Learning from the best – Media

10 Case Studies of Minority Language Broadcasters’

Innovative Uses of Media by Dr Mike Cormack


These ten case studies have been chosen to illustrate how minority language broadcasters are developing new ideas to bring their languages before the media audience in order to help maintenance and development of these languages. As new technology has multiplied media outlets (through social networks, blogs, microblogs, video-hosting sites, etc) the problem facing minority language activists is no longer scarcity of outlets as it once was, but rather how to use these multiple outlets along with more traditional media in order to benefit most effectively their language community.

It must be pointed out, however, that there is a certain ambiguity about terms such as minority language, indigenous language and lesser-used language. Each of these terms means something slightly different from the others. There are many broadcasters, for example, who describe themselves as indigenous broadcasters who in fact use a dominant language such as English to broadcast material about indigenous peoples or use it to broadcast to groups of different indigenous peoples (the World Indigenous Television Broadcasters’ Network, for example, includes examples of both of these). In the brief case studies which follow, the languages chosen are minority languages. That is, they are languages which are spoken by a minority of people in a particular state—and usually also by a minority within a region of the state—which are not majority languages in other countries where they might have media support (as is the case with most migrant languages, for example).

Although the original intention in this project was to identify examples of best practice, that is something that is very difficult to do, if best practice is to be indentified by results, that is, by how strong an effect the media output has had on language maintenance. Assessment of language survival and development can only be long-term, and media consumption takes place within a multi-factorial context in which it is particularly difficult to isolate one factor, such as a television programme. Instead then, these examples are chosen as ways of using the media which have been seen as successful by their originators and so which may well be useful in other contexts.

This, however, raises the issue of comparison. Since minority languages are defined in opposition to majority languages, it is easy to forget how different minority situations can be from each other. If we do not understand these differences then it is likely that the lessons which might be learnt from one context will be misapplied when used in a very different context. Accordingly each example is preceded by a short contextualising note, giving an account of the situation of the language concerned.

The case studies

These have been loosely arranged by first considering ways of supporting language learning, then types of programming, and finally ways of building up audiences, although clearly the three categories greatly overlap. The choices have been limited mainly by the availability of information in English.

In each case the context has been structured to lead to a particular problem, to which the example of media use is the answer.

As a general introductory point, it is worth noting that, like other broadcasters, virtually all minority language broadcasters are now using such platforms as Facebook and Twitter. In addition, a very large number of minority languages are appearing on YouTube, often in the series of videos which YouTube describes as channels.

Interactive TV in Hawaiian

The context: Hawaiian is spoken in the Hawaiian islands in the North Pacific, and is related to the Polynesian languages of the South Pacific.

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries Hawaiian almost died out and, indeed, of the seven permanently inhabited islands in the State of Hawaii, Hawaiian has survived continuously as the first language in only one (Niihau, the smallest of the seven).Since 1978, however, Hawaiian has been an official language in the state and language maintenance and development measures taken since then have proved successful, particularly since the establishment of pre-school units in 1984. In the US Census of 2010, the number of native speakers of Hawaiian was just over 24,000 (the overall population of the state is just under 1,400,000).

The problem

The problem here is a simple one: a small number of speakers are spread out over a group of islands. These people are citizens of the USA and so are used to an advanced level of media provision. How can the Hawaiian language position itself in such a television environment

The answer

In 2009 ‘Ōiwi TV, in partnership with Oceanic Time Warner Cable, the Kamehameha Schools (a private chain of schools aimed at native Hawaiians and including the teaching of Hawaiian) and the ‘Aha Pūnana Leo (private Hawaiian-language immersion schools), created a native Hawaiian television station. It is available on Warner Cable in the area as Channel 326 and also available on the Internet. It uses CloudTV technology to allow for interactive programming.

The CloudTV technology enables ʻŌiwi TV to deliver interactive content to television screens in a way that is positioned with the shifting trends in how people consume content, instantly and on-demand. Viewers expect real-time access to the programming they want to watch, when they want to watch it, and ʻŌiwi TV delivers exactly that. (From the ‘Ōiwi TV website).

Features of the channel include a simple visual navigation pane, an interactive news feed, a Twitter feed, and multispeed video controls. The channel is currently reaching 220,000 homes within the state of Hawaii. Information on the channel can be found atwww.oiwi.tv/aboutus/ and examples of programming can be found atwww.oiwi.tv/live/

The importance of this use of interactivity is not just the obvious educational point of what it allows for in terms of language learning activity, but also in the way in which it keeps Hawaiian in the forefront of media developments. Television itself has been seen in the past as a vital way of showing that minority languages can keep up with the times. Interactive television does this in the 21st Century.

Giving Welsh learners a boost

The context: The Welsh-language community is one of the better-established European minority language communities.

The 2011 UK Census recorded 562,000 speakers of the language, 19% of the population of Wales. Of these, 431,000 had full language skills, that is, they could speak, read and write Welsh. The native-speakers of the language are concentrated in the northwest of the country. It has also been estimated that there are more than 100,000 Welsh speakers living in England. The language is protected by legislation, the first Welsh Language Act dating from 1967. The most recent legislation, the Act of 2011, has made Welsh an official language in Wales, has given it full parity with English, and established a Welsh Language Commissioner to protect the language. Welsh is now an accepted part of both the educational and the local government systems.

Television broadcasting in Welsh is also well-established with S4C one of the earliest minority-language television channels in Europe, having started in 1982. Although originally the channel included English-language programmes during the day, since it has converted to digital (available terrestrially and by satellite), it is in Welsh only. S4C is funded principally from the government. Formerly this was by a direct grant but tt is currently in the process of changing to receiving its funding via the BBC.

The problem

In a context in which the language is well-established in the school and pre-school systems, there remains the question of adult learners, particularly since knowledge of Welsh is needed for many posts in local government.

The answer

S4C has developed the programme Hwb (meaning a nudge or a boost) and its attendant media to cater for these learners. The programme itself is a standard 30 minute weekly series, but in addition to this it uses add-on media with Facebook and Twitter communities and its own YouTube channel, HwbTV (http://youtube.com/hwbtv). Past programmes can also found be on Clic, S4C’s video-on-demand service. Language learning material is also available as downloadable PDF files. With information appearing on the website about local activities as well, Hwb has created a real sense of a learners’ community (as is clear from users’ comments). The importance of these ways of reaching the adult learners audience should not be underestimated. The traditional idea of a weekly programme, accompanied by reading material, simply does not match the requirements of today’s learners. By using different platforms to make the material available and by linking learners as much as possible, Hwb has updated the whole process of adult language learning.

Language learning on Māori Television

The context: In New Zealand Māori is the only Aboriginal language.

It is an Eastern Polynesian language, related to several others spoken on South Pacific islands. In the 2006 New Zealand Census 131,613 people said they could conduct some conversation in Māori, although the number of completely fluent speakers is believed to be much less (it had been estimated at 29,000 in 1996). The areas in which the language is strongest as the language of the community are all in the northern half of North Island. The movement to maintain the language began to emerge in the late 1970s and has been followed by the gradual development of government-funded education in Māori throughout the school system. Since 1987 it has been one of the official languages of New Zealand.

In 2004 Māori Television was started, mainly funded by the government, but with some advertising income as well. It broadcasts in both English and Māori. In 2012 just over half of the broadcast output was in Māori. The station’s aim is to promote Māori culture as well as the language itself, and much of its output is in English, or at least has English subtitles. In 2008 a second channel was begun, Te Reo, broadcasting only in Māori, and without using subtitles (or advertising). It is aimed principally at the fluent Māori audience. Both channels are available on satellite and on terrestrial digital.

The problem

A problem faced by many minority language communities is how to maximise the effect of language learning programmes, rather than simply burying them in the schedules.

The answer

To deal with this, Māori Television has taken a step beyond other stations. Each day, there is a five-hour block of language learning programmes, from 10 am to 3 pm. These are broadcast on Māori Television’s first channel. Three series are used. The simplest level is Kōrero Mai, using drama to introduce the language. The second level is Tōku Reo, a more involved language learning programme, using an interactive website. The third level is Ako, a programme for intermediate speakers. The individual elements here will be familiar to any language teacher using television. The comprehensiveness of the Māori service makes it unusual. All programmes are 30 minutes long, with four of the first two series appearing each day, and two of Ako. This gives both an intensity and a certainty of coverage which can only have a good impact. It is also likely that the programmes have a certain amount of “spill”, with viewers at one level more likely to watch at other levels when the programmes are blocked in this way. As well as the use of an interactive website to support Tōku Reo, the programmes in Ako can be viewed online (http://www.maoritelevision.com/tv/shows/ako).

Using different dialects in Taiwan

The context: Although the aboriginal Taiwanese spoke several Austronesian languages, currently Mandarin is the dominant language in Taiwan (the Republic of China), with various other forms of Chinese being spoken by significant groups.

Taiwanese Hokkien (sometimes known simply as Taiwanese) is spoken by 70% of the population. It is one of a language group spoken on the Chinese mainland closest to Taiwan. The next most popular language is Hakka, spoken by 4.6 million people (out of a total Taiwan population of 23 million). Hakka is another language from mainland China, whose main area is south of the Hokkien area. The remainder of the Taiwan population speak other Chinese languages with only a very small number speaking the aboriginal languages. The different forms of Chinese, such as Mandarin, Hokkien and Hakka, are not mutally intelligible. Within Hakka itself, there are significantly different dialects. These are spread throughout Taiwan and are due to different migrations of peoples in the past from different areas of Hakka-speaking mainland China. Since the 1990s there has been a change of official attitude in favour of non-Mandarin languages and dialects and something of a revival of their use in public life has occurred. In 2012 Hakka was made one of the official languages of Taiwan. The government-owned Taiwan Broadcasting System (TBS) started Hakka TV in 2003. This channel competes with five free national channels using Mandarin and Taiwanese, and several popular cable channels.

The problem

The problem facing Hakka language speakers is that, despite having by most standards a large number of speakers, within its own community there are different dialects spread across Taiwan. How can a television channel be used so as not to alienate these different dialect communities?

The answer

The answer for Hakka TV has been to systematically use each of the five main dialects. Two of these have been predominant but the other three are also now used regularly during each day’s broadcast. By 2011, these special programmes (338 hours in the year in total) devoted 23.1% of their time to each of three of the dialects and 15.4% to each of the other two. Hakka TV’s Annual Report for 2011 noted that “Our goal is to broadcast a balanced proportion of each dialect.” In 2012 these programmes included the 168 episodes of the language-learning series “Hi Hak!” in the two accents of the Sixian dialect of Hakka (Northern Sixian and Southern Sixian are geographically far apart from each other). Many minority language communities are faced with the problem of how to deal with different dialects. Hakka TV has been systematic in its approach to this, making sure that no significant dialect community is neglected and so maximising the overall minority language community.

Sami news across three countries

The context: The Sami languages are spread out across the north of Scandinavia, from Norway over to the Kola Peninsula in the extreme northwest of Russia.

The Sami group consists of a number of related languages, each with its own dialects. Today the strongest language in the group is Northern Sami with about 15,000 speakers spread around the area where Northern Norway meets Northern Sweden and Northern Finland. Lule Sami, with less than 2,000 speakers is spoken further south in Norway and Sweden. Other Sami languages and dialects are spoken by groups of a few hundreds further south in Norway and Sweden and further east in Russia. Sami now has official recognition in Norway, Sweden and Finland. Although having no legal status in Russia, it is now taught at Murmansk University. Many traditional Sami live in small communities within the Arctic Circle, where reindeer herding is still the predominant occupation. However many others are now living in towns and cities.

The problem

The problem faced by the Sami language is one of frontiers. Although more Sami-speakers live in Norway than in any other country, there are significant numbers in Sweden, with a smaller number in Finland and a few in Russia. How can media be used most effectively to link these communities—particularly when we remember that although Norwegian and Swedish are closely related to each other, Finnish and Russian are from completely different language groups, and none of these languages has any links to Sami?

The answer

Oððasat is the Scandinavian broadcasters’ answer to this problem. It marks the attempt to link these scattered communities. By satellite link, a weekday 15 minute news broadcast in Northern Sami is broadcast. Each of the three Scandinavian public broadcasters—NRK in Norway, SVT in Sweden and YLE in Finland—supports this service, each providing subtitles in its own principal language. The provision of a daily 15 minute news programme is not, of course, in itself remarkable. It is the way in which the three national broadcasters have come together that makes this significant. The provision of subtitles in each of the three Scandinavian languages is also important in that each of the countries includes significant numbers of people who regard themselves as Sami but are not fluent in the language, or are fluent in versions of Sami that are significantly different from northern Sami. The programme is simultaneously appealing to a series of different audiences, with different language skills in a variety of languages and dialects, and living in very different situation—different countries and different contexts within these countries. The programmes are also available online. For SVT’s version, see www.svtplay.se/oddasat.

Broadcasting for multiple minorities in Australia

The context: The situation of aboriginal languages in Australia is complex. It has been estimated that when the first Europeans arrived there in the eighteenth century there were between 350 and 750 different languages spoken on the continent.

According to Ethnologue, currently 145 remain, 110 of which are classed as severely or critically endangered. In only a few of them are there children learning the language in the home. Even the larger groups are small. The most-used languages, such as Warlpiri, Pitjantjatjara and Eastern Arrentre, have each between 2,000 and 3,000 speakers. Most of the Australian aboriginal languages are spoken by far smaller groups. These linguistic facts are aggravated by socio-economic ones. Typically the Aborigines who still speak these languages still live in remote areas and suffer from multiple deprivation. Many are illiterate. Many cannot speak English (80% of the 2,660 speakers of Pijantjatjara are monolingual). Even within the Aboriginal community, only 12% speak any Aboriginal language in the home, making these languages minority languages even within the minority communities. Broadcasting specifically for the Aboriginal communities began with the establishment, with government funding, of the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA) in 1980. This was originally a public radio service (using English and six indigenous languages). In 1988 the private satellite television station Imparja was established by CAAMA, based in Alice Springs and with a footprint covering the central Australian area. In 2007 a government-funded satellite television station, National Indigenous Television (NITV) was launched. This was reorganised and relaunched in December 2012 and is now also available on digital terrestrial television.

The problem

The problem in Australia has been how to cater for different, small and remote language groups, without simply falling back on English.

The answer

The one programme in indigenous languages on NITV is Nganampa Anwernekenhe. The title itself indicates its mixed language approach in that the two words mean “Ours” in the Pitjantjatjara and Arrentre languages. The programme is a documentary series (which has now broadcast over 180 episodes) featuring Aboriginal culture and which uses various Aboriginal languages, with English subtitles (see www.nitv.org.au/fx-program.cfm?pid). The programme describes itself as the only programme in Aboriginal languages that is produced by Aboriginal people for Aboriginal people. Many of the programmes use Aboriginal-based techniques in their narration so as not to give the impression that the programmes are simply a window for non-Aborigines to view aspects of Aboriginal culture. Although based in a very different situation from that of the European minority languages, the series does suggest interesting ways of combining different languages in a single television service.

Mulitlingual drama from Wales

The context: The Welsh context was given in example 2. Here it is worth commenting on the specific issue of television drama.

This is typically both the most expensive and the most popular kind of television programming, which makes it particularly problematic for under-financed minority language television producers. In addition to this, when we think of the three broad categories of TV drama—continuing series in domestic settings (soap operas), single films, and the standard drama series usually with each different story in one to three episodes—the problems become more stark. Many minority language broadcasters are able to afford the comparatively cheap format of the soap opera, and many have also been able to invest in one-off films which can usually have some sort of life in other markets. S4C has made well-known examples in both categories—the soap opera Pobol y Cwm (which started on a BBC channel in 1974, transferred to S4C in 1982, and is still going strong) and the 1994 film Hedd Wyn which was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Academy Award. However the format which gathers most attention on conventional televsion, the serious episodic drama, is much more difficult. It needs higher financing (in cost per hour terms) than a soap opera needs, but the possibility of selling one made in a minority language in other markets is weaker than in the case of a single film drama.

The problem

The problem, then, is how to fund a high quality television drama series in a minority community. If this can be done, then the prospect of selling programming to other countries emerges as a bonus.

The answer

S4C has answered this problem by commissioning a drama series in both Welsh and English: not the two combined, but one version in each language. Y Gwyll, given the English title of Hinterland (the Welsh title means The Darkness), was made by Fiction Factory, a Cardiff-based production company, for S4C with the involvement of BBC Cymru. The first series consisted of four 2-hour episodes and was broadcast on S4C in October 2013. The original broadcast was in two forms. Each week the first episode would be shown first in Welsh, with no subtitles, then a few days later in Welsh with English subtitles. Several months later (January 2014), this subtitled version was broadcast on BBC One Wales. The English-language version is due to appear on BBC Four later in 2014. Y Gwyll is a detective series based in Aberystwyth and was clearly influenced by the “Scandinavian noir” style of drama. Indeed, the Danish broadcasters of one of these—The Killing—have already bought the series. By making the series in both languages, the Welsh-speaking audience gets more expensive drama than would otherwise be possible, but non-Welsh English-speaking audiences (whether in the UK or elsewhere) get a version without subtitles. Information on Y Gwyll can be found atwww.s4c.co.uk/ygwyll/e_index.shtml.

Programming for teenagers in the Arctic

The context: Inuit languages are spoken across the North American Arctic regions, from Greenland to Alaska.

The main one spoken within Canada is Inuktitut. The 2011 Canadian census put the number of speakers at around 34,000. It is an official language in Nunavut (the Canadian Artic territory which was separated off from the Northwest Territories in 1999) and in the Northwest Territories, as well as having some legal recognition in neighbouring parts of Quebec and Labrador. These Inuit areas are typified by being very large regions with an extremely low population density. Nunavut, for example, covers an area of 787,000 square miles and has a total population of just under 32,000, a population density of 0.04 persons per square mile.

The main broadcaster who targets the Inuit audience is the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation (IBC), which was created in 1982. Initially IBC programmes were broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) on their Northern Service, suffering the usual minority language problems such as being broadcast late at night. However with the launch in 1992 of Television Northern Canada (TVNC), a satellite network, IBC programmes were no longer dependent on CBC. In 1999 TVNC became the Aboriginal People’s Television Network (APTN), with its channels available throughout Canada. Although famous as the first television channel catering specifically for indigenous peoples, most of APTN’s output is in English. It does, however, carry IBC’s programmes.

The problem

Capturing the teenage audience is a particular problem for many minority language broadcasters. Younger children have been seen as more of a captive audience (at least until recently) and ways of creating content for them are fairly well understood. With the teenage audience, however, the solution is not so clear and international cultural forms (in music, film, websites, etc) are often seen as this audience’s concern. Yet minority languages must keep contact with these young people if their interest in the language and culture is to be defended against the onslaught of international media formats.

The answer

IBC has created the programme Qanurli? (meaning “What next?”), aimed at the 13–15 age group. It successfully avoids both being too obviously made for children and also being too obviously a “young adult” programme. It does this by using a laid-back presentation style, with presenters seeming to be talking to their friends, rather than to younger people. An added problem for such programmes is that budgets are likely to be minimal. Qanurli is clearly a very cheaply made programme but yet manages to use this to its advantage, as can be seen in the episodes available online (with English subtitles) at http://aptn.ca/qanurli/. It is also available on YouTube.

Developing grassroots television skills in Gaelic

The context: According to the 2011 UK Census, there were 57,602 speakers of Scottish Gaelic resident in Scotland, although only around 32,000 said they had the skills to speak, read and write the language.

Although the overall number was a slight decrease from the 2001 Census, the figures seem to be stabilising. Since the 1980s Gaelic-medium education has been developing, with many pre-school and primary schools using the language, and there is even some secondary school provision now. The language has a certain amount of official recognition since the Gaelic Language Act of 2005. The Gaelic community is spread out throughout the country. Although the traditional heartlands are in the island communities (Lewis, Harris, Uist, Barra, Skye) and the adjacent west coast, there are many speakers in the cities of the Scottish Lowlands, particularly in Glasgow. Indeed, according to the Census almost 49% of Gaelic-speakers live outside the Highlands and Islands.

Although a few Gaelic programmes had been broadcast in earlier years, regular Gaelic television was established in 1993, with the Gaelic Television Committee, although this only amounted to a few hours each week broadcast on predominantly English-language channels. In 2008 the television channel, BBC ALBA, began, broadcasting from 5 pm until late evening. BBC ALBA is run jointly by BBC Scotland and MG Alba (the successor organisation to the Gaelic Television Committee). Much of the channel’s output has English subtitles.

The problem

One problem facing any minority language community as it seeks to expand its television production base is lack of trained personnel. There are of course formal ways of dealing with this through training schemes and media education. However these will be limited to people who have made the choice, and have the time, to go into formal classes. How can a larger pool of people be tapped?

The answer

FilmG was set up by MG Alba in 2009 as a way of developing and showcasing new television and film-making talent in Gaelic. It takes the form of an annual short film (3–5 minutes) competition, with separate categories for young people (aged 12–17) and adults. The submitted videos are viewed by the public at large via the FilmG website and voted on. All the submissions since 2009 are kept available on the website (http://filmg.co.uk/en/films/filmg2013). Both language support and technical support are made available, including workshops in schools and master classes. Not only has this awakened film-making interest but it has also helped to develop the general Gaelic audience’s awareness of media production.

Phone apps in Basque

The context: Basque (Euskara), unrelated to any other known language, is currently spoken by around 714,000 people, most of whom are in Northern Spain but 51,000 of whom are in Southwest France.

In Spain, the majority live in the Autunomous Community of the Basque Country, although there are also some in the adjacent parts of Navarre. Since 1978 Basque has been an official language (along with Spanish) in the Basque Country and in the northern areas of Navarre. The language has no official status in France. A survey in 2006 found that in the Basque Country 30.1% were fluent Basque speakers, 18.3% could understand the language to some extent but not speak it, and the remaining 51.5% had no abilities in the language at all. In the French Basque Country only 22.5% were fluent speakers. In Navarre (as a whole) 11.1% were fluent speakers. Since 2006 there has been a small increase in the numbers of Basque speakers within the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country. Linguists normally distinguish five main dialects of the language, two of which are spoken in France and one in Navarre, leaving the main Basque area to the two main dialects, Bizkaian and Gipuzkoan. In the 1960s a standard form of the language—Euskara Batua—was created, transcending the different dialects.

Since 1982, the main broadcaster in the Basque Country has been Euskal Irrati Telebista (EITB), which includes the television company Euskal Telebista (ETB). Of its two principal television channels, only ETB1 broadcasts in Basque, ETB2 using Spanish. ETB3 is a digital children’s channel, using Basque. ETB also broadcasts two international channels which use both Spanish and Basque—ETB Sat and Canal Vasco. ETB was originally distributed by satellite but since May 2013 has become an Internet-only channel. EITB is funded principally by the government of the Basque Autonomous Community.

The problem

Apps for use on mobile phones, to facilitate smartphone and tablet access to the Internet, have become increasingly common in the last five years. The problem is how these can best be used to help minority languages.

The answer

EITB has created a phone app that is distinguished by its comprehensiveness. The app gives access to a wide range of EITB output: news headlines, sports news, videos of television programmes, and extracts from the most popular radio programmes. Content is available in four languages—Spanish, French and English, along with Basque. It gives access to EITB’s television-on-demand facility. This makes it, as the EITB website notes, “the largest store of audiovisual content in the Basque language which has existed up to now”. It is clearly a technology which is likely to have a particular appeal to younger people.