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“What an un-wiki way of doing things”

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Wikipedia defines itself as “the biggest multilingual free-content encyclopedia on the internet”, thus featuring an explicit language policy in its mission statement. Bearing in mind that the site has become the most popular source of encyclopaedic information online, its significance for public encounters with multilingualism should not be underestimated. This article offers a critical and multimodal discourse analytical approach to Wikipedia’s explicit and implicit multilingual policies and practices. I examine, under “explicit metalinguistic practice” (Woolard 1998), public disclaimers and exemplary user practice and talk on the “Multilingual Coordination” entry. Under “implicit metapragmatics”, I shall offer a multimodal analysis of Wikipedia’s multilingualism-oriented interface design; the corporate logo and its paratextual meta-commentary on a number of linguistic and journalistic websites; and a code-critical reading of Wikipedia’s “Babel” user language templates. My observations are discussed against the backdrop of postcolonialist theories on the role of English as lingua franca of the information age.
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Keywords: Anglo-centrism; Web 2.0; Wikipedia; metalanguage; multilingual policy

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2011

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