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New research shows the Welsh language and its speakers might be disadvantaged by social media

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A new study from Swansea University has highlighted how social media may be threatening the future of the Welsh language and the psychological health of its speakers.

The study follows on from Census data that shows fewer people are speaking the language, which Carmarthenshire Council, where the number of Welsh speakers in the county has fallen by the largest percentage of all local authorities in Wales, described as “alarming and a cause of great concern”.

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The new research, published in Trends in Psychology, was conducted by Dr Richard Jones, Dr Irene Reppa, and Professor Phil Reed from Swansea University’s School of Psychology – and is the first of its kind to compare minority and majority language speakers’ social media responses.

The team evaluated 800 first-language Welsh and first-language English speakers aged 13 to 15, attending Welsh-medium schools throughout Wales.

Over 10% of the pupils registered a high level of social media addiction, which mirrors European-based studies.

Furthermore, the findings showed nearly 70% (209 out of 303) of Welsh speakers used English “Often” or “Always” on social media, with the vast majority using it more than Welsh.

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Although previous work has shown that Welsh has established a foothold within the digital landscape, Welsh speakers switching to the majority language may threaten the continued vitality of the Welsh language.

Dr Richard Jones said: “Acknowledging the importance of language to minority-language speakers’ cultural and social identities, the erosion of a language online would threaten the cultural identity of a nation.” 

The study also evaluated the psychological impact of social media use on Welsh-English bilingual speakers.                 

The data revealed that Welsh speakers’ desire to use social media in Welsh might be driven by wanting to increase self-esteem, to attain greater linguistic parity with English speakers, or to connect with other Welsh speakers.  

Dr Richard Jones said: “The consequence of minority-language speakers switching to the majority language threatens the continued vitality of minority languages and raises questions regarding the significance of the minority language within minority-language speakers’ minds.”

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Professor Phil Reed added: “The study shows that governments need to consider not only the impacts of social media on psychological health and wellbeing but also its impact on the cultures of minority groups who may be forced to abandon important and stabilising influences in the pursuit of digital interactions, which are becoming increasingly necessary for everyday life.”

Dr Irene Reppa noted: “This work sheds light on the issues that threaten minority languages, such as the Welsh language, when faced with the homogenisation of cultures because of the use of the internet and social media to reach a global audience.”

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