Can Facebook Save A Dying Language?

A group of researchers are putting social media to use in a new way, as a tool to save endangered and marginalized languages.

Margaret Noori, a professor at the University of Michigan is exploring the implications of bridging the digital divide to use social media as a linguistic preservation tool. Noori’s studies are centered around Anishinaabemowin, the native language of the Ojibwe, Michigan’s indigenous population. However, the results of the project can be applied to all endangered languages whose speakers have access to social media.

The Michigan researchers have successfully built an online community with the digital presence streamlined on the group’s website. The site houses over 450 audio files, as well as songs, lessons and stories. It also links to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Picasa and Youtube, enabling community interaction and collaboration. The language has already reached 2,800 Facebook ‘likes’ and 248 followers on Twitter.

By building a social media presence for the endangered language, the group aims to ‘produce proficiency in the next generation and archive contributions of fluent elders.’ With 80% of the language’s speakers over 65, it is a timely project. Language preservation is inherently dependent on the participation of younger generations, so it seems logical to target the future speakers through a medium familiar to them.

Beyond the exciting linguistic implications, this venture also demonstrates that there are yet-undiscovered opportunities for social media, as a tool for cultural preservation as well as networking.

Ojibwe.net

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