What motivates language users to write in minority languages in social media, and what kinds of challenges and opportunities do they meet?

Social media has turned into a powerful tool recently. In this blog I will try to describe and explore the motivations and purposes of using minority languages in social media, as well as the opportunities and the challenges, referring to Bhroin’s article[1] “Small Pieces in a Social Innovation Puzzle? Exploring the motivations of Minority Language Users in Social Media” (2013). Here users of minority languages (Sami and Irish) share their experience in the usage of these languages in social media. I will comment the different languages a way to represent different cultures.  Regarding motivations, there are two main types mentioned in the article: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Another aspect of this topic is the tolerance and preservation of minority languages.

There are different types of languages, regarding their usage and popularity. This was clearly presented in Øystein Vangsnes’ presentation: Minoritetsspråk og fleirspråkleighet I SoMe (5.-6. April 2017). Here we can see the Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (EGIDS). The American linguist Joshua Fisherman first mentioned GIDS in his book ‘Reversing Language Shift’ (1991). Paul Lewis and Gary Simons expanded it into EGIDS, combining GIDS with UNESCO’s six level scale (Brenzinger et. al. 2003) and now any language in the world can be scored by it.

The more rarely a language is used, the more endangered it becomes. Therefore, people have started to fight for preserving minority languages.  Languages do not identify a personality but they are indeed a crucial part of it. Analogically, a language is an important characteristic of a culture. It depicts the mentality of a certain group of people and its roots. So trying to keep it alive is important. As mentioned in Bhroin’s article (2013), “social innovations are new practices for resolving social challenges” and they meet social needs. The use of minority languages in social media is an example of a modern way of making an effort to preserve a language.

Regarding the motivations of minority language users in social media, there are two main types underlined in Bhroin’s article (2013) – extrinsic and intrinsic. Intrinsic motivation drives individuals seeking novelty, challenges or enjoyment in practices undertaken for their own sake and without external pressure. In contrast, extrinsic motivation drives activities aimed at outcomes that are separable from specific practices.

The intrinsic motivations are related to learning a language and satisfying one’s need for knowledge. What some of the participants who Bhroin interviewed shared, is that they learn a lot by using a minority language in social media. They are motivated by the opportunity to look up new words, find ways of expression and explore and practice the language they have taken up. Of course, while developing the knowledge, the motivation might grow in a more extrinsic direction.

The extrinsic motivations are divided into two groups: self- and externally-determined, where the former is characterized by individuals’ “own volition and (…) beliefs and values in terms of the importance of the relevant language” (Bhroin’s article). Users are motivated by the opportunity to broaden the use of a minority language, as well as to support minority language users communities, facing geographical obstacles. They also aim to normalize this use and to overcome technological obstacles. On the other hand, the externally-determined extrinsic motivations are characterized by having socially innovative outcomes, rather than being aimed at achieving socially innovative goals. Users are motivated by the desire to express themselves efficiently and to keep in touch with certain people. Self-Determination Theory (SDT) (Deci and Ryan 1985; Ryan and Deci 2000) introduces three needs for competence: autonomy, relatedness and competence (Ryan & Deci 2000:72). Autonomy stands for one’s will for power over one’s own life; relatedness: the need for social interaction, and competence: the need to control outcome and experience mastery. Some of the participants use the minority language actively to emphasize their aim to protect and preserve it, while others do it out of more practical reasons- to promote professional careers.

When it comes to minority cultures, and consequently, minority languages, there are always words like integration and tolerance involved. However, these concepts create somewhat asymmetry in the relationship between the two cultures. Of course, when one of the two parts is stronger than the other one, it does need to support and preserve the weaker one, but the line between helpfulness and aggression can be quite blurred at times, so one should keep in mind that the weaker part needs above all respect and a sense of equality. Social media does give the minority languages a chance and Teresa Lynn points it out in her speech for TEDx. She states that despite being claimed as a dying language, Irish is in fact quite used in social media. An example of a rebellion against the commercial world and the disrespect for a minority language, and therefore culture, can be found in the Instagram and Facebook account Suohpanterror. This account shows how affected the modern world is by commercialism and popularity. Using quite sharp and bold means, the account reminds of some major points regarding the problem of the oblivion of Sami language and culture.  These are examples for self-determined extrinsic motivations for using minority languages in social media, where participants strive for encouragement of minority language use, reflecting full autonomy.

Understandably, there are also some hardships when it comes to minority languages in social media. One of the problems that users of minority languages face is the small audience they have. When using a not-so-well-spread language, one’s views and contemplations can be understood just by those few who also speak or read the language. Technological problems might also occur and this could be another challenge for using minority languages in social media.

I would say, however, that the positive aspects overweigh the negative ones in this matter. Social media can be a platform where minority language flourish and revive. Preserving them is a key in keeping the balance between and diversity of different cultures. To sum up, there are different motivations, leading to different outcomes and meeting different needs. Overall, social media supports minority language preservation on an individual level. In our modern way of life the individual initiation is very important, so the importance of it is undoubted.

By Hristina Tankovska

[1] Niamh Ni Bhroin, Small Pieces in a Social Innovation Puzzle? Exploring the Motivations of Minority Language Users in Social Media, 2013

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