Egypt is going to put its archives, in Arabic, onto the web to promote the amount of Arabic web content available globally. The domain name organisation ICANN voted to allow non-Latin scripts in domain names in November, although the domains themselves won’t become operational until 2010.
There are 300 million Arabs – about 5% of the global population – but only 1% of internet content is in Arabic. One of the reasons why mobile phones are widely used in Egypt is because of their Arab-language function.
My thought is that much of the received wisdom about the internet was that it was going to be the vehicle which turned English into a global language. But increasingly it’s becoming an agent for cultural expression in people’s own languages, as a quick trip to Wikipedia demonstrates. 28 languages now feature more than 100,000 Wikipedia articles, and another 62 are past the 10,000 mark, including Piemontese, Euskara (Basque), Breton, Estonian, and Nepalese. Lithuanian and Hebrew are about to cross the 100,000 article threshold, while German is about to join English in the previously exclusive 1,000,000 club.
[Update: And I’ve just noticed this Guardian article – based on a study by Opera on the mobile web – which also has some interesting data on language usage on the African internet.]