Rather than depriving smaller languages of a voice, Luepke believes the internet might actually be creating new linguistic diversity, albeit in a way that resists easy measurement. “In particular on social media, where users cultivate a register that is written but very reminiscent of oral communication, multilingual speakers draw in very creative fashion on their entire multilingual repertoire, but in a way that defies easy categorisation of language,” she says.
On social media, the boundaries between different languages are becoming blurred. As speakers move away from standard, traditional languages and their rules of grammar and spelling break down, social media can foster multilingualism and support linguistic diversity.
“This could be a model for the future,” Luepke argues. But concerns about linguistic diversity online miss the real issue: access. In areas such as West Africa people aren’t offline because they can’t read the language, they are offline because of poor infrastructure and a high cost of entry.