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Mobile technology designed to improve language diversity

Language diversity

In the technological world of mobile media, it’s not always easy to preserve language diversity. Communication technologies, and social media in particular, present benefits such as the opportunity to improve the prestige of a language and promote its use among younger generations. But they also present challenges when we consider, for example, that interaction and input rely more on processes like speed recognition and gesture typing, than on traditional keyboard typing.

Predictive text has been implemented for global languages, but there is not enough support for minority languages with smaller commercial markets. The global trend is towards less linguistic diversity, as local and indigenous languages are being replaced by languages like English, Spanish or Chinese, with speech-controlled applications failing to take minority languages into consideration.

Irish (Gaeilge) for example, despite being the first official language of Ireland, is only spoken by about 40-70,000 people daily, out of the Irish population of 4.6 million. The remainder of the population uses English. A recent report shows that some of the obstacles encountered by Irish speakers included mobile interfaces inhibiting the use of Irish, the audience for Irish being smaller than the audience for English, and their networks being linguistically pluralistic.

Interaction designers should consider these issues when designing for minority language users. The computerization of minority languages, together with software localization or translation, provide new opportunities for language preservation and revitalization. On Apple devices, for example, basic input of text for minority languages with a script closely related to a majority language is not a problem, but most Irish people would still use English on social media, as using a minority language might limit engagement.

Preserving minority languages is really important, as a language represents a particular culture, and contains unique information about the world. As global technology giants like Facebook and Google try to enter developing regions of the world, linguistic self-determination is becoming of great importance.

By Maria D'Innocenzo

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