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Cambridge University Linguists Tap Into Twitter To Study Welsh Language

Oh, those University of Cambridge professors.

First, they perform live Twitter experiments, showing how the interconnectivity of hashtags in tweets is just like the human brain network.

Now, they’ve published research that taps into Twitter to study how the usage of one of the U.K.’s Celtic languages, Welsh, is changing.

Welsh is only spoken by around a sixth of the population of Wales — 562,000 people — but enough of them tweet in Welsh to provide the Cambridge researchers with a database of source material.

But why turn to Twitter in the first place for a linguistic study?

As the University of Cambridge explains, since tweets don’t follow the conventions of written language, they provide an authentic snapshot of spoken language.

Dr. David Willis from Cambridge’s Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics told the university’s blog,

“If I want to find out whether a particular construction is emerging, and where the people who use it come from, I would normally have to conduct a time-consuming pilot study, but with Twitter I can get a rough and ready answer in 30 minutes as people tweet much as they speak.”

His long-term research aim is to “produce a syntactic atlas of Welsh dialects that will add to our understanding of current usage of the language and the multi-stranded influences on it.” Twitter was the perfect starting point for his gathering of spoken material.

Subsequently, he applied the gleaned data to questionnaires he used in oral interviews with Welsh speakers.

The major insight: while the Welsh language doesn’t vary much by social class, there are interesting differences between the variety spoken by those who learn it as their first language in the home and the dialect spoken by those first exposed to it in school. A key implication of the research could be an adjustment of Welsh teaching policy.

Pretty cool that Twitter could directly impact a country’s better language teaching policy!

For examples of some of the Welsh tweets, head over to TechCrunch.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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