A study on internet language diffusion patterns in uzbekistan
A Study on Internet Language Diffusion Patterns in Uzbekistan
Professor, Dept of Industrial Management, Kumoh Nat'l Institute of Technology, Korea
Student, Dept of Industrial Management, Kumoh Nat’l Institute of Technology, Korea
This paper reports on a study of Internet use in Uzbekistan, a multilingual and multiethnic
society that is experiencing linguistic reforms in addition to other social and political transitions. This
paper briefly reviews current status of a survey conducted in Uzbekistan, relating to Internet uses
language choices and perceptions of language on the Internet.
Key words: Internet, language, multilingualism, information technology.
English language material widely dominates the World Wide Web. A relatively small amount of
locally produced content for numerous languages and cultures suggests that the Internet may not
contain relevant information for many people. Users from under represented cultures may therefore
have unique perceptions of and adaptations to the Internet.
This paper reports on a study of Internet in Uzbekistan, a multilingual and multiethnic society that
is experiencing linguistic reforms in addition to other social and political transitions. This paper
briefly reviews current status of languages and linguistic policies in Uzbekistan.
In this paper, we use Uzbekistan as a site to explore these issues of resistance on Internet adoption
patterns. Uzbekistan is a rich region to study such issues because it is a multilingual and multiethnic
society where Internet use is still emerging: 2202900 citizens (about 12 or 13% of the population) are
estimated by the Uzbek government to use the Internet (ICT Policy Project in Uzbekistan).
These early stages of Internet diffusion allow us to see the patterns of resistance that users exhibit
when adopting a technology that in many ways conflicts with pre-existing models of communication
and media usage. Ultimately, this paper examines how Uzbeks express their national identity on the
Internet and adapt to the dearth of Uzbek websites; the usage patterns of this novice population are
situated within an overall discussion of how minority language content on the Internet provides a way
of understanding resistance to media globalization on a larger scale.
This paper contributes to continued problematization of the Internet as an egalitarian and utopian
space that can give a voice to all. Further, it helps researchers and designers of websites understand
why supporting less commonly used languages on the Internet matters.
2. Language Transition in Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan is one of the newly independent states of Central Asia that is redefining its cultural,
political, and economic identity since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The region has a rich mix of
cultures, ethnicities, and languages. The country’s majority is consisted of Uzbek ethnicity with
minorities such as Russians, Tajiks, Kazakhs, Tatars, and Koreans. By far the most common language
is Uzbek, but Russian is a widely spoken native or second language, particularly in large cities. In
different regions of Uzbekistan, other languages such as Tajik in Samarkand and Bukhara are also
widely spoken (pic.1). Individuals who are fluent in more than one language are the norm in large
cities and in ethnically diverse areas. To contextualize the feat of mastering multiple languages, it
should be noted that the three major languages of Uzbek, Russian, and Tajik are, respectively, from
three completely different language families (Turkic, Slavic, and Persian) and are subsequently
distinctive from one another aside from borrowed words and grammatical influences that have
permeated the languages due to close contact with one another.
As in many countries, language use in Uzbekistan is closely linked with ethnicity. Over 90% of
Uzbeks and Russians, respectively, speak Uzbek and Russian as their primary language at home. But
whereas about 40% of Uzbeks claimed “very fluent” facility in Russian, only about 10% of Russians
were “very fluent” in Uzbek. Historically, Russian had no career incentives for learning Uzbek, and
might have also been the perception that Uzbek is inferior to Russian because its vocabulary is
underdeveloped for modern scientific and technical discussions. Informally, the belief that Uzbek
language is spoken only by ethnic Uzbeks is widely internalized; that is, most Uzbeks assume they
need to speak Russian or English with a non-Uzbek or Foreigner. Ties between language and ethnicity
and the political climate of Uzbekistan suggest that the use of Uzbek language on the Web would be a
political statement with ethnic overtones. Choosing to use Uzbek would be a declaration of
Uzbekistan and perhaps, as well, the intended audience of the message is Uzbek.
Languages of Uzbekistan
3. Previous Study
Interactions with the Internet may result in a promotion of nationalism for those seeking out
domestically produced web material. In addition, the Internet provides a space for users to self-
express their nationalism using their own words and language. This is particularly important with
respect to how national identity is constructed and exercised within countries with multiple minority
During Soviet times, Russian was encouraged (but never made an official state language) to aid in
the formation of a unified Soviet culture and identity (Schlyter, 2003). Although Uzbek was still
commonly spoken, Russian became a privileged language of higher education and government jobs.
Starting in October 1989, state laws raising the status of Uzbek language were passed (Smith et al.,
1998). Some of the language reforms included making Uzbek the official state language and removing
any special recognitions for Russian. Russian, however, is still the most emphasized language other
than Uzbek in school (Landau & Kellner-Heinkele, 2001). The links between language and ethnicity
and the political background of Uzbekistan suggest that language choice, such as on the Internet, may
be a highly personal and complex issue.
Also besides above mentioned research woks, this paper relates more about language and internet
diffusion works. Purposes of these works are examining how characteristics of language use, online
identity and social structure can be used to characterize prominent participants, or leaders and their
role in creating and diffusing innovation.
For example, in Mongolia, the official language is Mongolian, but English and Russian are also
widely used on the internet.
It is known what percentage of users searched Mongolian websites or whether their ability to
search the Web constrained by language barriers. On interviews, the respondents who said they used
the Internet proved versatile at overcoming a relative scarcity of Mongolian language sites (Catherine
A. Johnson, 2002).
Another example for internet language diffusion is from Indonesia. Indonesia has more than 740
local languages. Residents of English countries may use many other languages, but a few other
countries can match Indonesia for diversity within one country. The relationship between languages
on the Internet and diversity of language within a country indicates that even with a global network,
national states have a role to play in encouraging language diversity in cyberspace. Language
diversity can be viewed as much within a country as within the Internet as a whole.
A rich diversity of written pages is found in the country with the richest diversity of languages
in the region, in Indonesia. It is interesting to note that there are significantly larger number pages in
Javanese compare to that of Indonesian. It is even more surprising if we also include Malay language.
Indonesia and Malay language can be categorized into a single root Indo-Malay language spoken in
different dialects. This is the major language found in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore,
Southern Thailand and Philippines. A surprising result shows two facts: Javanese is dominating web
presence in Indonesia and that most of Indo-Malay websites and pages are hosted in generic domains
and not in ccTLDs of those countries. The lesser Sundanese, Madurese, Achehnese and Bugisnese are
found to be of great importance to Indonesia’s local language diversity on the Internet (Hammam Riza
et. al, 2006).
4. Survey Method, Analysis Results and Discussion
Uzbekistan is a productive country to study the effect of language and culture on nascent
Internet use given its complex language heritage and small population of Internet users (less than 13%
of the people). The paper is based on a portion of a survey, which asked questions related to
information-seeking and technology use. The survey contained mostly short-answer questions and a
few multiple-choice questions.
Of the 51 people in the sample, 17 were Internet users. The following results refer only to this
subset of Internet users.
4.1. Demographic Background of Respondents
Two-thirds of the Internet users were male and one-third were female. Over half of them were less
than 30 years old. About 75% of the respondents were ethnic Uzbeks. Internet users were in all
regions in Uzbekistan, with nearly 85% of them in urban areas.
About 95% of Internet users reported excellent knowledge of Russian, reflecting past emphasis on
Russian language in the education system. Over 75% reported having excellent knowledge of Uzbek.
More than 25% could speak excellent Tajik, and slightly less than 25% knew excellent English (fig.1).
Almost 80% of Internet users claimed to have excellent knowledge of at least two languages
(especially Uzbek and Russian), many of them in three or more. Everyone reported having at least
some fluently in two or more languages, suggesting that multilingualism is necessary in Uzbekistan.
Internet Language Use in Uzbekistan (%)
40 25 25
Russian English Uzbek Tajik
4.2. Language and the Internet in Uzbekistan
Internet usage is still emerging in Uzbekistan. Respondents reported that they used the Internet an
average of 8 hours per week. On average, their most frequent activities were sending and receiving e-
mail and visiting Web sites, which they did a few times a week. They chatted/instant messaged,
played games, or worked on Web sites less than once a week or rarely. Over half of the Internet users
got online most often at cybercafés.
4.3. Language Choice on the Internet
A variety of languages is used on the Internet in Uzbekistan. Not unexpectedly, nearly 98% of
respondents reported using Russian on the Internet. However, only 13% said they used Uzbek,
surprising due to a large number of people who claimed to speak fluent Uzbek. On the other hand,
over 70% of respondents said they used English on the Internet, a much larger percentage than those
who reported having an excellent internet facility. Tajik was used by less than 5% of the respondents
on the Internet (fig.2). When asked to indicate the language they use the most often on the Internet,
about 65% of respondents said they use Russian, and about 35% said they use English.
Internet Users Language Knowledge (%)
Skill level is only one factor influencing the languages that people choose to use on the Internet.
There may be many underlying reasons why Uzbeks do not use Uzbek on the Internet, or why people
who do not speak fluent English use English. A relatively small amount of Uzbek language material
on the Web, compared with the prevalence of English (and to some degree, Russian) material may be
an influencing factor. Complex connections between language skills and experiences may also lead to
unique patterns of behavior. For example, someone who was educated at a Russian language school
and speaks Russian at work and Uzbek at home may be more accustomed to seeking information in
Russian than in Uzbek.
Another factor in language choice on the Internet relates to the users who communicate with
others through the Internet. Respondents were asked to indicate the type of people they communicated
with through the Internet and their physical location. Over 80% of respondents reported family,
friends, colleagues, or classmates outside of Uzbekistan; using Russian or English may be a deliberate
international choice in that case. For the half of respondents who reported people inside Uzbekistan,
Russian or English may be more widely understood than Uzbek due to this multilingual environment.
4.4. Perceptions of Language on the Internet
The survey also asked respondents to rate their level of agreement with a number of statements.
Internet users tended to agree that “People have to use Russian very often when they use the Internet”
but they also agreed that “There should be more Web sites in Russian.” These seemingly conflicting
statements may instead be implying internet users’ complex concerns. Some Internet users may be
comfortable using Russian but would prefer more content pertinent to Uzbekistan. Most Russian
language Web sites come from Russia and other Russophone countries and, though readable, may not
be relevant. On the surface, these attitudinal statements address language presence on the Internet, but
cultural heritage and source of Web content may also be referenced in the subtexts.
Internet users tended to agree that “There should be more Web sites in Uzbek,” suggesting that
one of the reasons very few of them use Uzbek on the Internet may indeed be a shortage of Uzbek
language content. Users also tended to agree that “People have to use English too often when they use
the Internet” and also agreed less strongly that “It is difficult to use the Internet if you do not know
any English.” These statements suggest that English is widely perceived, is to be a necessary skill to
use the Internet, and helps to explain why even those who were not fluent in English chose to use the
The data reported here indicates that multilingualism as well as the politicized nature of language
in Uzbekistan require Internet users to carefully make choices about the languages they use in face-to-
face situation as well as online interactions. They must balance their own preferences with social
norms, political climates, and the information resources and technology tools that are available to
them. They may feel resistant to the dominant global language (English) as well as the dominant
former colonizing language (Russian).
However, with influences of education and custom, Russian may have been nativized into a local
language that is very comfortable and practical to use; multilingual Uzbek identity may actually be an
intertwinement of Uzbek, Russian, and perhaps English. Hence the survey revealed mixed attitudes,
where respondents felt there were too much not enough Russian on the Internet. There is no clear-cut
acceptance or rejection of Russian and English: the perceptions of the dominance of Russian and
English on the Web are, to some extent, contradicted by the frequent use of Russian and English on
the Internet, suggesting that resistance to globalization is a multilayered and nuanced process, just as
globalization itself homogenizes local cultural particularities rather than leaving behind a uniform
imprint wherever it travels.
Some respondents reported using Uzbek on the Internet suggests it has not been completely
sublimated by globalization. However, many respondents could speak Uzbek but did not use it on the
Web, implies a disjuncture between the culture of the physical world and the culture that is facilitated
in the virtual world. This phenomenon may be a part of the effacement of local cultures by the
globalization of the Internet and a portent that Uzbek is not appropriate for the Web. But more likely
it is a cue that researchers must further explore how Uzbek can be included on the Internet. Given that
the upcoming generation of young people will heavily favor Uzbek language because of their
schooling and the political climate, it seems critical to understand how they interact with digital
networks if they are to be included.
Uzbek Internet users, though novices, already use the Internet and hold beliefs about the Web
that suggests potential resistance to the agenda of globalization. As the population of Internet users
grows and matures with the local information and communication technology infrastructure and pool
of software and technology development talent, researchers may observe more active online
engagement in resistance to globalization, mirroring the previously cited examples of users in other
countries who reclaimed Internet practices to fit their own cultures. The lessons that Uzbekistan offers
on the inclusion of less common languages on the Web can be extended to other cultures as well. As
more linguistically diverse people get online, it will be crucial to understand how they perceive and
use the Internet, leading more culturally relevant materials and tools to be created to make the Web
inclusive, and so that these languages can resist and survive globalization.
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