Tweeting in Tongues

I tweet. A lot. Well, a lot more than I used to. Although I have a fairly low number of followers (currently at 283), they are not a homogeneous bunch of tweeps (people using Twitter) all fluent in English. They come from all over the place, and speak and shout in the Twitter void in a variety of languages. I do the same.

Part of the “being social” exercise is to communicate in a language your target audience is able to understand and engage in. For most of my followers it is English, but there are also small clusters of users and topics that need another linguistic approach – one that is part of their conversational sub-environment.

Recently, my home country Bulgaria fell into the trap of political carelessness and street protests. As any info geek out there, I started tapping the Twitter well and following fellow countrymen, hashtags and   institutions. Naturally, the number of tweets I release in Bulgarian has risen. To the point that the tweeps I usually engage with on Twitter, started asking in their DMs what was happening.  “Why all that Cyrillic?” the unanimous question seems to be. And they get to learn about the processes taking turn back home.

I have to admit that this is a bit amusing to me. After all I tweet also in German, French, Spanish, Mandarin, Serbian and Russian, but I do that rarely. No one ever took notice of this fact – at least not to the point of DMing me. However, from a professional point of view, I cannot help but notice how Twitter offers a Facebook-like group functionality (not as a standalone feature, but as natural and self-created one). My society, communication, relevance, all shift based on the language I use just as much as the shared references do.  One would argue that language is included in shared references, but I would disagree in many of the occasions…

Language is a setting on its own and by far it is not a limitation. It doesn’t really build walls and it sure doesn’t prevent you from catching the drift, especially when you have tools like Google Translate.

I have noticed a certain pattern among those that speak in tongues (multilinguals, polyglots and all these people who live their lives with subtitles). They use not just one, but a number of languages in their communication. It just happens naturally. And to everyone in the same conversation company, it sounds perfectly normal.

In retrospect, from a time that seems long gone, all of us students/expats in Shanghai used the word 麻烦 “Máfan” every time we wanted to say “something requiring too much effort to see to it come true”. No matter if it was English, Russian, French, Japanese, Korean or Spanish, the interjection of this word seemed just right. No questions asked. The shared reference was there for most of us who knew Mandarin. And for those that didn’t speak China’s official language, it didn’t really matter because one had to know at least this word (and couple of others, as well) when living in the Middle Kingdom.

Mixing up languages in your communication is like putting different spices in your cooking pot. And just like taste, some will like it and others won’t. And since it’s a matter of choice, there is always the opportunity to not order the dish from the menu (read – unfollow).

Cross-platforms were mentioned by Andrea Resmini and Luca Rosati stated in their “Pervasive Information Architecture”. And if I may add to that, sometimes they also require cross-lingual interaction. It is just as much a part of the Expatriate Message. In the time of everything being at a distance measured in clicks, it all only sounds natural to me… We travel, meet new people, foreign people, we form friendships and we stay in touch. There are so many people out there that are using more than one language to convey their message. Cross-lingual expressions are a fact. And my Twitter stream in only one proof of it. <wink> Want to see for yourself? Follow me on Twitter!

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Copyright © 2013 Borislav Kiprin. All Rights Reserved.