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'Social media provides a means for anyone to build a virtual language community'

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Active: Kevin Scannell from Missouri uses social media to keep immersed in the Irish language

Active: Kevin Scannell from Missouri uses social media to keep immersed in the Irish language

CSO stats on use of Irish

CSO stats on use of Irish

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Active: Kevin Scannell from Missouri uses social media to keep immersed in the Irish language

Could tech be the champion of minority languages like Irish? Now you can be friends with someone who lives hundreds of miles away based on a shared interest in the language in a way that just wasn't possible a few years ago.

For Kevin Scannell, a professor of maths in the University of Saint Louis, Missouri, Twitter plays a big role in his Irish language use. It means he can be fully immersed in the language despite living in an American city with few other speakers.

"This is like a miracle for those of us old enough to have struggled in solitude with the language before the emergence of the web," he says. "I know the same is true for many other minority language communities as well - it's unusual for there to be a critical mass of speakers in one geographical location, and social media provides the means for anyone to build a virtual language community, no matter where they are."

Recently he created a heat map of Ireland on his Twitter account showing the distribution of Irish tweets across the country. Unsurprisingly the large urban centres and the Gaeltacht areas topped the list. The US was second on the list of countries tweeting in Irish.

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CSO stats on use of Irish

CSO stats on use of Irish

CSO stats on use of Irish

Scannell estimates that there are around 770 active tweeters who regularly tweet in Irish. And these 770 tweeters are responsible for the 24,000 tweets posted in the language every month.

On Facebook, the group Gaeilge Amháin has almost 6,000 members interacting and supporting each other in the language and the Irish language is finding a home on Snapchat too. Since August, users are able to use filters that display the county they are in as Gaeilge and young Irish Snapchatters like Is Maith Liom Blog (ismaithliomblog) and Ursula Ní Shabhaois (smaoineamhosard) are talking about everything from fashion with an Irish slant to film and politics.

BBC Gaeilge's #FADUDA is a new Irish language digital content strand that gives 18 to 30-year-old Irish speakers an opportunity to build an online community through vlogging. Its team of vloggers cover topics from the fun to the serious on lifestyle, travel and sport to beauty tips, fashion and cooking.

Vlogger Siân Nic an Bheatha says: "It's amazing to see young Irish speakers, as they are organically, with a want and not a need to speak Irish.

"#FADUDA has captured a worldwide audience, from all counties of Ireland; from England, Scotland, America, Canada, Spain, Australia - and the list goes on.

"I think it's important to show that Irish speakers are not just Irish speakers - they're teachers, doctors, translators, TV producers, globetrotters - normal people doing normal people things. Why not learn how to make vegan Irish cream from a Spanish kitchen?"

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Three million learners

The people updating social media in Irish aren't always the fluent speakers, lots of them are new learners, too. Testing the waters online lets them quash the fear that someone will raise an eyebrow about their use of the Tuiseal Ginideach. Duolingo is the most downloaded education app in the world and Irish is in its top-10 of most popular languages with three million users currently learning the language.

Muiris Ó Laoire from the Institute of Technology Tralee has been involved all his life in research on teaching and learning Irish. He's pleased that Irish has a growing online presence.

"I come across people who love the language but find it difficult to use it - online you can make mistakes or you can use pictures to augment your message if your language skills are low."

"It's vital for people who are separated from the Irish language community, that they can go on to online spaces and find others to communicate with."


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