing is a lot easier.”

This is a bit like a welcoming speech for new recruits that explains "New employees from India have a great scope to grow. People like Julius Caesar and Darius the Great find it difficult to make their sales targets because they're dead. However, you Indians are alive, and so selling is a lot easier for you."

Seriously, the globalization of Wikipedia is great. But this was really a strange way to promote it — like Antariksh, I suspect that we can blame the journalist rather than Jimmy Wales for the quotation, or at least for its rhetorical  context.


  1. jsn said,

    November 19, 2011 @ 8:16 am

    The quote (if accurate) makes more sense to me when you look at Wikipedia's article count statistics by language (http://stats.wikimedia.org/EN/Sitemap.htm):

    Latin: 58,647, Malayalam: 21,129, Tamil: 38,041, Telugu: 49,722.

    Dead Latin has more articles than any of those other living languages. Bothale assumes that a Latin Wikipedia doesn't even exist.

  2. Nev said,

    November 19, 2011 @ 8:16 am

    Perhaps Wales was referring to Vicipaedia?

  3. Carl said,

    November 19, 2011 @ 8:17 am

    I'm guessing, but is he talking about how it can be hard to say things like "television" in Latin because the language is dead? Except there is a Latin Wkipedia and it totally does talk about modern technology. So maybe his point was that it's weird that a dead language can get more articles than a living language with millions of speakers. Just my guess.

  4. briggslaw said,

    November 19, 2011 @ 8:18 am

    OMG, not here of all places. The possessive of Mr. Wales is Mr. Wales's, not Mr. Wales'.

  5. T said,

    November 19, 2011 @ 8:22 am

    For an organisation that's trying to woo a more diverse range of participants, the use of 'his' as a gender-neutral pronoun by Wales strikes me as odd. Sure it's only a little thing, but still.

  6. ENKI-][ said,

    November 19, 2011 @ 8:34 am

    @briggslaw Not actually true.

    I fail to see anything wrong with the construction. Dead people do indeed have some difficulty meeting their sales quotas.

  7. Vicki said,

    November 19, 2011 @ 9:20 am

    An odd example in any case: Wikipedia claims Telugu has 74 million native speakers, so I'd expect someone to be pointing out the size and vibrancy of that community. (If he were trying to encourage people to post and edit in Frisian, maybe "at least it's a living language" might be the way to go.)

  8. languagehat said,

    November 19, 2011 @ 9:49 am

    The possessive of Mr. Wales is Mr. Wales's, not Mr. Wales'.

    This is a matter of what style guide you choose to follow. I wish people would not claim that whatever style they prefer is "correct" and then attempt to "correct" those who do things differently.

  9. Ellen K. said,

    November 19, 2011 @ 10:16 am

    On Mr. Wales's versus Mr. Wales':

    Or, if not following a style guide, personal taste. My theory is, write it like you say it. Thus, I would write Jesus's but Mr. Phillips'.

  10. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 19, 2011 @ 10:40 am

    @Ellen K.: Now I just have to decide how I say things. Incidentally, I think writing Jesus' without the final s is one of the things the style books most consistently agree on.

    While I'm pleased that it may be easier to say "off of legendary bluesman Robert Cray first album" in Telugu than in Latin, I'm looking forward to the LL post on censorship of "obscenities" in tweets in Pakistan—which should, among other things, encourage the use of minority languages.

  11. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 19, 2011 @ 10:41 am

    "Robert Cray's". "Off of" was intentional, though.

  12. bv said,

    November 19, 2011 @ 2:52 pm

    1) Who gives a fuck about whether it is Wales's or Wales'., and why should we even care?
    2) The sad truth about Indic languages online is
    a) Most Indians online don't even write in Indic scripts (To take a slightly vulgar example, chut (the Hindi equivalent of cunny, to try and avoid your spam filter) has about 16 Million results in google, against less than 2.6 million for various permutation (छुट, छूट, छुत, छूत, चूत, चुत, चुट, चूट) in devnagri) [Of course, to make the comparison completely fair, I should add the results for the equivalent phrases in gurmukhi and persian for Punjabi and Urdu, but I really don't care.]
    b) Most internet users from India use English as their lingua franca. As I personally found out to my disadvantage when I tried to clear a government services exam, I do not have anything close to adequate skills in writing in my native tongue. For all intent and purpose, as described in the novel 'English August', I am an native English speaking Indian.
    3) However, I am incredibly privileged in terms of my access to English, which is not the case with a vast section of my fellow citizens. And they should have at least some content in a home script.

    Hence, I am happy about anything Mr. Wales does to encourage more webcontent in Indic script, including by perpetuating deliberate lies.

  13. LDavidH said,

    November 19, 2011 @ 2:55 pm

    As an ESL speaker, I have always been a bit confused about the Wales' vs Wales's, Jesus' vs Jesus's usage. If I remember right, I was actually taught that usage varies and that there isn't a universal standard. And does the way you say it affect how you write it, or vice versa? If you write Jesus', do you still say Jesuses?

  14. Markonsea said,

    November 19, 2011 @ 5:01 pm

    I was told in my youth (long before colour tv and stereo wirelesses, which might have changed things) that however you say it the correct way to write it is Jesu's.

    Who shall decide, when doctors disagree?

  15. Joe Rembetikoff said,

    November 19, 2011 @ 6:20 pm

    Usage indeed varies, but the rule I am most familiar with is to write modern names like James's and old-fashion names like Jesus'. I believe this doesn't affect pronunciation: "Socrates'" for example should still be pronounced with an extra hissing sibilant.

  16. Sili said,

    November 19, 2011 @ 6:30 pm

    I suspect that we can blame the journalist rather than Jimmy Wales for the quotation


    I know journalists are awfully good at mangling quotes, but this is James Wales we're talking about. I was given to believe he's plenty good at saying stupid stuff.

  17. dw said,

    November 19, 2011 @ 7:17 pm


    OMG, not here of all places. The possessive of Mr. Wales is Mr. Wales's, not Mr. Wales'.

    While I share your aesthetic preference, I don't think that bare assertions will get you very far around here.

  18. greg said,

    November 19, 2011 @ 11:37 pm

    What T said. "The foundation will honour one Wikipedian for his effort"? Goodness, that will really help the perception of Wikipedia as male-nerd-centered. hmph.

  19. michael farris said,

    November 20, 2011 @ 3:57 am

    "I do not have anything close to adequate skills in writing in my native tongue"

    It's very sad that so many Indians regard Indian languages as unworthy of cultivation and active use. India seems to be ground zero of the modern ESL ideology that fluency in English is something to be actively pursued at all costs (including expessive fluency in one's native language).

  20. Sili said,

    November 20, 2011 @ 2:52 pm

    Danish of course does not compare to Indic languages, but I know that personally I much prefer to use the English Wikipedia, since its articles are usually far more thorough. I only really switch to Danish to translate difficult words (species mostly), or to check up on purely Danish subjects (which I often not covered all that well either).

    In return I have often noticed a serious deterioration of my Danish vocabulary and fluency due to my spending most of my free time on Anglophone parts of the Internet (and two years in England). Disclaimer, I never was much of a writer in the first place.

  21. Matt McIrvin said,

    November 23, 2011 @ 12:11 pm

    Even the Hindi Wikipedia only has about 100,000 articles, just behind Basque and Croatian. So I guess this may be more a case of English dominance than a problem for local languages specifically.

  22. Not My Leg said,

    November 23, 2011 @ 4:29 pm

    @ Briggslaw

    Oh my God, not here of all places. It's 'oh my God' not OMG.

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