The Linguist

The Linguist 54,2

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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22 The Linguist Vol/54 No/2 2015 FEATURES Sarah Cartwright looks at the unique way in which languages are used on the social media site, and the intriguing prevalence of translanguaging M any CIOL members will see switching from one language to another as an intellectual activity, involving reflection on meaning and cross-checking in dictionaries. However, there is a multilingual space, namely Facebook, where such language changes are a leisure activity – fun, fast and creative. The bilingual pun 'Herzliche wotsits on your bidet' is a good example, expressing 'warm wishes on your birthday' ('wotsits' evoking 'wishes' by alliteration and 'bidet' serving as a homonym for 'b'day'). Mark Zuckerman and friends launched Facebook at Harvard University in February 2004; by 2007 it had 30 million users and by June 2014 it had 1.3 billion. Statistics on the different languages used on the social media site reveal some unexpected rankings (see box, right), but English continues to dominate. In October, I conducted a 10-day exploratory study about language use and choice on Facebook through a survey on the site. 1 The age profile of respondents was wide: 31% were aged 30-39; 18% 40-49; 9% 50-59; 6% 60-69; 6% 20-29; and 2% over 70. Unfortunately, gender was less balanced, with 80 female respondents out of a total of 98. My Facebook community is languages rich, comprising users who generally possess a high level of knowledge about language. When asked when and why they mix languages within the same status post, one respondent answered, 'To express myself more freely. To legitimise translanguaging,' revealing her academic credentials in the field. In response to the question 'What is your mother tongue?', 21 languages were named: English (30), Greek (17), French (9), Basque (7), Spanish (7), Dutch (5), German (4), Bengali (2), Italian (2), Slovenian (2), Tamil (2), American English (1), Arabic (1), Bulgarian (1), Cantonese (1), Czech (1), Guere (1), Hokkien (1), Hungarian (1), Japanese (1), Portuguese (1), Punjabi (1), Swedish (1) and Welsh (1). Clusters of speakers of Basque, Dutch and Greek were created by respondents reposting the survey. Language choice Even though only 31% of respondents claim English as a mother tongue, an astonishing 93% choose to use the language on Facebook. Here is a typical comment: 'I never use Punjabi in posts. Or maybe rarely in private messages.' Questions were a mixture of closed Yes/No responses and open-ended requests for clarification and illustrations. One respondent commented, 'I have noticed that, for example, some of my French friends do write their posts in English sometimes even if they live in France and that [sic] most of their friends are French.' Indeed, of the nine respondents who have French as a mother tongue, five use only English on Facebook; one uses more English than French; one uses French and English equally; and just one uses more French than English. As for the ninth, he explains, 'French is my mother tongue but I barely use it on Facebook… I made Breton ma main language now.' The use of the feminine French possessive adjective ma in lieu of 'my' is interesting here, as is the decision to adopt a minority language over both French and English – major world languages. Another male respondent, a speaker of Dioula, Baoulé, Spanish, French and English, Facebook wossup?

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