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The role of social media in the representation of minority languages

Social media already connects almost half of the entire global population, it enables voices and communities to be connected and heard on a scale that would have been unfathomable to past generations. Róise Collins explores how to effectively utilise these platforms as a means to represent and express our culture and its values. 

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The Irish language has often been referred to as a ‘dying language’ or even politicised, but language identity is a human right – and minority languages are much more than a means of communication, they are a fundamental aspect of our cultural identity. 

Social media platforms have been integral in ensuring Irish language speakers have a platform to explore their culture and identity, and communicate within a public sphere. 

Jamie Mac Uiginn, an Irish language advocate, explained how “we’re currently living in a world driven by relevance, especially on social media”. He went on to say: “This creates particular challenges to minority languages to survive but it also offers opportunities. Many minority languages have flourished online, Irish being one of them.

“Gaeilgeoirí are able to create a ‘Cibear-Ghaeltacht’, a safe space for speaking the language if you will, without leaving the comfort of their own homes,” he said. 

“The phrase “you can’t be what you can’t see” can be modified to apply to the relevancy of minority languages – if you can’t see the language being used then what is the point in speaking it.

“Social media provides an outlet for people to see the language being used in new and innovative ways and thus proving that there is a point, reason, and relevancy in speaking it,” added Mac Uiginn.

Ceithleann Ní Dhuibhir Ní Dhúlacháin works with Gaelbhratach, a scheme run by Gael Linn which promotes the informal use of the Irish Language in primary and post-primary schools. 

She explained how the inclusion of the Irish language on social media platforms is “of great importance when it comes to normalising the language”. She talked about how children’s exposure to the language on a daily basis, not only through social media interaction but also on radio, television and other traditional media outlets helps to normalise the Irish language as an integral part of their day to day lives. 

Gael Linn are constantly creating content ‘as Gaeilge’ for their social media channels, and they encourage participating schools to include as much Irish as possible on their own social media, school websites or through their newsletters and correspondence with other schools.

“The inclusion of the Irish language on social media websites and in the wider media, has helped win back a generation of language learners who may have parted ways with the language after leaving formal education.” she said.

This is evident in the growth of Irish language communities on Twitter and Instagram in recent years with accounts like Bloc TG4, The Irish For and Motherfócloir engaging with thousands of people daily and not only in Ireland but globally. 

When the country first went into lockdown due to the pandemic, there was a surge in the number of Irish language accounts on Instagram. “This has continued with more Irish language bloggers than ever using social media to give a platform not only to themselves and their thoughts and ideas ,but also to the Irish language on the global stage.” she said.

Hugh Carr (@hughcarrhere) uses his platform on social media to promote and encourage the use of the Irish language, he explained that when he first started using social media, there wasn’t nearly as prevalent a space for the Irish language as there is now. “Usually, Irish was reserved for bad puns and complaints about Peig* (*part of the Irish language curriculum in schools). 

“Nowadays, there’s a much bigger audience for Irish only content – some of the most successful posts that I’ve made through Tiktok and Twitter were entirely through Irish.” he said.

“I think that while there is still a long way to go, content like this does a lot to destigmatise the use of Irish in day to day life and takes it out of the classrooms and into the ‘real world’,” he said.

Carr told TheCity.ie how representation in media is key to providing people with an identity that they can relate to. “The more Irish language media, the more comfortable people will be in expressing themselves through it” he said.

Mollaí Meehan is currently studying education through the Irish language in Marino Institute of Education. She told TheCity.ie how she recognised the benefits that came with studying through Irish and appreciating her love for the language – and the opportunities it has given her. 

She is currently working as a presenter with Radio RíRá, an Irish language radio station.  “I got involved with Raidió Rí Rá over a year ago through a workshop with my college. Myself and two of my friends were offered our own show and jumped at the chance,” she said.

She also has her own blog, Stay Sásta, and Instagram account where she often posts through Irish, she told TheCity.ie about her views on normalising the language, and how it could start with small steps like “swapping little phrases to the Irish version like saying ‘go raibh maith agat’ instead of thank you” or by using the Irish language options available like gifs on Instagram or setting your phone and apps to the Irish option. 

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