In our interconnected world, does the internet promote monoculturalism? While there are many reasons to believe that is the case, Kevin Scannell, professor of computational linguistics at Saint Louis University, believes that web-based social networking technologies can actually serve to bolster indigenous and minority languages. Earlier this year, Scannell launched Indigenous Tweets, a website that collects and categorizes tweets in indigenous and minority languages from Twitter users.
In an interview with the BBC Scannell observed “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.”
Indigenous Tweets uses a web crawler to search for users posting in indigenous and minority languages. It also relies on suggestions submitted by users via the Indigenous Tweets website. It then catalogs a list of these tweeters by the language they post in. Users who would like to find tweets in a certain language can click on the language they are interested in (if it is represented on the site) and see a list of up to the top 500 users who are tweeting in that language. By clicking on the profile of a user they can then read their tweets and may choose to follow them through their own Twitter account.
The site was launched with a list of tweeters posting in 35 languages. In less than 5 months it can boast representation from over 100 languages from all over the world, and has served to connect a number of indigenous language speakers who were geographically or otherwise disconnected. Among the North American languages represented on the site are Lakȟótiyapi, Míkmaq, Nawat, Lenape, and Chinook Wawa.
Indigenous Tweets can be viewed here.