ABDVol.30 No.1
For the Future of Languages and Culture

Kanji Maeda


The Influence of Internet Technology

Popularity of the computer and recent advances in computer technology have made use of the Internet increasingly common. The Internet's appeal lies in its ability to connect us to the rest of the world through cable or satellite. This revolutionary development makes it possible to access, search and obtain information from global databases via a computer terminal from any location in the world.
 Search engines such as yahoo.com have taken advantage of these characteristics and constructed databases in every field, offering essential information ranging from stocks and currency rates to weather reports and various types of medical treatment. Moreover, access to these databases is basically free because profits are obtained from banner advertisements. A similar trend is occurring in the publishing field. Amazon.com. Inc., an American online bookstore, offers substantial discounts on any books published in USA, both new titles and old, and it markets these throughout the globe. This type of system developed in response to market demand for a convenient way to purchase necessary products and it has resulted in dramatic changes in distribution.

Asian Writing Systems and Internet

Because computers were invented in the United States, all computer programs are written in English. In the last fifty years, many non-English language countries have attempted to use their own languages in programming, but none of them have succeeded.
 The nations of Asia, a region which is home to 3.6 billion people or sixty percent of the world's population, have their own indigenous writing systems. Computers in each country only carry two types of font, indigenous language fonts and alphabet fonts; although we usually remain oblivious to this fact when using a computer. Recently, new systems have been developed which allow the use of several linguistic fonts in the same program, but they are very few in number. So, for example, if someone sends a message typed in Thai in text form from Thailand, it can only be read by someone with a computer programmed to decipher that language. Nor can computers discriminate between Japanese characters (kanji) and those used in China or Korea, despite their common roots. I spent sixteen years researching a China-Japan-Korea (CJK) character code in cooperation with the Unicode Committee which is striving to overcome these problems and with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and other organizations which are confronted by them. We finally succeeded in developing a software program capable of identifying these three fonts on the Internet. But the more I studied this problem, the more I became aware of the difficulty of unifying the characters used in each of the three countries, for every character has slight variations and embodies its own traditional culture. China, which in the recent past simplified and reduced the number of characters used in Chinese, actually added many characters when making its computer font. Thus, the importance of traditional culture must be considered along with convenience as a means of communication when determining the writing system which is easiest for a particular linguistic community to use. The future of a country which denies its own culture in the form of its traditional writing system is bleak indeed. The countries of Asia must find a way to make their languages easier to use on the computer while at the same time treasuring the words and characters or letters which comprise them. In future, when sites which allow us to use world fonts are created on the Internet and every linguistic font has been developed, it will be possible to mutually access information from anywhere in the world. Although the creation of such sites will require substantial investment of funds and labour, their creation is essential if we are to take full advantage of the information currently circulating on the Internet. For the present, we must use English as a means to an end, developing human resources well-versed in new technology who can develop programs in their own indigenous languages.
 If the convenience offered by computers is indispensable in our daily lives, then we must find a rational point of agreement between this convenience and the conservation of the culture of traditional language systems. Most importantly the countries of Asia must be courageous and reach a mutual accord on this difficult issue. Without consensus, we will have no choice but to meekly resign ourselves to the inconvenience of using an Internet based predominantly on the English language.

Internet Potential in Publishing

What role can the Internet play in publishing in Asia today? Its greatest merit is the ability to transmit an enormous volume of information in a short period of time. This capability will greatly increase the efficiency of printing, publishing and distribution within each country. Moreover, the transfer of information via the Net will be a boon to publishing in countries where distribution is hampered by geographical features. Of course it will require technology and financial investment, but domestic demand and the nation's enthusiastic response will surely help overcome these obstacles.
 As for book distribution, the future ideal is to create a database that includes not only recent publications from a particular country, but also past publications which have scholastic value. It would include such pertinent information as where a book from anywhere in the world can be found and what condition it is in, as well as how to search for this kind of data. Such a system will make the contents of the world's libraries available to each individual-as if they were in his or her own study.

Kanji Maeda
Born in 1934. Joined Sanshusha Publishing Co., Ltd in 1958. He was one of the founders of Japan Electronic Publishing Association and has played a leading role there including chairman for nearly 10 years. Presently he is a member of Editorial Committee of ABD, and serves many other positions in the publishing industry in Japan.