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Page last updated at 13:23 GMT, Friday, 8 April 2011 14:23 UK

Micro-blogging in a mother tongue on Twitter

A Maori woman performs
Perhaps not your usual micro-blogger, but Maori is one of the 68 minority languages tracked by IndigenousTweets.com

By Dave Lee

Modern technology is often blamed for homogenising our ever-shrinking world, particularly when it comes to traditional local cultures and customs.

Minority and endangered languages are especially vulnerable, but one ingenious site is working hard to track indigenous tweets.

Indigenoustweets.com logs tweeters in 68 languages across the world.

I view things like Twitter and social media as an opportunity for smaller languages
Professor Kevin Scannell

Using a custom-built database of words and phrases, it establishes which tweeters embrace their mother tongue most often - and then helps speakers get in touch with each other.

The site is the work of Kevin Scannell, a professor of Computer Science at St. Louis University in the United States.

He told Click on the BBC World Service that he was surprised to find so many native speakers on the predominantly English service.

"I was shocked that there are almost 1000 people tweeting in Irish.

"There are just over 3000 people tweeting in Basque. The numbers keep growing.

"I'm amazed that we've turned up tweets in 68 languages so far - that's up from just 35 when we launched."

Mother tongue

Those languages include Kreyòl ayisyen - spoken by some 12 million people, mostly in Haiti. The site has logged 6,878 Twitter users using the language to communicate.

At the other end of the scale is Gamilaaray - a tiny language considered nearly extinct and spoken in a small part of New South Wales, Australia. Only one user has been logged as using this language on Twitter.

A screenshot of IndigenousTweets.com
The site lists users who tweet in the language most frequently

But Mr Scannell said that the site is all about encouraging minority language speakers to discover each other online.

"People who want to reach that larger audience, they sometimes choose to tweet in English, or French, a more global language.

"But then a lot of people want to be connecting with their friends and family, and that's a big reason a lot of people use Twitter.

"In that case, they'll choose to tweet in their mother tongue."

The site is specially designed to not only highlight language use on Twitter, but also to connect users who want to interact with other speakers who they may have not been aware of.

"The site's very simple," continues Mr Scannell. "You find your language, you click on it, and it takes you to a table of all the people that are tweeting in your language.

"It gives them statistics on the percentage of time they tweet in [for example] Welsh vs some other language, tells you how many followers they have and shows you a little picture so you can decide who you want to follow from there."

It also lists trending topics for users speaking in each language.

Language opportunity

The site is built using Twitter's renowned API, a kit of parts that allows people like Mr Scannell to use the service in ways that were not previously imagined by Twitter's development team.

Top Five
The most tweeted minority languages according to IndigenousTweets.com
Kreyòl Ayisyen (Haiti) - 6878 users
Euskara (Basque Country) - 3788
Cymraeg (Wales) - 2613
Frysk (Netherlands) - 1883
Setswana (Southern Africa) - 314

IndigenousTweets.com finds its content by scraping Twitter for words it recognises from a database of languages.

"The base data comes from webpages," explained Mr Scannell.

"I have a bunch of data for about five hundred languages - for about eight years I've been gathering data in these 500 languages from blogs and news articles and webpages."

With the help of the site's community, he is adding more languages all the time.

"A lot of people look, with some trepidation, at technology and things like machine translation, and social networking because they feel like it's going to promote global languages and American culture and English language culture.

"I view things like Twitter and social media as an opportunity for smaller languages. A site like Indigenous Tweets is a good example of a website that allows people to connect and communicate and use their language in a natural way online."

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