Universal Access in the Information Society

, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 219–238 | Cite as

Linguistic diversity and information poverty in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa



This communication starts with a fundamental question that drives the actions of most local and global policy-makers: out of two categories of people (not mutually exclusive), the ‘have nots’ and the ‘know nots’, which one is more difficult to eradicate (one may pose the question differently—solving which of these two problems is likely to solve the other). A lot of attention and resources have been deployed and are committed on the challenge of uplifting the ‘have nots’ to the section of bare minimum ‘haves’ category. A cause and effect study between these two sections of people essentially show a mutual dependency that eventually leads to a vicious cycle of poverty to information poverty to back again poverty which has historically been difficult to eradicate, and studies have often established education and access to timely information to be a long term sustainable remedy to both these perpetual problems. The role that the Internet can play in this background towards empowering the billions of impoverished across two of the most underdeveloped regions, namely South Asia (SA) and Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), home to world’s largest number of illiterates and poor people (70% or even more together) is immense. With anywhere, anytime accessibility of rich Internet content, aided by its falling prices and increased connectivity and easy to use features, to parts of rural and even to inaccessible remote areas, online content can effectively act as a low-cost feasible solution not only to provide basic education, but also to deliver meaningful information and content to the millions of primary-level educated people within the underprivileged sections of SA & SSA, thereby enabling them to integrate and exploit various socio-economic opportunities arising from growth in global economies. However, rich linguistic diversity, both in SA and SSA, poses a challenge to that opportunity. Content development to information access to literacy, all leading to socio-economic developments, do face additional difficulties arising from linguistic diversity for SA and SSA, regions already plagued with low level of content generation and access in local languages. A closer examination of the ‘sea’ of online content reveals that SA scores poorly in local language content development, whereas English is primarily used for Internet usage, though nearly 90% of people of India do not use English as a 2nd or 3rd languages. For SSA, a study reported here qualitatively examines whether linguistic diversity indeed has any negative correlations with gross national income and Internet penetration, and finds that they indeed are inversely related in 80% or more cases. One case-effort is also examined to develop local language content, critical to reap benefits from content for development for SA and SSA, in South Asia, but it was found to be inadequate in proportion to the severity and scale of the problem. It is alarmingly concluded that unless war-footing action is adopted to generate relevant local language content (or effectively supported by software like Google Translation) in the linguistically diverse backward regions of the world, much of the benefits that could have been derived from increased reach of freely available online content would be lost, causing an escalation of information poverty to the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ section of people in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.


Online content Utility of information Medium of content and native language Information poverty Information inequality Linguistic diversity South Asia Sub-Saharan Africa 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Vinod Gupta School of ManagementIndian Institute of TechnologyKharagpurIndia

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