Free Speech Debate

Thirteen languages. Ten principles. One conversation.

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1We – all human beings – must be free and able to express ourselves, and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, regardless of frontiers.»
2We defend the internet and all other forms of communication against illegitimate encroachments by both public and private powers.»
3We require and create open, diverse media so we can make well-informed decisions and participate fully in political life.»
4We speak openly and with civility about all kinds of human difference.»
5We allow no taboos in the discussion and dissemination of knowledge.»
6We neither make threats of violence nor accept violent intimidation.»
7We respect the believer but not necessarily the content of the belief.»
8We are all entitled to a private life but should accept such scrutiny as is in the public interest.»
9We should be able to counter slurs on our reputations without stifling legitimate debate.»
10We must be free to challenge all limits to freedom of expression and information justified on such grounds as national security, public order, morality and the protection of intellectual property.»

What’s missing?

Is there a vital area we have not addressed? A principle 11? An illuminating case study? Read other people's suggestions and add your own here. Or start the debate in your own language.

Home | About Us | Our languages

Our languages

There are just over seven billion people in the world today. In total, we speak around 6,900 languages, more than 2,000 of which have been codified in written form.

As a website dedicated to the discussion of free speech norms in the age of the internet and mass migration, our aim is to reach as many of you online as we can. We analysed publicly available data to find the languages most commonly used on the internet and settled on 13. They are: Arabic, Chinese, English, Farsi, French, German, Hindi, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish and Urdu.

Using the best available analysis from Forrester Research and other sources, we estimate that with these 13 languages, our content can be read by more than 80% of the roughly two billion people online.

Lost in translation?

Our team of Oxford University graduate students includes native speakers of all these languages. They have painstakingly translated almost all our editorial and specially commissioned content – a demanding task given the cultural and semantic differences across the languages. You can find out a little more about the difficulties they faced in our “Lost in translation?” posts on our Team blog. Further comments are welcome.

Since we do not have unlimited resources, we are unable to translate all the user-generated content on our site. As a result, this will be left in its original language. You have the option of translating comments into one of our 13 languages by hitting the Google Translate button. This should give you a rough idea of what the contributor has said, but cannot be relied on for a nuanced translation.

If you would like to get a rough translation of our content into a language not among our 13, chances are you still can. Open or download the Chrome browser and watch this video to get started. If your computer does not support Google Chrome, you can copy and paste any text from our site into Google Translate here.


Working behind the scenes, our web developer Simon Dickson and his team have captured the spirit of Free Speech Debate through pathbreaking new code.

Simon writes:

“My colleagues and I have worked almost exclusively with WordPress for a number of years. So we knew as we embarked on the project that handling multilingual content wasn’t one of its many strengths.

“There were several long-established tools for translating pages, but none had kept pace with the development of the core WordPress product. So we eventually took the somewhat brave decision that, as part of our contribution to the project, we would build our own.

“The explanation of Principle 1 specifically refers to the freedom to speak in one’s chosen language, so it was something we felt obliged to get right. And in keeping with the open-source ethos of WordPress, we are releasing our code free of charge, on the same free terms, for the benefit of the WordPress community as a whole.”

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Published on: January 20, 2012 | No Comments

Free Speech Debate is a research project of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at St Antony's College in the University of Oxford.