On the 28th of January Prof. Dr. DLitt. John Hartley visited the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society for a public talk on Wikipedia and minority languages. The lecture – ranging from Aboriginal- and Welsh-language uses of the Internet to more general issues of user-created content in the creative economy – is now available as podcast, including the follow-up discussion.

With an introduction by Merlin Münch:

Guest Lecture by Prof. John Hartley

On Monday the 28th of January we had the pleasure to welcome John Hartley, Professor of Cultural Science and Director of the Centre for Culture and Technology at Curtin University, at the HIIG for a guest lecture.

In about one and a half passionate hours, Prof. Hartley covered a variety of issues, ranging from the creative industries to challenges and opportunities for user-generated knowledge networks on the Internet, particularly in the context of minority languages, such as the Aboriginal ‘Nyungar’.

Throughout his talk, Hartley focused on the threefold relationship between language, creativity and knowledge. One of the reasons for his particular interest in minority languages, such as Nyungar, stems from his conviction that creativity often occurs where you least expect it. Opposing the increasing ‘monopolization’ of the linguistic domain by world languages such as English, Hartley pointed out the importance of preserving a large linguistic diversity, in order to tap its vast creative potential. It is the different ways in which we choose to express our experience of certain realities differently in different languages that makes them so valuable an asset for creative processes. Accordingly, the preservation of minority languages and their integration into online tools such as Wikipedia should not only be seen as an end to itself, but more importantly as a means to preserve access to a diversity of stocks of knowledge.

By asking ‘Why is there no Nyungar Wikipedia’, Prof. Hartley does not suggest that the Internet should live up to the, according to him, utopian ideal of making all the knowledge in the world available to everybody at all times. Instead, in contrast to an often cited statement by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales on the purpose of Wikipedia (“Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That’s what we’re doing”), Hartley stressed the potential of tools like Wikipedia to empower minority groups by enabling them to build and preserve their own knowledge networks on the one hand, and to preserve for the rest of us a stock of knowledge embedded in a language that captures reality in concepts utterly different from our own.


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