Indian languages online—the next stop for internet growth

Companies and governments waking up to the potential of vernacular languages

hindi Representational image | File

Google swears by it, and now governments at the Centre as well as states, beside tech companies, are waking up to the next big wave on the internet in the country—the explosion in usage of vernacular languages online.

According to experts at this week's conclave on this topic organised by the Indian trade industry body FICCI along with the Indian Language Internet Alliance (ILIA), there were more than 200 million Indian internet users who prefer to use (or are using) vernacular languages online. This is in comparison to 175 million English language users online.

With India’s diverse demographic dispersion, the number of vernacular language users is expected to grow to 550 million Indic internet users within the next 3 years.

As a result, players, ranging from tech majors to state governments, are waking up to the potential. Maharashtra is one. Anand Katikar, head of the Marathi development department of the state government declared, “ (Maharashtra) will be collaborating with FICCI-ILIA for the growth and development of the Marathi language ecosystem.”

Parminder Kakria, co-Chair, ICT & Digital Economy Committee, FICCI and Head Corporate Affairs of Wipro said, “Linguistic democratisation would bring digital empowerment to millions of Indians and help them tap the power of internet.” Tech companies also called on the government to formulate a policy so that records, particularly related to health, are mandatorily published by the government in all languages and made available online.

The growth of Indian languages on the internet, despite being talked about for long, has not grown much as it has been often hampered by lack of apps and user involvement. Things as simple as keyboard, or more specifically how to adapt an English keyboard to a vernacular language, have hindered growth. The lack of availability of enough content, particularly alternatives of popular sites like search engines and social networking sites, also leaves much to be desired. 

The ILIA is an initiative by Google, which had launched it with the purpose of popularising Indian languages some time ago. One of the initial moves was to make Google search work on voice commands in Hindi. Currently, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi and Bengali are the languages with the highest regional language users. All four, besides Hindi, are currently supported on Google platforms. They are expected to grow further in the coming years. 

The opportunity is huge, too, considering that regional language users are likely to grow more than English language users in the coming few years. Right now, only five per cent of Google's ads in India are reportedly in regional languages. But an estimate last year showed how it could grow to 35 per cent, or accounting for adspends worth Rs 30,000 crore.