Address to the ICANN – UNESCO – ITU Thematic Workshop, 2nd Internet Governance Forum
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
13 November 2007
Towards international standards for a truly multilingual global Internet
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honour and a pleasure for me to speak here today on behalf of the
Telecommunication Standardization Sector of the ITU and its membership.
This thematic workshop, and in the one which follows immediately after it in
this room on the topic of “Making accessibility a reality in emerging
technologies” is discussing two of the major barriers to a truly inclusive
Information Society. With the tools that we have available, neither
linguistic diversity nor disability should be insurmountable. But both
require sensitivity to the needs of others, awareness-raising and
understanding. In both cases, one of the keys to making progress is further
work in standardization.
During the Geneva phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS),
world leaders were unanimous in making a commitment to encourage the
development of content and to put in place technical conditions in order to
facilitate the presence and use of all the world’s languages on the Internet
Realistically, it is not likely that all the world’s 6’000 or so languages
and dialects will ever be available on the Internet. Many of them do not
exist in written form and, sadly, languages are disappearing at a faster
rate than they are being transferred to the Internet.
However, it is certainly possible, as the WSIS commitment says, to put in
place the “technical conditions” to facilitate multilingualism in cyberspace
by making all of the world’s scripts available online, if not all of the
world’s languages. Standardization work in this domain relates mainly to the
development of UNICODE, which is standardized by the Unicode Consortium and
ITU’s sister organization, the International Standardization Organisation
and which now covers more than 100’000 characters. ITU works closely with
ISO and IEC as part of the World Standards Collaboration (WSC) and in Joint
Technical Committee 1.
ITU’s own contribution includes the development of the International
Reference Alphabet (IRA), defined in ITU-T Recommendation T.50, which sets
out a 7-bit coded character set, with regional/national options, for
information exchange among international data processing and communications
systems. Other ITU-T Recommendations, such as T.52, provide equivalent coded
character sets for non-Latin scripts.
ITU-T’s ongoing work in this field includes the work of Study Group 17, on
internationalized domain names (IDN). Work so far has included a survey of
the needs and experiences of the membership with regard to IDN and an
assessment of the standardization requirements in this area. Other ITU-T
work relates to the standardization of speech processing technologies for
use with Internet applications to overcome the problem of languages with
little written content, as well as assisting those with disabilities.
We are particularly keen to establish close working relationships with those
other organizations active in this field, including UNESCO, ISO, IETF, ICANN
and regional bodies. That is why jointly-organized workshops, such as this
one, are so important.
In addition to standardization work, ITU can also offer assistance in other
areas, such as capacity-building, policy development and IDN deployment.
ITU’s mandate for this work is given in WTSA Resolution 48 and
Plenipotentiary Resolution 133. Activities in this field include the
ITU is committed to making a contribution to the international effort to
overcome language as a barrier to achieving a fully-inclusive Information
Society. ITU, as a unique standards development organization consisting of a
partnership of 191 Member States and of over 700 private sector entities,
has the tools and the know-how that is required to ensure that all of the
world’s scripts are available on the Internet. We are working hard to meet
the WSIS commitment that this should be achieved no later than 2015. In that
respect, we will continue to collaborate closely with ICANN and UNESCO, and
with all the other international and regional organizations committed to the
- A joint symposium on multilingual domain names held with WIPO;
- Regional workshops on IDN;
- Support for the WSIS Action Line C8 on cultural diversity and identity,
linguistic diversity and local content, for which UNESCO is the facilitator,
including hosting action line facilitation meeting;
- Close collaboration with IETF on a number of projects, including ENUM.
ITU-T held a joint leadership meeting with IETF in Chicago in July.
- ITU was a founder member of the World Network for Linguistic Diversity, of
which our moderator today, Mr Samassekou, is President.
- ITU itself, through Resolution 154, now works in six official languages on
an equal footing, and we have taken steps to ensure that this is also
reflected on our website.
- We are developing a terminology database in the 6 official languages
- We allow MS to translate our standards into additional languages
A century and a half ago, ITU adopted the simplest of the world’s scripts—morse
code—to become a global form of communication. Our goal now is to reconcile
the simplicity that is required for efficient international information
exchange with the huge diversity of the world’s cultural richness, and so to
build a fully inclusive Information Society.