Cambridge University linguists are studying the changes occurring in the Welsh language by analysing the content of several Tweets. Twitter is being used as a tool through which linguists can have access to everyday speech, unaffected by any formal rules of writing. Tweets tend to be written in the same way people speak and these productions are then used as a ground from which they will develop further questionnaires for additional field work. The aim of the investigation is to better understand current usage of the language and the way this is influenced by various external factors, as well as creating an atlas which identifies the different Welsh dialects.
WHY CHOOSE TWITTER?
Linguists generally strive to make objective, unbiased questions that would not unconsciously affect the result of their investigation. Dr David Willis, a member of Cambridge’s Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, explained that what they found in Twitter are answers which provide the material that they need to study without any intervention on the part of the researchers. This material was found to be written using a dynamic language which is currently playing out in real time.
IMPLICATIONS OF STUDYING THE LANGUAGE
Welsh is a Celtic language with around 562,000 speakers. Out of the total number of children in Wales, 8 percent of them have learnt Welsh at home, while 22 percent have learnt it at school. The results of recent studies have shown that, although the Welsh language does not vary according to social class much, there is a difference between these two percentages of children: those who have learnt Welsh at home tend to use English sentence constructions less than those children who have learnt Welsh at school. This shows that those who regard Welsh as their mother tongue have a greater ability to separate themselves from English language structures. The importance of these conclusions lie on the fact that they can be used to modify or adjust teaching policies so as to foster a better acquisition of the language or highlight the difference between formal and slang versions of it.
These results were found through a research strategy based on interviews where linguists deliberately presented odd sentences to Welsh speakers and then asked them to rephrase so as to make them sound more natural. The results were used to map interviewees’ origins and correlate that information with the syntax used by each one of them.