Minority Languages and Territorial Rights (iii): Languages and ICT

Extract of Minority Languages and Territorial Rights, my first entry at the Global Encyclopedia of Territorial Rights, to be published soon: discussion on language policies and Information and Communication Technologies.

Joven-Romero, M. A. (Forthcoming 2020). Minority Languages and Territorial Rights. Global Encyclopedia of Territorial Rights. New York: Springer.


Development of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) since the 19th century to this day is having a deep impact in all the languages, and more specifically in minority languages, breaking the traditional link between language and territories (Pietikäinen & Kelly-Holmes 2011): once a message is created, it can be sent and received everywhere. These technologies are rather heterogeneous and the main factors for their analysis are the creator of the information herself, the message to be transmitted, the channel of communication and the receiver of the information (Cunliffe & al. 2013; see also ‘Endangered Languages and Territorial Rights’). While in the 19th century the development of these technologies focused on the information transmission between individuals -telegraph and then telephone-, in the 20th century these technologies -radio, television- allowed information diffusion from a few senders to large populations, as written press did before. Mainstream languages were established for those new communication channels, prejudicing the production and the image of minority language for both the speakers’ communities and the non-speakers’ communities. During the 21st century, popularization of the Internet is a challenge: while most of these new channels are initially developed in the mainstream languages, the users are available to create and receive information in their own language. New ICT may be both a factor for the demise of minority languages and for their preservation (De Bot & Stoessel 2002). The irruption of virtual social networks since the mid-2000s -and more recently the popularization of smartphones- increase the possibilities of the speakers and the magnitude of the challenge.

Both creators and receivers of information are usually young people, while most endangered languages speakers are elderly (Edwards 2002). These young people typically speak other mainstream languages (Fleming & Debski 2007) and they use the minority language depending of different factors: language confidence, language use in non-virtual contexts, message to share, target audience and previous presence of the language in the channel. In general terms, the more confident the speaker is, the more he uses the language in the ICTs, and the more the speaker uses the language in non-virtual contexts, the more he uses it in virtual contexts (Cunliffe & al. 2013).

According to the message to be transmitted using the minority language, some topics are more popular. Issues about traditions associated with the community of speakers and discussions about the sociology and the linguistics of the language itself tend to be written in the minority language (Cru 2015). In the case of highly aware people, political discussions usually appear written in the minority language. ICT also spread research and technical contents about the language, like linguistic discussions, interviews, recordings, clips and movies of speakers who often do not have personal presence in these channels -e.g. elderly people. On the contrary, general scientific, global and technical contents are usually written in the mainstream languages as well as messages expected to reach larger audiences. Finally, the more the presence of the minority language in the channel, the more the speaker tends to create contents in the minority language.

The channel also determines the minority language level of use. It is usually said that software developers do not pay enough attention to minority languages and nowadays most of the virtual social networks or mainstream applications do not offer interfaces in these languages (Jones & Uribe-Jongbloed 2012). It is argued that Google does not offer interface and products options in most of the endangered languages while at the same time it created and funded the Endangered Languages Project. Other times they offer several minority languages, but the lack of linguistic adaptation of these languages to the new technologies generates linguistic solutions that are not accepted among the community of speakers.

Target audiences influence the language too (Cunliffe & al. 2013). Most virtual social networks allow for different kind of messages with different target audiences. The user can vary the language of particular messages addressed to different audiences, and she can also use different languages for her status and profile information, elements with different communicative purposes and usually addressed to larger audiences. Some platforms also allow for the creation of specific -sometimes private- groups formed by speakers of the minority language, more popular among activist adults rather than among teenagers and children. In the case of video platforms, the creator can offer subtitles and additional information in different languages.

Apart from the previous elements influencing the use of a minority language in new technologies, ICT allow for migrant speakers to still use their language everywhere (Sallabank 2010; Lanza & Svendsen 2007; Pietikäinen & Kelly-Holmes 2011). That may strengthen the speakers community and the use of the language. ICT also serve as a means for the visibility and promotion of endangered languages among the non-speakers. The development of some language learning applications may also support the preservation of minority languages (Mirza & Sundaram 2017).


References

Cru J (2015). Language revitalisation from the ground up: promoting Yucatec Maya on Facebook. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 36 (3): 284-296.

Cunliffe D, Morris D, Prys C (2013) Young bilinguals’ language behavior in social networking sites: the use of welsh on Facebook. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 18(3) 339-361.

De Bot K, Stoessel S (2002) Introduction: language change and social networks. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 153: 1-7.

Edwards J. (2010). Minority languages and group identity: Cases and categories. John Benjamins Publishing, Amsterdam.

Fleming A, Debski R (2007) The use of Irish in networked communications: a study of schoolchildren in different language settings. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 28(2): 85-101.

Jones, EHG, Uribe-Jongbloed, E (2012). Social media and minority languages: Convergence and the creative industries. Multilingual Matters, Bristol.

Lanza E, Svendsen BA (2007) Tell me who your friends are and I might be able to tell you what language(s) you speak: social network analysis, multilingualism, and identity. International Journal of Bilingualism 11: 275-300.

Mirza A, Sundaram D (2017) Design and Implementation of Socially Driven Knowledge Management Systems for Revitalizing Endangered Languages. In: Helms et al. (eds) Social Knowledge Management in Action, Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning 3: 147-167.

Pietikäinen S, Kelly-Holmes H (2011) Gifting, service, and performance: three eras in minority-language media policy and practice. International Journal of Applied Linguistics 21(1): 51-70.

Sallabank J (2010) The role of social networks in endangered language maintenance and revitalization: The case of Guernesiais in the Channel Islands. Anthropological Linguistics 52(2): 184-205.


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