New technology challenges for minority language media examined in study

App nuachta i mBascais ag EITB

News app in Basque from EITB

Whether it’s iPhone apps in the Basque language, multi-lingual drama in Welsh or a programme on Australian TV in aboriginal tongues, the main challenge facing media operators in minority languages is not the traditional scarcity of media outlets but how best to manage the expanding opportunities of new media technology to benefit their language community.

That’s the conclusion of media expert Dr Mike Cormack of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic college of Scotland’s University of the Highlands and Islands, in his new research, Learning from the Best, which was undertaken under the auspices of CeangalG, an EU funded project drawing together the Scottish and Irish Gaelic speaking communities.

In the research Dr. Cormack seeks out the best practice in minority languages throughout the globe.

“The research took me on a virtual whirlwind tour of some of the most interesting media projects around the world,” said Dr. Cormack.  “There is a great deal to be excited about in a global context when you think of the opportunities presented by new technology and media for minority languages who have long been starved of outlets to present relevant content to their own communities.”

Before undertaking the research, Dr. Cormack had to deal with a number of issues around media in minority languages.   The main issue was that while media is generally consumed in the short term, e.g. a half hour tv programme, and the best practice is to assess its success by the impact on the maintenance of a minority language, which is assessed in the long term, he had to resolve how best to reconcile these two timeframes.

Another factor he had to take into account is how minority languages are judged more often in opposition to the majority language and while assessing what works in minority language context can be useful, it could also not be applicable in certain contexts.

In his research, Dr. Cormack set out three broad categories for the case studies.   He firstly considered initiatives to support language learning then types oaf programming and, finally, ways of building audiences.
While we are more and more becoming familiar with the features of Smart TV, in Hawaii these new interactive televisions are being used to support the teaching of Hawaiian through a native language TV station supported by Oceanic Time Warner Cable.

Dr Cormack’s quest then took him from the balmy Hawaiian beaches to the frostier climes of Scandinavia where he encountered a project which delivers news in the Sami languages from Norway across Sweden to the Kola peninsula in the extreme north-west of Russia.   There the problem is one of frontiers.  How can media be used to link these separated Sami speaking communities?   The solution is a weekday fifteen minute news broadcast in Sami which is broadcast by NRK in Norway, SVT in Sweden and YLE in Finland.   “While the provision of a fifteen minute news programme is not in itself remarkable, what makes this significant is the way in which three national broadcasters have come together.

The Basque experience is often cited as one of the best examples of a thriving media in a minority language although it’s sometimes difficult to view Euskara as a minority language as more than 714,000 speak it, most of whom live in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country in northern Spain with a small section across the Pyrenees in France.    The main Basque broadcaster, EITB, has created a comprehensive news app which gives access to a wide range of its output – news headlines, sports news, downloads and streams of tv content. This content is available in four languages – Basque, Spanish, French and English.

Ceangal G is a EU funded project headed by Gaelic university, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig.   Its main partners are Údarás na Gaeltachta and Belfast’s Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich.  Last year it secured funding totaling almost €1m from Interreg under the auspices of the Special European Programmes Body (SEUPB).