Wikipedia: Mirror, Microcosm, and Motor of Global Linguistic Diversity

Reference work entry


Wikipedia has long presented itself as “the biggest multilingual free-content encyclopedia on the Internet.” This chapter examines Wikipedia as a multilingual project from a geographical perspective. It examines how multilingualism is represented, performed, and reproduced by Wikipedians (i.e., users of Wikipedia and more specifically the community of editors, as opposed to the much broad public of readers consulting the encyclopedia). The chapter discusses first the way linguistic diversity is mirrored in the organization of Wikipedia through the coexistence of a plurality of monolingual Wikipedias called after that language (such as English Wikipedia, Portuguese Wikipedia, Japanese Wikipedia, etc.) and the representations of the links between them. It foregrounds the inequalities between Wikipedias and the special position of the English Wikipedia. The chapter then turns to the way Wikipedia is a multilingual environment and to the dynamics that shape the position of languages in the community – including decisions regarding the creation of new Wikipedias in new languages. Finally, it questions the possible effect of Wikipedia on global linguistic diversity in the physical world and how it can influence the evolution of specific languages and their position in the world and more specifically the position of English as the global language of communication.


Wikipedia Linguistic diversity Multilingualism English 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Human Geography, Planning and International DevelopmentUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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