Despite Twitter’s recent efforts at making the site more usable for non-English speakers, it’s probably one of the last places you’d expect to find people using minority and endangered languages to communicate. However, as a new website called Indigenous Tweets illustrates, that’s clearly not the case.
Kevin Scannell, a Computer Science professor from the US who created the website, believes that Twitter can even help preserve languages that are struggling. The website searches for tweets in minority languages across the globe, then indexes the tweets and the Twitter accounts they came from. The site is interesting no matter what language you speak, but if you speak one of the 68 languages indexed, it will also help you connect with other Twitter users who speak your language.
Scannell told the BBC that he was as as surprised as anyone by how many different languages are used on the service:
“I was shocked that there are almost 1000 people tweeting in Irish. There are just over 3000 people tweeting in Basque. The numbers keep growing. I’m amazed that we’ve turned up tweets in 68 languages so far – that’s up from just 35 when we launched.”
The site even found one tweet in Gamilaraay, an indigenous Australian language that according to Wikipedia had all of 3 known speakers in 1997.
Scannell believes that the globalization of technology can actually help preserve traditional culture, and the website he built is an example of that belief in action. From his interview with the BBC:
“A lot of people look, with some trepidation, at technology and things like machine translation, and social networking because they feel like it’s going to promote global languages and American culture and English language culture. I view things like Twitter and social media as an opportunity for smaller languages. A site like Indigenous Tweets is a good example of a website that allows people to connect and communicate and use their language in a natural way online.”