The Construction of the Multilingual Internet: Unicode, Hebrew, and Globalization


  • I would like to thank The Shaine Center for Research in the Social Sciences, The Eshkol Institute, the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Israel Internet Association for their generous financial support of this project. I am also very grateful to the anonymous reviewers for their useful comments. An earlier version of this article was presented at the 61st Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, 2011.


This paper examines the technologies that enable the representation of Hebrew on websites. Hebrew is written from right to left and in non-Latin characters, issues shared by a number of languages which seem to be converging on a shared solution—Unicode. Regarding the case of Hebrew, I show how competing solutions have given way to one dominant technology. I link processes in the Israeli context with broader questions about the ‘multilingual Internet,’ asking whether the commonly accepted solution for representing non-Latin texts on computer screens is an instance of cultural imperialism and convergence around a western artifact. It is argued that while minority languages are given an online voice by Unicode, the context is still one of western power.