Social media has a long-standing stigma of being just for teenagers and young adults, not for saving languages, but could social media do that too?
Let’s first start with the question, ‘what exactly does social media do for us?’ Social media is a way to connect with others that, whether they’re on the other side of the world, or just right across the street. It gives travelers an opportunity to maintain relationships, and grandparents to continue contact with grandchildren no matter where they live.
For this reason, Teresa Lynn, who earned a PhD in Technology for the Irish language, believes that social media can keep minority languages alive. She explains that strange looks and cocked heads are a normal reaction when telling others about her PhD, simply because many people believe the Irish language to be dead.
“This same myth has been circulating around the world for many minority languages,” Lynn said in a Ted Talks. “This… started off somewhat as a rumor. Something along the lines of ‘Irish is a dying language.’”
Like with any rumor, according to Lynn, ‘scare mongers’ got a hold of it. The rumor wasn’t sensational enough, so they dramatized it.
“So many people are caught up in old beliefs of what the Irish language is about. That it’s only associated with older people in the West of Ireland. Only spoken by people in the Gaeltacht’s, or by language activists.”
But according to Lynn, this is only a myth, and it can be disproved by studying social media activity.
She continues, “…Irish speakers are online, on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter… [they’re] being creative and having fun with their language.” In fact, there are now over one million tweets on Twitter posted in Irish.
Irish speakers, as well as those who speak other minority languages (e.g. Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Cornish, etc), can actually see the popularity of their language online in a number of different ways. Lynn recommended this site to look at both the usage of Irish, as well as hundreds of other languages over Twitter; you can also see who the top user is in each of those languages.
In closing, Lynn states, “…this is where I feel that technology and minority languages can go hand-in-hand. I strongly believe that technology can be a huge contributing factor to the survival of minority languages, and in some cases may be even a revival.”