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Keywords:

  • Social networks;
  • Facebook;
  • minority language use;
  • Cymraeg;
  • young people

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The Welsh context
  5. Methodology
  6. Results
  7. Conclusions and implications for future work
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Biographies

Social networking sites feature significantly in the lives of many young people. Where these young people are bilingual, social networking sites may have an important role to play in terms of minority language use and in shaping perceptions of that language. Through a quantitative and qualitative study, this paper investigates the use of language in social networking sites by young Welsh speakers, focussing particularly on Facebook. Language choice and behaviour, factors influencing that behaviour, and attitudes towards use of the Welsh language in Information Technology are explored. The data suggests that there are a number of different factors at play, and that it is necessary to consider language behaviour in social networking sites in the context of offline language behaviour.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The Welsh context
  5. Methodology
  6. Results
  7. Conclusions and implications for future work
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Biographies

UNESCO estimates that there are some 3,000 endangered languages in the world (Moseley, 2010). Many of these are undergoing language shift as speakers cease using a minority language and use the majority language in its place (Fishman, 1991). Whilst intergenerational transmission is typically seen as the key factor in language maintenance, there are many factors which may influence transmission in a particular context, including economic benefit, perceived status, educational provision and so on (Clyne, 2004; Grin, 2007; Williams & Morris, 2000). The impact of the internet is not well understood and is to some extent contested. Thus, while Crystal postulates that ‘An endangered language will progress if its speakers can make use of electronic technology’ (Crystal, 2000, p. 141), UNESCO suggests that ‘new media, including broadcast media and the Internet, usually serve only to expand the scope and power of the dominant language at the expense of endangered languages’ (UNESCO, 2003, p. 11). This paper explores the relationship between a particular technology, social networking sites, and a particular language, Welsh, from the perspective of young speakers.

Offline social networks are recognized as an important site for the development of language practice (Morris, 2007; Ó Riagáin et al., 2008) and of language norms, particularly in opposition to the standard (majority) norms (Wei, 2000). There is a broad agreement among researchers that social networks have a role to play in language shift (de Bot & Stoessel, 2002). It has been suggested that networks of strong ties might help minority language speakers resist pressures towards language shift (Wei, 2000; Milroy, 2001). It is further claimed that visible and vibrant networks make membership of a minority language community appear more attractive, as well as providing more opportunity for language use (Lee, 2006), and enhancing ethnic identity based around that language (Lanza & Svendsen, 2007). Where the speakers of a minority language are ageing and isolated, fostering social networks may enable those speakers to maintain fluency and provide the opportunity for them to pass on the language to others (Sallabank, 2010).

While online social networking sites (SNS) have been the focus of a significant body of research (boyd & Ellison, 2007), there has been little work specifically on language (though see Fragoso, 2006; Herring et al., 2007; Carroll, 2008; Honeycutt & Cunliffe, 2010), and there appear to be no studies directly investigating whether online social networks play a role in language shift similar to that played by offline social networks. Research has claimed that the availability of electronic media can be a powerful motivator for young people, and act as a stimulus to their use of a minority language within their social networks (Edwards, 2002). On the other hand, there are concerns that English or another majority language may be considered to be the language of electronic social networking even when the minority language is used face-to-face in offline social networks (Fleming & Debski, 2007). It does not seem unreasonable to suggest that SNS might play some role in language shift, in some language contexts.

The remainder of this paper is structured as follows. First the specific context of Wales and the Welsh language is introduced. Secondly the methodology is outlined. Next some general results are presented, followed by a more in-depth examination of Facebook, considering language behaviours and influences on that behaviour. Both quantitative and qualitative data are reported. Finally conclusions and implications for future work are drawn.

The Welsh context

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The Welsh context
  5. Methodology
  6. Results
  7. Conclusions and implications for future work
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Biographies

Wales is a country of around 3 million people, situated in the west of the United Kingdom. The Welsh language (Cymraeg) was the only language of the majority of the population of Wales until the mid 1800s (Morgan, 2001). There has been significant language shift towards English since that time (for perspectives on the social history of the language in the 20th century, see Jenkins and Williams, 2000). The most recent census, in 2001, showed there were 582,000 Welsh speakers (aged 3+), some 20.8 per cent of the population and the figures have been interpreted as showing that the language has stabilised (Aitchison & Carter, 2004). UNESCO considers the language to be “vulnerable” (Moseley, 2010).

The concentration of Welsh speakers varies considerably across the Welsh Local Authorities, with greater concentrations in the North and West; the highest being Gwynedd where 68.7% of the population are Welsh-speaking. Lower concentrations are found in the South and East, with the lowest being Monmouthshire where 9.0% of the population speak Welsh (Aitchison & Carter, 2004).

In recent years the education system has played a major part in rejuvenating the language and the main growth area of the language has been the under 16s. The 2001 census showed that 31.2% of Welsh speakers were aged 3–15, and 32.3% were aged 16–44 (Aitchison & Carter, 2004). Young Welsh speakers are seen as being particularly significant for the future of the language. Iaith Pawb, the Welsh Assembly Government's Action Plan for a Bilingual Wales (Welsh Assembly Government, 2003, 4.38), states, “The Assembly Government is acutely aware that if Welsh is to flourish young people in particular need to develop a sense of ownership for the language and to see it as their language and not simply the language of school and culture. The Assembly Government will work to ensure that we maximize the opportunities for our young people and teenagers to use the language in everyday leisure and social situations”. One of the Welsh Language Board's six strategic priorities is to “Increase the use of Welsh among young people and give them the opportunity to use Welsh socially, for example, through sports and contemporary music” (Welsh Language Board, n.d.).

It is widely accepted that the teenage years are a critical period in the development of young people's attitudes towards a minority language (Ó Riagáin, 1997; Mac Giolla Chriost, 2005; Ó Riagáin et al., 2008). The use young people make of their minority language during this period can affect their continued use in later stages of their life and the choices they make regarding intergenerational transmission. The role of offline social networks is recognised as being of crucial importance as regards the use of a minority language by young people (Ó Riagáin et al., 2008). Morris (2007) observes that the greater the density of Welsh-speakers in the offline social network of young Welsh-speakers, the greater the opportunity and tendency for members of that network to use Welsh.

While young Welsh speakers' offline social networks have traditionally been maintained by face-to-face contact and the telephone, Information Technology (IT) is playing an increasing role. Figures from 2009 show that 68% of children aged 5–15 in Wales have access to the internet at home, the lowest percentage in the UK. However, 49% of these children visit SNS at least weekly, more than the percentage across UK children. Children aged 8–15 in Wales are also more likely to have set up a profile on a social networking site, with 58% of them saying they have done so (Ofcom, 2010). The Welsh language has been used online since at least the late 1980s (Jones, 2010) and is used to some degree across a number of different online domains (Cunliffe, 2009).

The research presented in this paper is a preliminary examination of the way in which young Welsh speakers are using SNS and in particular their use of language within these sites. The main focus is on Facebook as this was by far the most popular SNS among the study group. Language choice and behaviour, factors influencing that behaviour and attitudes towards the Welsh language and IT among young people are explored. The study group were pupils in Welsh-medium education. Attendance at a Welsh-medium school is by parental opt-in. Depending on the area of Wales, these children may be more or less likely to come from Welsh-speaking homes. Non Welsh-speaking parents send their children to Welsh-medium education for a variety of reasons, principally cultural, but also because it is perceived to be a better quality of education (Hodges & Morris, 2010). While these pupils receive the majority of their education through the medium of Welsh, given the wider societal context they typically are also fluent English speakers.

Methodology

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The Welsh context
  5. Methodology
  6. Results
  7. Conclusions and implications for future work
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Biographies

This paper reports a selection of results from a one year exploratory, mixed method study into language behaviour within the social networks of young Welsh speakers. In particular the question of any effect of modality on language use was of interest, following the results of Fleming and Debski (2007). The purpose of the study was to gather initial data that would provide both insight and direction for future research. This paper focuses on the part of the data relating to the use of Welsh online and particularly the use of Welsh on Facebook. The data relating to the offline use of Welsh and the relationship between the use of Welsh in online and offline social networks has been published elsewhere (Morris et al., 2012).

Due to the lack of any existing data which could have guided the informed formation of testable hypotheses, the study focussed on data that would reveal whether or not there was a phenomenon to be studied (there was no existing evidence that proved that young Welsh speakers actually used SNS, for example) and what patterns, if any, appeared to exist in young Welsh speakers' language behaviour that would merit further study. From the data presented in this paper a number research questions emerge which could be investigated through a more targeted future study.

The study, conducted in 2010, focussed on four Welsh-medium secondary schools, two in North West Wales and two in the South East. The schools were selected to represent the different language contexts in these two parts of Wales. Schools were selected at random and contacted via letter and subsequently by telephone. Schools were provided with information regarding the nature of the research being undertaken. Head Teachers of the schools were given the opportunity to ask questions regarding the research prior to agreeing. Several schools declined the invitation due to time constraints, in which case another school was selected at random until the four school sample was complete. Bilingual consent forms were sent to the parents of the pupils in the appropriate school years.

A sample of 50 pupils from each school, for whom consent had been given, was selected at random, 10 from each school year (Year 9 to Year 13, aged 13–18). These 200 pupils were asked to complete an online questionnaire, hosted on Survey Monkey. The questionnaire was anonymous and was available in both Welsh and English versions. Questions examined the language used with teachers and friends at primary and secondary school; the language used in out-of-school clubs, such as sports clubs; first language orientation and written language confidence; the language used in the home and with specific family members; the use of SNS and language use on those sites; and the online and offline language used to communicate with three friends. The data was analysed using SPSS. This establishes a baseline of information about Welsh language use in both areas and provides the quantitative data reported in this paper.

The questionnaire was followed-up by a series of focus groups which explored the issues raised in the questionnaire in greater depth. Two groups, typically of eight pupils, were selected at random from the respondents who had completed the questionnaire at each school, one group aged 13–15 (Years 9 to 11) and one aged 16–18 (Years 12 and 13). The size of the focus groups varied between six and ten pupils, with a total of 64 pupils taking part in the focus groups overall. The focus group discussions lasted 40–50 minutes (in order to fit in with the school timetable). The focus group discussions were semi–structured and made use of a set of eleven prompting questions. The questions covered their use of SNS, their use of Welsh and English on SNS and the web generally, barriers to the use of English and Welsh and the use of the Welsh-language interface on Facebook. All focus group discussions were conducted in Welsh. The discussions were recorded for subsequent transcription and analysis using Weft QDA. This more in-depth study of language attitudes and behaviour provides the qualitative data reported in this paper.

This paper presents a selection and analysis of the quantitative results along with excerpts from the transcripts to provide additional context and texture. Due to the small sample sizes, it is necessary to present a descriptive analysis of the cross tabulations in the quantitative results rather than a statistical one.

Both the quantitative and qualitative data presented in this paper are self reported data, rather than data based on observed language behaviour. Thus the reliability of some of the responses may be questioned due to respondents' inaccurate recall or estimation, or deliberate misrepresentation. However for the quantitative data, the sample size should minimise the impact of any individual misreporting. In terms of gaining a more complete and nuanced understanding of language behaviour in SNS, direct observation of actual language behaviour would clearly be a useful addition to the type of study presented in this paper. There is however, significant ethical and methodological complexity involved in conducting such a study; we are dealing with young people and with essentially personal communications. While these issues may be overcome through careful study design and such as study was considered, it was decided that a simpler approach was preferred for this initial exploratory study, given relatively limited resources.

Results

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The Welsh context
  5. Methodology
  6. Results
  7. Conclusions and implications for future work
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Biographies

To protect the anonymity of the schools and their pupils, the schools in the North West of Wales are referred to as NW1 and NW2, and the schools in the South East as SE1 and SE2. In reporting the results of the focus groups, Year 9 to 11 are denoted as (9–11), while Year 12 to 13 are denoted as (12–13). Fn and Mn are used to denote individual female and male respondents where conversations are reported, otherwise quotations are attributed only to the School and Year.

First language

The overall split between those pupils who considered themselves to be first language English speakers and those who considered themselves to be first language Welsh speakers was fairly even (see Table 1). However there is a marked difference between the proportions when comparing the NW with the SE. The majority of the pupils in both the NW schools considered themselves to be first language Welsh speakers, whilst in the SE the situation was reversed. This may be explained to some extent by the wider use of Welsh as a home and community language in the NW and the fact that the majority of the pupils in the SE schools come from non Welsh-speaking homes.

Table 1. Pupils first language, by school
First languageSchool
NW1NW2SE1SE2Overall
English % (n)32.0% (16)8.0% (4)88.0% (44)60.0% (30)47.0% (94)
Welsh % (n)68.0% (34)92.0% (46)12.0% (6)40.0% (20)53.0% (106)

Internet use

It was clear from the focus groups that the internet was playing a significant role in the lives of young people in both areas. All participants reported having broadband access at home and several also had internet access on their mobile phones or on their personal media players. For many of the participants the internet was an important source of entertainment and information in the home; used for social networking, gaming, homework, shopping and viewing television programs.

Dwi'n neud y ddoi ar yr un pryd. Soffa, teledu, laptop, cup of tea. Perfect!

(I do both the same time. Sofa, TV, laptop, cup of tea. Perfect!) [SE1/12-13]

The focus groups also revealed that the pupils' broad experience of the internet was one in which the English language was the norm in terms of availability of provision, but perhaps also in terms of the choices that individual pupils would make.

M1

Ond am Facebook, nid oes nifer o websites sydd gyda Cymraeg.

F1

Mae MSN a hotmail yn Saesneg, mae Twitter yn Saesneg . . .

F2

On os fydde nhw yna fydde ti ddim yn defnyddio nhw, na fydde ti. Mae Facebook ar gael yn Gymraeg ond ti ddim yn defnyddio fe!

M1

Mae Wikipedia Cymraeg a fi'n defnyddio hwna!

(M1

Apart from Facebook, there aren't a lot of websites that have Welsh.

F1

MSN and hotmail are in English, Twitter is in English . . .

F2

But if they were there you wouldn't use them, would you. Facebook is available in Welsh and you don't use that!

M1

There is a Welsh Wikipedia and I use that!) [SE1/12-13]

In addition to the perceived language norms, language behaviour appeared to be influenced by availability, context and the accessibility of the language used.

Fyddai'n defnyddio Cymraeg weithiau ar y we, os ydw i'n cael opsiwn Cymraeg, yn yr ysgol i ddarllen rhywbeth, ond heblaw hynny, fi'n defnyddio Saesneg.

(I'd sometimes use Welsh on the web, if I get a Welsh option, in school to read something, but apart from that, I use English.) [SE1/9-11]

The issue of the accessibility of the Welsh used on websites and interfaces was raised in a number of contexts.

Mae o'n haws defnyddio fo'n Saesneg oherwydd bod chi'n gwybod y geiriau i gyd . . . fel arfer mae pob website yn Saesneg felly chi'n gwybod beth mae nhw yn siarad amdano. Oherwydd mae o'n Gymraeg mae o'n eithaf anodd, oherwydd mae nhw yn defnyddio geiriau anodd, geiriau fydde chi ddim yn ei defnyddio yn y Gymraeg.

(It's easier to use it in English because you know all the words . . . usually all the websites are English so you know what they are talking about. Because it's Welsh it's quite difficult, because they use difficult words, words you wouldn't use in Welsh.) [SE2/9-11]

While this type of comment may be reflecting individual difficulties in comprehension, they may also be revealing weaknesses in the way that IT is taught, or in the design of the websites and interfaces themselves.

The use of social networking sites

The use of SNS was pervasive, with only six of the 200 pupils reporting that they didn't use any SNS at all. As Table 2 shows, Facebook, YouTube and MSN dominate and presumably fulfil different, complementary communication functions for the pupils.

Table 2. SNS used regularly by pupils
 n%
Facebook17487
YouTube15276
MSN14070
Bebo4020
Twitter2311.5
MySpace94.5
Blogs63
Flickr31.5
Other Social Networking Site3015

The majority of Facebook users had used Bebo before switching to Facebook as Bebo became unfashionable, with the perception that it was for ‘children’ or ‘little kids’.

Plant bach sydd arna fo, ma'r lle yn annoying!

(Little kids go on it [Bebo], the place is annoying!) [NW1/9-11]

Mae plant yn mynd ar Bebo, oedolion yn mynd ar Facebook a Goths yn mynd ar MySpace.

(Children go on Bebo, adults go on Facebook and Goths go on MySpace.) [SE1/12-13]

The use of the word ‘adults’ (oedolion) in this context should probably not be taken to include parents and teachers, but as meaning something more along the lines of ‘mature young adults like us’, distinguishing between their generation and both the younger and older generations. Thus being on Facebook would appear to be a desirable badge of maturity even among pupils as young as 9. The high levels of SNS use suggest that such sites are both popular and important for these young people. It also suggests that they might play a role in the formation of attitudes towards the Welsh and English languages, as well as providing an opportunity for language use.

Language use and modality

Part of the questionnaire asked pupils to identify three friends, note whether they were Welsh-speaking, the language they would use orally with each friend and the language they would use to communicate with them electronically in a SNS, MSN message, text, or email.

Overall the vast majority of the friends identified spoke Welsh (94%), a small number could not (4.8%) and in a very small number of cases the Welsh speaking ability was not known (1.2%). The school with the highest percentage of Welsh speakers in the respondents' selected friends was NW2 with 97.3%; the school with the lowest percentage was SE1 with 88.4%. However, it is worth noting that both these percentages are significantly higher than the percentage of Welsh-speakers in the general population in those areas. This might be explained by the pupils selecting friends from school in this activity (though they were not directed to do so). This would suggest that Welsh-medium schools are particularly important for establishing social networks with a high density of Welsh-speakers when this density may not be reflected in the wider local community (particularly in the South East).

While comparing language used orally and in electronic communications, the main finding is that language behaviour does not generally appear to change significantly with the modality. As Table 3 shows, the vast majority of pupils who use a single language with a particular friend would use the same language in electronic communications as they would use orally. However, respondents who used both Welsh and English orally with a particular friend were much more likely to use English with them in electronic communications. This is an interesting finding as it suggests that the respondents who use both languages orally with their friends (possibly due to having to use Welsh in school) would change to using English in this important, and often more personal, form of communication. The same trend is apparent in all four schools, both in the North West and South East. The trend of using English in electronic communications when they would use both languages orally suggests that the relationship between the languages is not equal.

Table 3. Language used orally and in electronic communications with particular friends
Language of electronic communicationLanguage of oral communication
EnglishBothWelsh
English % (n)93.0 (173)60.0 (102)01.7 (3)
Both % (n)07.0 (13)35.9 (61)04.7 (8)
Welsh % (n)00.0 (0)04.1 (7)93.6 (161)
Facebook

Facebook appears to be particularly significant for these young Welsh speakers, given its popularity, the perception that it is a website where Welsh is used and the status associated with Facebook use as a badge of maturity and achievement of adulthood. Because of this significance, the remainder of this paper will focus specifically on Facebook.

The popularity of Facebook among the pupils reflects the popularity of Facebook generally in the UK. Facebook is the most visited SNS in the UK, with 56.53% of all visits to SNS, and the second most visited site in the UK after Google UK, with 7.78% of all website visits (Experian Hitwise, 2011).

From the focus groups it appeared that Facebook was an essential element of many young people's social lives, playing a central role in the maintenance of their social networks.

Ymchwilydd – Pan ti'n dod adref o'r ysgol, be ydi'r website cyntaf ti'n mynd i?

Pawb – Facebook!

Rhaid i fi checo Facebook rhag ofn bod rhywbeth wedi newid, rhag ofn bod rhywbeth wedi digwydd. Bod hwn a hwn wedi sblito lan, neu bod so and so ddim yn siarad bellach, neu i checo pryd mae'r parti chweched yn dod lan.

(Researcher – When you arrive home from school, what's the first website you go to?

Everyone – Facebook!

I have to check Facebook in case something has changed, in case something has happened. So and so have split up, or so and so don't speak any more, or to check when the next sixth form party is coming up.) [SE1/12-13]

The percentage of pupils using Facebook was consistently high across the four schools (Table 4), and across the different Years (Table 5).

Table 4. Pupils using Facebook, by school
 NW1NW2SE1SE2
n45434343
%90868686
Table 5. Pupils using Facebook, by school year
 Year 9Year 10Year 11Year 12Year 13
n3333363933
%82.582.590.097.582.5

In common with other studies (e.g., Ellison et al., 2007), Facebook was mainly used to keep in touch with people in the pupils' offline social networks, particularly their fellow pupils.

Swni'n deud, er ein bod ni yn yr ysgol efo'n gilydd drwy'r dydd, da ni just yn siarad efo ni! Mae ganddo ni ffrindiau eraill da ni'n nabod, dros y blynyddoedd, ond rhan fwyaf o'r amser, da ni'n cadw mewn cysylltiad efo'n ffrindiau agosaf.

(I would say, even though we are in school with each other all day, we just speak with us! We have other friends who we've known over the years, but most of the time, we keep in touch with our closest friends.) [NW2/12-13]

Pobl dwi'n gwybod yn yr ysgol. Pobl sy'n blwyddyn fi a dwi'n hoffi, ond os dwi ddim yn hoffi nhw dwi ddim yn adio nhw. A, oherwydd bod fi'n arfer byw yn America, mae gen i llawer o ffrindiau o draw fana.

(People I know from school. People in my year who I like, but if I don't like them I don't add them. Also, because I used to live in America, I have lots of friends over there.) [SE2/9-11]

The fact that fellow school pupils play a significant role in the online social network may be important in establishing language norms within Facebook.

Pan nesi ymuno a Facebook, roedd chydig o ffrindiau Cymraeg fi yna, a dim ond nhw oedd yna, felly roni'n siarad Cymraeg efo nhw, a mae o wedi dal ymlaen.

(When I joined Facebook, some of my Welsh friends were there, and only they were there, so I spoke Welsh with them and it's carried on.) [NW2/11-12]

Table 6 shows that overall the main language used on Facebook by pupils was English. However, the point of interest in this paper, given that these pupils are bilingual, is the use or non-use of Welsh, rather than the use or non-use of English. Comparing the percentage for English only (those whose language behaviour on Facebook would not normally include Welsh) with the combined percentage for those who would use both equally or mainly use Welsh (those whose language behaviour would normally include Welsh) gives a more even split of 55.7% to 44.2% – but still in favour of English use.

Table 6. Main language used on Facebook
 EnglishBoth equallyWelsh
n974235
%55.724.120.1

In order to understand the reasons behind this high percentage of bilingual pupils in Welsh-medium education not usually using Welsh, a more detailed analysis of the data was conducted. Four main aspects were considered; the community language; the language of the pupils social network; language confidence; and the influence of Facebook itself.

The community language

Table 7 presents a more detailed breakdown of languages used on Facebook according to the different schools. The two schools in the more anglicised South East show high levels of English use on Facebook. Given the percentages of pupils considering themselves first language English speakers (Table 1) this is perhaps unsurprising. However in the more Welsh-speaking areas of the North West, while the percentages of pupils using Welsh on Facebook (including those using it equally with English) is higher than the two SE schools, only in NW2 is Welsh alone the main language used. In NW1 more than twice as many pupils mainly use only English on Facebook than mainly use only Welsh. For the majority of pupils in NW1, Welsh would not feature in their main language use on Facebook.

Table 7. Main language used on Facebook, by school
Facebook languageSchool
NW1NW2SE1SE2
English % (n)53.3 (24)27.9 (12)60.5 (26)81.4 (35)
Both equally % (n)26.7 (12)32.6 (14)25.6 (11)11.6 (5)
Welsh % (n)20.0 (9)39.5 (17)13.9 (6)06.9 (3)

It appears that living in an area in which the English language is dominant is a good predictor of English language use on Facebook, but that living in an area where the Welsh language is stronger is not such a good predictor of Welsh language use on Facebook. This suggests that there may be different factors influencing the use or non-use of Welsh than English, or that the same set of factors has different outcomes for the two languages.

Table 8 shows that the large majority of pupils who self identify as first language English speakers use English as their main language on Facebook. The majority of those who self identify as first language Welsh also use English as the main language, though the distribution across the Facebook language categories is far more even for first language Welsh, than first language English. Again, comparing the percentage of those whose language behaviour on Facebook would not normally include Welsh with those whose language behaviour would normally include Welsh gives a split of 74.1 to 25.9 among first language English speakers, but 39.8 to 60.2 among first language Welsh speakers. There appears to be a relationship between self identified first language and main language used on Facebook. It is possible that the linguistic make-up of the pupil's offline social networks contributes to their self-identification as a first language speaker and that overlaps between their offline and online social networks then influence their language use on Facebook.

Table 8. First language and main language used on Facebook
Facebook languageFirst language
EnglishWelsh
English % (n)74.1 (60)39.8 (37)
Both equally % (n)08.6 (14)30.1 (28)
Welsh % (n)17.3 (7)30.1 (28)

Table 9 appears to show a similar relationship between language of the home and the main language used on Facebook. However, where both languages are used at home, the large majority of pupils mainly used English on Facebook. Considering those pupils whose home language is Welsh, comparing the percentage of those whose language behaviour on Facebook would not normally include Welsh with those whose language behaviour would normally include Welsh gives a split of 25.8 to 74.2 – therefore the language of a pupils home appears to have a slightly stronger relationship with their normal use of Welsh on Facebook, than their self identification as a first language Welsh speaker.

Table 9. Language of home and main language used on Facebook
Facebook languageLanguage of home
EnglishBothWelsh
English % (n)73.0 (65)69.6 (16)25.8 (16)
Both equally % (n)18.0 (16)26.1 (6)32.3 (20)
Welsh % (n)09.0 (8)04.3 (1)41.9 (26)

The results in this section suggest a relationship between language use on Facebook and language use in the real world. While the existence of a Welsh speaking offline community context seems to be linked to the use of Welsh on Facebook, the existence of an English or bilingual community context appears to be more strongly linked to the use of English on Facebook. Thus language use on Facebook reflects the wider language context and the likely make-up of offline social networks which are then reflected in online social networks. The language behaviour in online social networks cannot be understood in isolation from the offline context.

The language of the social network

Tables 10 and 11 suggest that there is a relationship between the language used with friends outside school and the language used on Facebook. This is unsurprising as Facebook networks are known to recreate offline social networks (e.g., Ellison et al., 2007).

Table 10. Language used with friends and main language used on Facebook
Language used on FacebookLanguage used with friends
English onlyMore English than WelshBoth languages equallyMore Welsh than EnglishWelsh only
English % (n)77.8 (42)76.2 (32)33.3 (6)31.0 (13)00.0 (0)
Both equally % (n)16.7 (9)14.3 (6)44.4 (8)35.7 (15)30.8 (4)
Welsh % (n)05.6 (3)09.5 (4)22.2 (4)33.3 (14)69.2 (9)
Table 11. Main language used on Facebook and language used with friends
Language used with friendsLanguage used on Facebook
EnglishBoth languages equallyWelsh
English only % (n)45.2 (42)21.4 (9)08.8 (3)
More English % (n)34.4 (32)14.3 (6)11.8 (4)
Both equally % (n)06.5 (6)19.0 (8)11.8 (4)
More Welsh % (n)14.0 (13)35.7 (15)41.2 (14)
Welsh only % (n)00.0 (0)09.5 (4)26.5 (9)

In terms of the strength of the relationship, it appears that the use of English in offline social networks is more strongly related to the use of English on Facebook than the use of Welsh in offline social networks is related to the use of Welsh on Facebook. This is a similar pattern to that observed when considering the community language.

It is interesting to note that there are a small number of pupils who use mainly Welsh on Facebook even though in their offline social networks they use English. This may perhaps be reflecting differences in the membership of these pupils online and offline social networks. Nearly a third of those who use more Welsh than English in their offline social networks use mainly English on Facebook. Even of those pupils who use more Welsh than English or Welsh only in their offline social networks, more than 30% use both languages equally on Facebook. This may reflect their concern not to exclude members of their online social network who are not Welsh-speaking – demonstrating one possible effect of audience.

Mae mwy o bobl yn gwybod Saesneg na sy'n gwybod Cymraeg. Tishe pawb i ddeall e.

(More people know English than Welsh. You want everyone to understand it.) [SE2/12-13]

However, the effect of audience is not always straightforward and doesn't necessarily always result in the use of the language that is mostly widely understood by the entire network of friends.

Os ni'n gwybod mai ffrindiau ni, sydd yn yr ysgol, fyddai yn rhoi nodyn bach i nhw achos fi'n gwybod bod nhw yn siarad Cymraeg – oherwydd bod neb arall yn gallu neud e, ni'n teimlo'n fawr i neud e. Fel “Yea, ni'n gallu siarad Cymraeg i ti!” Ti'n teimlo'n reit chuffed bod ti'n gallu neud e.

(If we know our friends, who are in school with us, I'd give them a small note because I know they can speak Welsh - because nobody else can do it we feel big to do it. Like “Yea, I can speak Welsh with you!” You feel quite chuffed that you can do it). [SE1/9-11]

Bilinguals who are effectively fluent in two languages, such as those in this study, have a choice of which language to use. Their language choice appears to be complex and influenced by conscious and possibly subconscious factors.

Yn gyntaf dwi'n gweld os mae nhw yn gallu siarad Cymraeg, os na, dwi'n ysgrifennu'n Saesneg. Ond, fel arfer, dwi'n ysgrifennu'n Saesneg oherwydd ei fod e'n haws, oherwydd Saesneg yw fy iaith gyntaf i.

(Firstly I see if they can speak Welsh, if not, I write in English. But usually I write in English because it's easier, because English is my first language.) [SE2/9-11]

Usually, dwi'n neud o'n pa bynnag iaith dwi'n siarad efo nhw go iawn, ond os dwi isio bod yn sarcastig nai neud o'n Saesneg . . . Mae o'n swnio fwy ffyni yn Saesneg.

(Usually, I'll do it in whichever language I speak with them for real, but if I'm being sarcastic I'll do it in English . . . It sounds funnier in English.) [NW1/9-11]

Os yw nhw fel arfer yn siarad Cymraeg yn y tŷ efo rhieni nhw, fyddai'n ysgrifennu yn Gymraeg i nhw, felly os mae rhieni nhw yn gweld e, mae nhw yn gwybod bod nhw dal yn siarad Cymraeg gyda fi.

(If they usually speak Welsh in their home with their parents, I'll write in Welsh to them, so that if their parents see it, they know that they still speak Welsh with me.) [SE2/9-11]

Thus the choice of language for a particular message may be influenced by the sender, the intended audience and the message itself. While there were characteristics of Facebook which appeared to influence this choice (e.g. all Friends see status updates), it did not appear that Facebook per se was influencing this choice. It seems plausible to suggest that there might be strong similarities between the choice and use of language on Facebook and oral language choice and use offline. However, there may also be some language behaviours that are specific to written environments, such as the use of “text talk” (Jones, 2007).

Language confidence

While the language register used on Facebook tends to be very informal, and attitudes towards spelling and grammar relaxed, it is possible that confidence in writing Welsh and English may have an influence on language behaviour.

The vast majority of pupils (85.8%) were either very confident or fairly confident in writing English. As Table 12 shows, English was the main language used on Facebook, regardless of confidence in writing English.

Table 12. Confidence in writing English and main language used on Facebook
Language used on FacebookConfidence in writing English
Very confidentFairly confidentNeither confident or unconfidentNot very confidentNot confident at all
English % (n)56.4 (44)49.2 (30)60.0 (9)60.0 (3)66.7 (2)
Both equally % (n)24.4 (19)29.5 (18)06.7 (1)20 (1)33.3 (1)
Welsh % (n)19.2 (15)21.3 (13)33.3 (5)20 (1)00.0 (0)

The percentages of those who use English on Facebook and those who use Welsh appear very similar with regards to confidence in writing English (Table 13). This indicates that those pupils who mainly use Welsh on Facebook are not doing so because they lack confidence in their written English.

Table 13. Main language used on Facebook and confidence in writing English
Confidence in writing EnglishLanguage used on Facebook
EnglishBothWelsh
Very confident % (n)50.0 (44)47.5 (19)44.1 (15)
Fairly confident % (n)34.1 (30)45.0 (18)38.2 (13)
Neither confident or unconfident % (n)10.2 (9)02.5 (1)14.7 (5)
Not very confident % (n)03.4 (3)02.5 (1)02.9 (1)
Not confident at all % (n)02.2 (2)02.5 (1)00.0 (0)

The vast majority of pupils (81.0%) were either very confident or fairly confident in writing Welsh. As Table 14 shows, English was the main language used on Facebook, regardless of confidence in writing Welsh. Comparing Tables 12 and 14 shows similarities in terms of the use of language on Facebook, regardless of which language confidence is being examined.

Table 14. Confidence in writing Welsh and main language used on Facebook
Language used on FacebookConfidence in writing Welsh
Very confidentFairly confidentNeither confident or unconfidentNot very confidentNot confident at all
English % (n)45.0 (36)57.3 (35)65.0 (13)100.0 (8)100.0 (5)
Both equally % (n)27.5 (22)23.0 (14)30.0 (6)000.0 (0)000.0 (0)
Welsh % (n)27.5 (22)19.7 (12)05.0 (1)000.0 (0)000.0 (0)

The percentages of those who use English on Facebook and those who use Welsh appear very similar with regards to confidence in writing English (Table 13), but there appear to be some differences when considering confidence in writing Welsh (Table 15). Pupils who use Welsh as their main language on Facebook appear to be slightly more likely to be very confident in writing Welsh. However, this is not to necessarily suggest direct causality; it may be the case that confidence in writing Welsh and the use of Welsh as the main language on Facebook are both influenced by greater exposure to Welsh as the language of the community or the language of the home.

Table 15. Main language used on Facebook and confidence in writing Welsh
Confidence in writing WelshLanguage used on Facebook
EnglishBothWelsh
Very confident % (n)37.1 (36)52.4 (22)62.9 (22)
Fairly confident % (n)36.0 (35)33.3 (14)34.3 (12)
Neither confident or unconfident % (n)13.4 (13)14.3 (6)02.9 (1)
Not very confident % (n)08.2 (8)00.0 (0)00.0 (0)
Not confident at all % (n)05.2 (5)00.0 (0)00.0 (0)

Comparing Table 13 and Table 15, those pupils who use Welsh on Facebook appear more likely to be confident in their written Welsh, than those using English on Facebook are likely to have confidence in their written English. There are no pupils who are unconfident in Welsh who use Welsh on Facebook (Table 15), whereas 5.6% of pupils who use English on Facebook lack confidence in their written English (Table 13). This difference in behaviours relative to confidence suggests that the use of English on Facebook is determined by more than simply confidence in the language. It may be that these pupils have generally weak writing skills, or strong writing skills in another language, and that English is their strongest language. It is possible that audience is an influence, perhaps pupils consider it a more effective communication strategy to write badly in English than well in Welsh on Facebook. Another possibility is that as Welsh is the language of instruction, pupils may consider it more important to write well in Welsh than to write well in English and that this is reflected in their language use on Facebook. While there appears to be a slight relationship between written Welsh language confidence and the use of Welsh on Facebook, there does not appear to be such a relationship for English.

The influence of Facebook

The influence the characteristics of Facebook itself on language behaviour was considered from two aspects. Firstly, whether the language used varied between different Facebook elements. Secondly, whether the availability of a Welsh language interface was having any effect.

A study of the use of Puerto Rican Spanish on MySpace (Carroll, 2008) suggested that language use might vary according to the nature of the text, e.g. profile information versus comments. Further questions in the study therefore examined language use specifically on Facebook status and on personal profile information.

Tables 16 and 17 show the main language used on Facebook against the language used specifically for status updates. There appears to be a relationship, suggesting that typically pupils' general language use on Facebook is the same as the specific language used for status updates. Though as can be seen in Table 16, those pupils who mainly use Welsh on Facebook are less likely to only use Welsh for status updates (19.4%), whereas most pupils who mainly use English, use only English for status updates (54.2%). It should be noted that the language used for status updates forms part of a pupils general language use on Facebook, so there is some degree of overlap between these dimensions that would naturally suggest a relationship. It is curious to note that two pupils, who mainly use English on Facebook, claim to only use Welsh in their status updates. Unfortunately, the current methodology does not allow the veracity of these claims to be investigated, or the reasons to be understood.

Table 16. Main language used on Facebook and language used for Facebook status
Language used on Facebook statusLanguage used on Facebook
EnglishBothWelsh
English only % (n)54.2 (52)10.0 (4)11.1 (4)
More English % (n)28.1 (27)32.5 (13)13.9 (5)
Both equally % (n)11.5 (11)20.0 (8)16.7 (6)
More Welsh % (n)04.2 (4)32.5 (13)41.7 (15)
Welsh only % (n)02.1 (2)05.0 (2)19.4 (7)
Table 17. Language used for Facebook status and main language used on Facebook
Language used on FacebookLanguage used on Facebook status
English onlyMore English than WelshBoth languages equallyMore Welsh than EnglishWelsh only
English % (n)86.7 (52)60.0 (27)44.0 (11)12.5 (4)18.2 (2)
Both % (n)06.7 (4)28.9 (13)32.0 (8)40.6 (13)18.2 (2)
Welsh % (n)06.7 (4)11.1 (5)24.0 (6)46.9 (15)63.6 (7)

Tables 18 and 19 show main language used against language used on Facebook profile. Comparing Table 18 with Table 16 appears to show a broadly similar pattern of a weak relationship. However it is interesting to compare the status and profile data in the English and Welsh only categories. Of those pupils who mainly use English on Facebook, 54.2% use only English for their status updates and 56.3% use only English on their profile, showing little difference. However making the same comparison for pupils who mainly use Welsh on Facebook gives 19.4% for status updates only in Welsh and 38.2% for profile information only in Welsh, almost twice the percentage. Thus it appears that those pupils who mainly use Welsh on Facebook are more likely to use English in status updates than in their profile information.

Table 18. Main language used on Facebook and language used for personal information
Language used on Facebook profileLanguage used on Facebook
EnglishBothWelsh
English only % (n)56.3 (54)31.3 (10)8.8 (3)
More English % (n)28.1 (27)28.1 (9)20.6 (7)
Both equally % (n)11.5 (11)25.0 (8)02.9 (1)
More Welsh % (n)03.1 (3)37.5 (12)29.4 (10)
Welsh only % (n)01.0 (1)09.4 (3)38.2 (13)
Table 19. Language used for personal information and main language used on Facebook
Language used on FacebookLanguage used on Facebook profile
English onlyMore English than WelshBoth languages equallyMore Welsh than EnglishWelsh only
English % (n)80.6 (54)62.8 (27)55.0 (11)12.0 (3)05.9 (1)
Both equally % (n)14.9 (10)20.9 (9)40.0 (8)48.0 (12)17.6 (3)
Welsh % (n)04.5 (3)16.3 (7)05.0 (1)40.0 (10)76.5 (13)

Tables 20 and 21 compare the language of profile information and language of status updates directly. There appears to be a relationship between the two, though once again the correlation for English appears to be stronger, 70.1% of pupils who only use English on their profile also only use English on their status updates, and 77.0% of pupils who only use English on their status updates also only use English on their profile. For Welsh, the figures are 41.2% and 63.6% respectively, again suggesting that Welsh language use in status updates is different to that in profile information.

Table 20. Language used for personal information and language used for Facebook status
Language used on Facebook statusLanguage used on Facebook profile
English onlyMore English than WelshBoth languages equallyMore Welsh than EnglishWelsh only
English only % (n)70.1 (47)23.2 (10)10.0 (2)04.0 (1)05.9 (1)
More English % (n)22.4 (15)60.5 (26)15.0 (3)04.0 (1)00.0 (0)
Both equally % (n)07.5 (5)11.6 (5)50.0 (10)12.0 (3)00.0 (0)
More Welsh % (n)00.0 (0)04.7 (2)20.0 (4)68.0 (17)52.9 (9)
Welsh only % (n)00.0 (0)00.0 (0)05.0 (1)12.0 (3)41.2 (7)
Table 21. Language used for Facebook status and language used for personal information
Language used on Facebook statusLanguage used on Facebook status
English onlyMore English than WelshBoth languages equallyMore Welsh than EnglishWelsh only
English only % (n)77.0 (47)33.3 (15)21.7 (5)00.0 (0)00.0 (0)
More English % (n)16.4 (10)57.8 (26)21.7 (5)06.3 (2)00.0 (0)
Both equally % (n)03.2 (2)06.7 (3)43.5 (10)12.5 (4)09.0 (1)
More Welsh % (n)01.6 (1)02.2 (1)13.0 (3)53.1 (17)27.3 (3)
Welsh only % (n)01.6 (1)00.0 (0)00.0 (0)28.1 (9)63.6 (7)

Even in status updates the effect of audience on language choice can be seen, as status updates are not necessarily directed to the entire online social network. The use of Welsh for status updates to online social networks which included non Welsh speakers did not appear to be viewed as an exclusion of these people, but more as a by-product of the fact that the online social network included multiple offline social networks.

Os ydi o yn rhywbeth i wneud efo gwaith ysgol nai neud o'n Gymraeg, achos mai Cymraeg ydi gwaith ysgol fi. Os ydi o yn rhywbeth i wneud efo mynd allan, nai neud o'n Saesneg, achos Saesneg ydi iaith ffrindiau dwi'n mynd allan efo.

(If it's something to do with school work I'll do it in Welsh, because my school work is in Welsh. If it's something to do with going out, I'll do it in English, because English is the language of my friends that I go out with.) [NW1/12-13]

Os wyt ti eisiau deud rhywbeth, fel, completely open, da chi'n deud o'n Saesneg, achos mae ganddoch chi ffrindiau Saesneg. Ond, os ydych chi'n deud rhywbeth bach, rhywbeth naethoch chi sylwi yn y dydd yna, wedyn da chi'n defnyddio Cymraeg.

(If you say something, like, completely open, you say it in English, because you have English speaking friends. But, if you are saying something small, something you noticed that day, then you will use Welsh.) [NW2/12-13]

As noted previously, the choice of language for a particular message may be influenced by the sender, the intended audience and the message itself. While there is nothing in the data to suggest that Facebook itself is directly influencing language behaviour, there is some evidence to suggest that language behaviour may differ between different Facebook elements, perhaps because they fulfil different communicative functions or are perceived of as being addressed to different audiences. However, this effect of audience may not be as great as might have been anticipated as pupils appear not to treat the audience for status updates, for example, as being homogenous. Rather messages may be addressed to only part of that audience, and it is the language of that part of the audience which influences language choice, even if this excludes some of the wider audience who will receive the message.

Welsh-language interface on Facebook

Since the autumn of 2008, Facebook has been one of a small number of applications which provide a Welsh-language interface and it is the only widely used SNS to do so. Carroll's (2008) study of the use of Puerto Rican Spanish on MySpace observed that the English-language interface lead to the adoption of English terminology, therefore it might be suggested that the availability of an interface in Welsh may help to normalise Welsh-language terminology within Facebook and possibly in the wider domain of IT.

In the focus groups, pupils expressed a variety of views about the Welsh language interface, mostly relating to the style of language used.

Dwi wedi newid o ddwy waith i Gymraeg, ond dwi ddim yn gallu handlo fo . . . roedd na eiriau dwi ddim yn dallt yna, geiriau massive.

(I've changed it to Welsh twice, but I can't handle it . . . there were words that I didn't understand, massive words.) [NW1/9-11]

Mae'n llawn camgymeriadau. Mae nhw yn ceisio Cymreigio rhai o'r geiriau Saesneg, ond ddim yn gwneud ymgais i gael y Gymraeg yn gywir.

(It's full of mistakes. They try to Welshify some English words, without making an effort to see if the Welsh was correct.) [SE2/12-13]

This may be revealing issues of terminology (particularly uncommon terms referring to interface elements), regional dialectal variation and register. Comments such as these perhaps suggest that the effectiveness of crowd-sourced interface translations (and Welsh language interface design more generally) bears further examination. There was little evidence to suggest that the Welsh language interface was a positive influence to use Welsh, but there was also no evidence to suggest that the use of the English language interface was consciously perceived of as a negative influence. As the pupils are bilinguals, the use of English in the interface is unlikely to prove any sort of barrier to use, but it is interesting to speculate whether the existence of a Welsh language interface, or a Welsh language interface that is perceived of as being poor quality, might have an influence on the pupils' perception of the status of Welsh both as a language of IT and more widely.

Conclusions and implications for future work

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The Welsh context
  5. Methodology
  6. Results
  7. Conclusions and implications for future work
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Biographies

It is clear from the data that SNS generally, and Facebook in particular, are playing a significant role in the lives of young Welsh speakers. The extent to which these young speakers use the language on Facebook varies. The data suggests that there are a number of different factors at play, but due to the small sample sizes a rigorous statistical analysis is not possible. However the data indicate that it is necessary to consider language behaviour in online social networks in the context of language use in offline social networks and that in some ways this behaviour is best considered as an extension of language behaviour in offline networks, just through a different medium. The specific medium of Facebook did not seem to directly influence their language behaviour, though there appears to be some indirect influence related to specific Facebook elements, such as status updates.

In common with Fleming and Debski's (2007) study of Irish schoolchildren (aged 10–12 and 16–18), young Welsh speakers appear to see English as the language of the internet. However, their study showed that English was also the language of networked (electronic) communications; among pupils from Irish-medium and Gaeltacht schools more than 60% wrote no emails in Irish; among pupils from Irish-medium schools more than 90% rarely or never sent SMS messages in Irish and the same was true for more than 65% of pupils from Gaeltacht schools. While Fleming and Debski's study did not explicitly consider SNS, it seems plausible that similarly low levels of Irish use might have been observed. In contrast, the use of Welsh online and in electronic communications appears to be normalised to a much greater extent than Irish. Fleming and Debski do note an apparent relationship between the amount of Irish used in face-to-face conversations and in text message based conversations, a similar relationship between offline and online use appears to be true of Welsh.

There are difficulties in making meaningful comparisons with previous studies, largely due to the lack of them, but also because of differences in the methodology, the SNS, or the focus of study within the SNS. The study by Carroll (2008) supports the general finding that the language behaviour of bilinguals within SNS is complex and influenced by a range of factors. His observation that different language behaviours occur in different elements within a SNS (such as the profile, the status updates etc.) is also echoed in the data presented here. A previous study of the use of Welsh on Facebook (Honeycutt & Cunliffe, 2010) found that there were a number of Groups where Welsh was used and that Welsh was also being used on personal profiles. This data, combined with the data presented in this paper shows that Facebook provides an online venue in which Welsh is an everyday language of communication. It is interesting to note that the average declared age of those identified as Welsh speakers in that study was 26.36 and the youngest was 18 (based on a sample of 85 profiles). Given the popularity of Facebook among young Welsh speakers, their apparent relative lack of presence in Facebook Groups might indicate that they are mainly using Facebook to engage with their own social networks rather than to engage with the wider Welsh speaking population in the communal spaces on Facebook.

The initial study presented in this paper suggests a number of relationships and raises a number of questions. Future work needs to address the issue of small sample size in order to facilitate rigorous statistical analysis, in particular to verify and quantify the strength of the relationships which are suggested by the current data. The apparent imbalances in the use of the two languages and the causes of this imbalance need to be investigated. Among the wider questions raised by the data are:

Which websites do young Welsh speakers typically use, which languages are they available in and which languages are they used in?

To what extent is the Welsh IT terminology understood and used by young Welsh speakers?

Which SNS, if any, are used by younger Welsh speakers?

Do patterns of language use change over time (individually; as a population of speakers)?

Are different patterns of language use observed in different SNS and if so, why?

Are there quantifiable effects either in terms of perceived status or use of Welsh, due to the Welsh language having a presence in IT?

The study presented in this paper relies on self reported data, rather than direct observation. Future work could directly examine the actual language behaviour of young Welsh speakers in SNS, coupled with a mapping of the languages of contacts in their online network using traditional social network analysis techniques. While this approach is likely to provide a rich source of data, the methodological and ethical issues require careful consideration.

In addition to validating and exploring the general findings of the present paper, two events in the lives of young people merit particular scrutiny as they potentially involve radical reconfiguration of their offline social networks; moving from primary to secondary school (when some pupils may move from Welsh-medium to English-medium education); and the end of school education (when young people may move into employment or go on to university). Both these events may disconnect young Welsh speakers from their existing offline social networks and the Welsh speakers in those networks. Online social networks may have a role to play in maintaining contact with those Welsh speakers and with the language. The need for a critical mass of Welsh speakers in a social network and the possibility of there being a “tipping point” when the proportion (or number, or importance) of Welsh speakers falls below a threshold and the use of the language diminishes rapidly or ceases all together also needs to be examined. Comparative studies of other minority language contexts may help to shed light on the wider factors influencing language use, such as prestige, official status, or economic benefit.

The study presented in this paper needs to be seen in the broader context of young Welsh speakers experience and practice of using Welsh in IT. This includes the language used to teach the subject in school, the availability of Welsh-language software, and the extent to which IT is discussed in the Welsh-language media. While it was not a particular focus of the current study, it appears that English is perceived to be the language of IT, in terms of the availability of content and services, but also in terms of actual use of IT.

“Dwi ddim yn meddwl bydd e'n syniad da, oherwydd ar ôl i ni adael yr ysgol bydd pob cyfrifiadur ni'n gweld yn y Saesneg. Os i ni'n dysgu sut i wneud pethau yn Cymraeg bydd e'n fwy anodd i wneud pethau yn y Saesneg, oherwydd bydde ni ddim yn deall beth mai geiriau yn dweud.”

([Regarding the use of Welsh language Windows] I don't think it's a good idea, because after we leave school every computer we see will be in English. If we learn how to do things in Welsh it will be more difficult to do things in English, because we wouldn't understand what the words say.) [SE2/9-11]

Mae Wikipedia Saesneg efo fel chwech tudalen ar rhywbeth, a mae'r un Cymraeg efo un paragraff.

(English Wikipedia has six pages on something, the Welsh one has one paragraph.) [SE1/12-13]

Considered against this wider context, it could be suggested that the use of Welsh on Facebook, limited as it is, is a relative success story for the language.

Mae ganddoch chi grwpiau Cymraeg, a ti'n cael dy annog i siarad Cymraeg wedyn dwyt. Mae yna lot mwy o bobl Cymraeg arna fo dwi'n meddwl.

(You have Welsh groups, so you are encouraged to speak Welsh. I think there are a lot more Welsh people on it.) [NW2/12-13]

Mae ein Facebook ni yn ddarn Cymraeg o'r rhyngrwyd, lle mae'n ffrindiau ni yn siarad Cymraeg.

(Our Facebook is a Welsh section of the Internet, where our friends speak Welsh.) [NW1/12-13]

However, it could also be argued that this is yet another example of the language being restricted to the social domain and perhaps failing to establish itself across the wide variety of domains supported by IT.

I siarad efo pobl dwi'n nabod, dwi'n siarad Cymraeg o hyd, ond Saesneg ydi bob dim arall.

([Regarding the language of the web] To speak with people I know, I speak Welsh all the time, but everything else is English.) [NW1/9-11]

Many of the challenges facing the use of Welsh in IT are the same as those facing the use of Welsh generally. Fundamental challenges still exist in providing opportunities and incentives for young Welsh speakers to continue using Welsh both outside school and when they leave school, and to foster a sense of ownership of the language among those who do not come from Welsh-speaking families or communities.

Does yna ddim byd yn stopio ni rhag defnyddio'r Gymraeg ar y we, ni just yn ddiog. Ni'n methu bod yn bothered i siarad Cymraeg.

(There isn't anything stopping us from using Welsh on the web, we're just lazy. We can't be bothered to speak Welsh.) [SE1/12-13]

Perhaps the most potent force for change would be the desire among young people for online content and services in Welsh. Heightened desire and expectation leading to increased demand could broaden the range of online domains in which Welsh can be used. Unless the expectations of young Welsh speakers with regards to the role of Welsh in IT can be raised it is difficult to see how their future use of Welsh in IT can ever extend much beyond the social domain.

Acknowledgements

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The Welsh context
  5. Methodology
  6. Results
  7. Conclusions and implications for future work
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Biographies

This research was funded by the University of Wales' Board of Celtic Studies, and the authors are grateful for their support.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The Welsh context
  5. Methodology
  6. Results
  7. Conclusions and implications for future work
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Biographies
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Biographies

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. The Welsh context
  5. Methodology
  6. Results
  7. Conclusions and implications for future work
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Biographies
  • Daniel Cunliffe is a Reader in the Faculty of Advanced Technology at the University of Glamorgan where he leads the Computing and Minority Languages Group. His research explores the relationship between Information Technology and minority language maintenance and revitalisation.

    Address: Department of Computing and Mathematical Sciences, Faculty of Advanced Technology, University of Glamorgan, Pontypridd, CF37 1DL, Wales, UK. Email: djcunlif@glam.ac.uk

  • Delyth Morris retired in 2011 having previously held a post as Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy in the School of Social Sciences, Bangor University. Her main research interests are the sociology of the Welsh language.

  • Cynog Prys is a Welsh medium Lecturer in Sociology in the School of Social Sciences at Bangor University. His research interests include the sociology of language, language policy and planning, and the community use of Welsh.

    Address: School of Social Sciences, Bangor University, Bangor, Gwynedd, LL57 2DG, Wales, UK. Email: c.prys@bangor.ac.uk