The correlation between the intrinsic and extrinsic motivations behind minority language usage on social media

Language is intertwined with one’s sense of identity. It can expose where you are from, what socio-economic class you belong to, and what culture/environment you identify with. When a person with two languages chooses to write in a minority language on social media, there is a lot that can be said of that person from that piece of information alone, but pinpointing the exact motivation behind this practice is a more tedious task. Writing in a minority language on social media is a conscious choice driven by potentially multiple reasons. I will now attempt to list and elaborate on a few of these motivations, using Niamh Ní Bhroin’s study (2013: 219-238) on minority language users and their motivations for using said language for communication purposes.

Bhroin’s study establishes three separate categories of motivation. The first category is called intrinsic motivation. This category defines the motivations of the people that regard social media as a platform for learning languages and for increasing competence in languages. These people might want to write in a minority language to maintain/increase proficiency and to keep the language from becoming a heritage language. In other words, they consciously write in said language for practice, for fun, and for other forms of individual gain… and not because of external pressure.

The second category is self-determined extrinsic motivations. Self-determined extrinsic motivation is, to me, the most obvious reasoning behind minority language-usage. The first thing I think about a person that is capable of writing in the majority language but chooses to write in the minority language is that he/she does this in order to show that they are proud of their language and wishes to keep it alive by using it. Bhroin (2013:223-24) says that:

[…]extrinsic motivation drives activities aimed at outcomes that are separable from specific practices. Most human activities are therefore considered to be extrinsically motivated. Extrinsic motivation is also considered to undermine intrinsic motivation as rewards, deadlines or other external pressures undermine individual autonomy.

I consider the participants that mean that they write in the minority language for this reason alone as idealists, as they do not seek any form of personal gain from the practice. The only real gain I can see from this is relatedness – to feel allied by origin, kinship, etc. However, I do believe that this is more of a consequence of writing in a minority language than a motivation for writing it. When writing on social media you usually reach out to many, and when a minority language is involved there is only a minority of the people reading that will receive the message. This is a problem as it seemingly limits the reach of your message. The majority will probably not understand what you are saying, but they still get some sort of message – a message that you are proud of your language and that you are not afraid to stand out from the crowd. This both supports and complicates the pure self-determined extrinsic motivation because as you promote the use of minority languages you also collect a personal social gain, which taints the pureness of your cause and reduces the distance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations.

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The third category – externally-determined extrinsic motivation – is in some ways the middleman of intrinsic and self-determined extrinsic motivation. Practices driven by externally-determined extrinsic motivations are more driven by external pressure than intrinsic motivations and do not align with any ideological goal of promoting the language. The people in this category write in a minority language on social media in order to develop and promote professional careers. For example, if you wish to increase your authenticity as, say, a minister of culture, then writing in a minority language might do the trick. In other words, people that are driven by this reason write in a minority language for personal gain but does so because they are pressured by something external (norms, culture, values, etc).

There are multiple reasons behind people’s choice of writing in a minority language on social media. Some do it because it is fun, because they enjoy challenging themselves and because they want to maintain their proficiency in the language. Others do it because they want to protect and promote the language because by exposing the public to the language, they can increase the public’s tolerance for languages other than their own. The last group mentioned in Bhroin’s study is the group that actively write minority languages on social media to satisfy the external pressures put on them by society; be it jobs that require them to, or parents that force them to. As with most things in life, the motivations behind people’s use of minority languages are more complicated and immense than what the study might indicate. Perhaps some are driven by the need to distinguish themselves from the majority to feel special. Perhaps some want to show off their bilingual skills. Perhaps some do it to impress a love interest. The list goes on. The point is that there are so many reasons for why people might want to write in a minority language, and most of the reasons mentioned in the study seem to run into each other. Bhroin says in her article that, “most human activities are […] considered to be extrinsically motivated.” I disagree to some extent. I believe that it is a combination of the two, because of the correlated nature of external and internal motivations. Even though I am writing this text because of the external pressure caused by this assignment’s deadline, I do it because of an internal motivation to pass this class and to get a proper job. One could argue that the only reason I go to school and want to get a job is because modern society is constructed in a way that makes us believe that this is what life is supposed to be. On the other hand, studies such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs tells us that humans internally strive for self-actualization, which can only be obtained by having a job that makes you feel like you are living up to your potential and makes you feel that you are part of something bigger than yourself. I am way off topic but my point is that there is probably not just one reason for why people choose to write in a minority language on social media. If a person writes with intrinsic or extrinsic motivations in mind, it is important to note that one category does not exclude the other and that both might consciously or subconsciously motivate the practice.

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