English in computing: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

English is the lingua franca in computing and on the Internet, and the computing vocabulary of many languages is borrowed from English.


Scientific vocabulary

In many languages, Greek and Latin roots constitute an important part of the scientific vocabulary. This is especially true for the terms referring to fields of science. For example, the equivalent words for mathematics, physics, chemistry, geology, and genealogy are roughly the same in many languages. As for computer science, numerous words in many languages are from American English, and the vocabulary can evolve very quickly. An exception to this trend is the word referring to computer science itself, which in many European languages is roughly the same as the English informatics: German: Informatik; French: informatique; Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese: informática; Polish: informatyka.[citation needed]



In German, English words are very often used as well:

  • noun: Computer, Website, Software, E-Mail, Blog
  • verb: downloaden, booten, crashen


In French, English words are generally understood. In practice, some of them are used as well and others are translated by the Académie française and the OQLF.

obsolete words
  • database: base de données
  • software: logiciel
both used
  • email (Europe), courriel (mainly in Quebec and sometimes in Europe), or rarely mèl
  • spam: pourriel
  • phishing: hameçonnage (phishing is more often used)
  • boot: amorcer, booter, démarrer
  • bootable: amorçable, bootable
  • reboot: redémarrer, rebooter
  • shutdown: arrêter
  • overclocking: surfréquençage, surcadençage (overclocking is more often used)
needs many words to translate
  • webcam: caméra web
  • watercooling: refroidissement à l'eau


The Icelandic language has its own vocabulary of scientific terms, still English borrowings exist. English or Icelandicised words are mostly used in casual conversations, whereas the Icelandic words might be longer or not widespread.



The English influence on the software industry and the internet in Latin America has borrowed significantly from the Castilian lexicon.

  • email: correo electrónico
  • messenger: mensajero
frequently untranslated, and their Spanish equivalent
  • software: logical
  • webcam: cámara web
  • website: página web, sitio web
  • blog: bitácora
Not translated
  • web
  • flog
  • wiki

Many computing terms in Spanish share a common root with their English counterpart. In these cases, both terms are understood, but the Spanish is preferred for formal use:

  • mouse vs ratón
  • net vs red

Character encoding

The first character encodings were designed for the English language:

and some other encodings were developed later for the needs of other languages:

Common mistakes

Programming language

Though almost all programming languages use English keywords, in the absolute it is possible to write code in every natural language. Here are some examples of non-English programming languages:

Communication protocols

Many application protocols, especially those depending on widespread standardisation to be effective, use text strings for requests and parameters, rather than the binary values commonly used in lower layer protocols. The request strings are generally based on English words, although in some cases the strings are contractions or acronyms of English expressions, which renders them somewhat cryptic to anyone not familiar with the protocol, whatever their proficiency in English. Nevertheless, the use of word-like strings is a convenient mnemonic device that allows a person skilled in the art (and with sufficient knowledge of English) to execute the protocol manually from a keyboard, usually for the purpose of finding a problem with the service.


  • FTP: USER, PASS (password), PASV (passive), PORT, RETR (retrieve), STOR (store), QUIT
  • SMTP: HELO (hello), MAIL, RCPT (recipient), DATA, QUIT

It is notable that response codes, that is, the strings sent back by the recipient of a request, are typically numeric: for instance, in HTTP (and some borrowed by other protocols)

  • 200 OK request succeeded
  • 301 Moved Permanently to redirect the request to a new address
  • 404 Not Found the requested page does not exist

This is because response codes also need to convey unambiguous information, but can have various nuances that the requester may optionally use to vary its subsequent actions. To convey all such "sub-codes" with alphabetic words would be unwieldy, and negate the advantage of using pseudo-English words. Since responses are usually generated by software they do not need to be mnemonic. Numeric codes are also more easily analysed and categorised when they are processed by software, instead of a human testing the protocol by manual input.




Almost all the computers on Earth have a BIOS in English, though sometimes it may also be translated into the local language of the country where the computer is sold.

Keyboard shortcut

Keyboard shortcuts are usually defined after English keywords such as CTRL+F for find.

Weak point of the English language

Like most of the natural languages, the English language has some ambiguities. In the context of computing, the ambiguousness of certain words may be more embarrassing:

English on the World Wide Web

English is the predominant language on the World Wide Web—content and English-language users—has fueled the rise of the web as a means of communication, information dissemination and entertainment. This article details statistics of Internet linguistic patterns and their impact. In considering which languages dominate, two statistics are considered: the first language of the users and the language of actual material posted on the web.

English speakers

Web user percentages usually focus on raw comparisons of the first language of those who access the web. Just as important is a consideration of second- and foreign-language users; i.e., the first language of a user does not necessarily reflect which language he or she regularly employs when using the web.

Native speakers

English-language users appear to be a plurality of web users, consistently cited as around one-third of the overall (near one billion). This reflects the relative affluence of English-speaking countries and high Internet penetration rates in them.

This lead may be eroding due mainly to a rapid increase of Chinese users,[1] which broadly parallels China's advance on other economic fronts. In fact, if first-language speakers are compared, Chinese ought, in time, to outstrip English by a wide margin (837+ million for Mandarin Chinese, 370+ million for English).

First-language users among other relatively affluent countries appear generally stable, the two largest being German and Japanese, which each have between 5% and 10% of the overall share.

As a foreign language

If a gradual decline in English first-language users is inevitable, it does not necessarily follow that English will not continue to be the language of choice for those accessing the World Wide Web. There is an enormous pool of English second-language speakers who employ the language in technical, governmental and educational spheres[2] and access the Internet in English.

A classic example of this scenario is India, the world's second most populated country. With economic growth, English has begun exploding as the emerging lingua franca in India. In 1995 it was thought that perhaps only 4% of the population was truly fluent in English (still an impressive 40 million).[3] A decade later, by 2005, India had the world's largest English-speaking and understanding population [4] and second largest "Fluent English" speaking population (led only by the U.S.). It is expected to have the world's largest number of English speakers within a decade.[5]

Chinese is rarely employed as a lingua franca outside of China by non-ethnic Chinese; even countries bordering the country or with large Chinese minorities (Malaysia) tend toward English as a commercial and educational language. Further, China is not truly monoglot: Standard Mandarin is official but different spoken variants of Chinese are often mutually unintelligible; the diaspora disproportionately speaks Cantonese. There is, however, an existing written standard that serves as a common written language.

In the future, then, English and Chinese may have roughly equal positions at the top of the overall web first-language users, but English will likely continue to dominate as the default choice for those accessing the World Wide Web in a second language.

Other world languages that could conceivably begin to challenge English include Spanish and Arabic, though it remains to be seen if these, too, will be largely isolated to first-language speakers on the Internet as is Chinese.

World Wide Web content

One widely quoted figure for the amount of web content in English is 80%.[6] Other sources show figures five to fifteen points lower, though still well over 50%.[7] [8] There are two notable facts about these percentages:

The English web content is greater than the number of first-language English users by as much as 2 to 1.[citation needed]

Given the enormous lead it already enjoys and its increasing use as a lingua franca in other spheres, English web content may continue to dominate even as English first-language Internet users decline. This is a classic positive feedback loop: new Internet users find it helpful to learn English and employ it on-line, thus reinforcing the language's prestige and forcing subsequent new users to learn English as well.

Certain other factors (some predating the medium's appearance) have propelled English into a majority web-content position. Most notable in this regard is the tendency for researchers and professionals to publish in English to ensure maximum exposure. The largest database of medical bibliographical information, for example, shows English was the majority language choice for the past forty years and its share has continually increased over the same period.[9]

The fact that non-Anglophones regularly publish in English only reinforces the language's dominance. English has the richest technical vocabulary of any language[citation needed] (largely because native and non-native speakers alike use it to communicate technical ideas), and so many IT and technical professionals use English regardless of country of origin (Linus Torvalds, for instance, comments his code in English, despite being from Finland and having Swedish as his first language).


External links

News and books

Future of global English



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