Monolingual Information Retrieval

Information retrieval can be monolingual, bilingual or multilingual. If more than one language are involved, for example if the document is written in German and the query is made in English, information retrieval is said to be bilingual. If there are three or more languages involved, for example English, German and at least one more language, information retrieval is obviously multilingual. The so-called monolingual retrieval is the most basic and most common type, which like its name reveals, uses only one language for both the query and information retrieval. But it is sometimes also understood as information retrieval for languages other than English, usually European languages.

English Language Still Predominant but Other Languages on the Rise

English language has been dominating the field of information retrieval for a very long time. In fact, there was a time when English was virtually the only language used for information retrieval, especially in the fields of research and development. However, the scientific community is getting increasingly diversified in terms of languages used and thus we have witnessed a major rise of other languages, not only European but also Asian and African languages. As a result, monolingual information retrieval is rapidly losing its formerly central position to bi- and even multilingual information retrieval.

Internationalisation of the world wide web has played an important, if not the most important role in the shift from mono- to bi- and multilingual information retrieval. According to the 2015 data, English remains the language of the Internet but there has been a major decline since the mid-1990s from an estimated three quarters to slightly above 50 per cent. Likewise, the rate at which the use of English was growing online was considerably lower compared to other languages, most notably Russian, Chinese, Arabic and Spanish all of which grew at least twice as fast as English. Despite that, monolingual information retrieval continues to play a very important role in the field of information retrieval, not to mention that it is pivotal for cross-language information retrieval, especially if the document(s) and query are involving two or more languages.

Monolingual System Crucial for Cross-Lingual Information Retrieval Techniques

In order to be able to develop effective tools and system for bi- and multilingual information retrieval, we must first have effective tools and techniques for monolingual retrieval. And this is where things get challenging because each language is different and as such, needs a different approach. Last but not the least important, the majority of users – including those from multilingual countries – still prefer to access information in their native languages. Monolingual retrieval will thus continue to be an important part of information retrieval as a whole.