NET SURFERS CARVE OUT A NICHE FOR FRENCH IN CYBERSPACE
In their unending war to prevent English-language domination, the French are focusing on the most global realm of all: cyberspace.
As Internet use spreads, French-speaking Internet promoters - from France's Ministry of Culture to cyberspace crusaders in French Canada - are working on the first-ever on-line French-searching software and a French vocabulary for Internet users.
The goal: to allow Francophone ''cybernautes'' to use the Net without submitting to English, which dominates the worldwide computer network.
Challenging the English-speaking world's cultural bulldozer is nothing new to the French. Since January, radio stations have been required by law to play a minimum of 40 percent French-language music. Similar laws require advertisements and product labels to be in French. And France spurred the European Union to limit non-EU - in other words, American - TV programs.
On the Internet - a global, often anarchic web of interconnected computers - most information and user jargon is in English.
Search programs like Yahoo (http://www.yahoo.com) or Webcrawler (http://www.webcrawler.com) enable users to find what they're looking for and are virtually all in English. They also are geared to find English-language information, though links to foreign sites are plentiful.
That puts non-English speakers at a disadvantage. They must understand English to use the ''search engines,'' even to find information in their own languages. And search engines often can't handle accented letters.
In February, a group of French researchers put the first all-French search engine, Lokace (http://www.iplus.fr/lokace), on the Net. Francophones use it to find information in thousands of French-language sites. The Montreal Computer Research Center in Quebec plans to launch another all-French ''moteur de recherche'' soon.