June 15, 2011

Indigenous tweets

Tweet Hereafter:  Social Media Is Saving Native Languages

By Doug MeigsKevin Scannell is a 40-year-old Irish American working in Saint Louis University’s Department of Mathematics and Computer Science. He says online tools of globalization have created positive opportunities equal or greater than their dangers. In March, he created IndigenousTweets.com, a website that aims to preserve and proliferate indigenous language by connecting Twitter users online. “The Internet is also a tool that we can use to combat globalization and colonization,” says Scannell. “The important thing is for people to use their language if they want it to survive. The Internet—websites like Twitter and Facebook, blogs and e-mail—give people an opportunity to write and chat and be creative while using their language in a natural way.”

For the uninitiated, Twitter is a micro-blogging service that allows users to write and read short text messages called “tweets.” Each tweet is limited to 140 characters. Scannell’s website aggregates Twitter users who write in minority languages. He started with a list of 35 languages, which grew to almost 100 within two months. Twitter users can go to his website, view a list of other users writing in their own Native language, request to “follow” individuals, and then begin receiving their tweets.

IndigenousTweets.com began when Scannell wrote a computer program to cross-reference Twitter messages with statistical data for minority languages. His website names languages by their Native names. For example, Navajo is listed as Diné bizaad, i.e., “Navajo language.” Click into the language and relevant Twitter users are listed on a second screen. The site then ranks Twitterers based on various criteria, such as number of tweets and percentage written in the language.

In addition to Navajo, other North American indigenous languages on the website include Delaware/Lenape, Lakota, Inuktitut, Mi’kmaq/Micmac and Secwepemctsín. IndigenousTweets.com features a cornucopia of minority languages worldwide, including some nearly extinct languages such as Gamilaraay from eastern Australia (the website notes one Twitter user who wrote a single tweet in Gamilaraay).

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