What is Language Activism?

Language Activism

Most languages in the world are being spoken by fewer and fewer people, and the prevalence of English and other major world languages on the internet may be exacerbating this trend. However, the internet is also being used as a platform to promote linguistic diversity.  Three language activists describe what language activism means to them.

Ben Okon

Ben Okon, Language Activism

Ben promotes the Efik language (the official language of Cross River State, Nigeria) on Twitter (@BenOkon11) and Facebook.

“We should not only speak a language we should speak for languages.

“The soul of human communication and interaction is language. It bridges the gap between abstractness and concreteness.  Humans using the essential vehicle of language are sharing knowledge of self-awareness, attitudes, desires, beliefs, religious identities, thoughts and ideas.  The emergence of one language is a birth for a new living, and the death of another is an end to human connection and touch. 

“Language activism is lending voice to a living language.  It is the pursuit of preservation and promotion of languages.  It is a worthy adventure for everyone, not only language scholars, to take up.  Anyone who engages in this noble work is a passionate promoter preoccupied with the task of reawakening and reviving the consciousness of language use in the minds of speakers.  

“The first stage of promoting any language starts with the ability and willingness to speak the language. The first question to ask is: can you speak a language?  If the answer is ‘yes’, then do you see the need to pass it on?  Drawing from my own experience of reaching out to second-generation Efik language speakers, I have observed that there is a problem of acceptance; many doubt the usefulness of the language since it is not as popular as one of the major world languages. Generally, speakers’ poor attitude towards a language is largely what affects its growth. 

“The next stage is using every available platform to give language a voice, especially the social media space.  In recent times, we have used language to make our voices heard on different subjects ranging from political, socio-economic, religious, gender and other matters.  You can consider yourself involved in language activism when you introduce and engage the online community to and in your indigenous language, this may give the language the needed boost and limelight.  When you engage in this, you will add more life to the years of your language.  Little actions speak volumes – tep tep ọyọhọ abañ (little drops of water fill the water pot) – and access will be created for more and more people to be interested in the language.  Language activism is speaking for a language.”

Jacey Firth-Hagen

Jacey Firth-Hagen Language Activism

Jacey promotes the Gwich’in language (Athabascan) using #speakGwichintome across several platforms such as Instagram (@speakGwichintome), Twitter (@SpeakGwichin) and Facebook (Gwich’in Language Revival Campaign).

“Language activism is giving back to my family, peoples, and ancestors. For so long, our indigenous languages were silenced, due to assimilation policies used in attempts such as Indian (Indigenous) Residential Schools to destroy our identities as indigenous peoples. Our languages are a direct example of our identity, who we are, and where we come from—representing our ancestral relationship with the landscape and the abundance of plants and animals that have nurtured us since time immemorial.

“Approximately five percent of my Nation still speaks Gwich’in; this means fewer than five hundred language speakers of my language remain. Most of the fluent speakers of my language are over the age of sixty-five years old. I had the privilege to learn Gwich’in from my early years in Elementary School until I graduated High School. I am fortunate to have grown up in the Gwich’in Nation. I am born and raised in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada. Through our language speakers and teachers, I am learning and also teaching my language. Language activism is love and community from the ancestral love passed on through our nations.”

William Fanene

William Fanene, Language Activism

William promotes the Samoan language (Polynesian) on Instagram (@amuuso) and through the website: matousamoa.com

“I am a language activist.  I am trying to facilitate social change through daily marketing campaigns aimed at preserving the Samoan language, particularly to those of Samoan heritage living outside of Samoa.  

“Generally speaking, my generation is the first generation of Samoans born outside of Samoa after our parents immigrated to The United States, New Zealand, and Australia.  Many of us did not learn much of our language.  Now we are raising our children without the Samoan language at all.  I want to change that.” 

Promoting Your Language on Social Media

If you would like to find out more about language activism, Ben, Jacey and William will be joining Robert Elliot and Salikoko Mufwene as part of a SOAS Linguistics Webinar on Promoting Your Language on Social Media on 29 September at 4PM (GMT+1).

Streaming live on YouTube at: https://youtu.be/zzFGHHz0FXg

Register for an email reminder: https://bit.ly/3jGt4tD


• Discover more of the work of the Linguistics Department at SOAS
• Check out Linguistics programmes
• Read more Linguistics blogs
• Endangered Languages Archive

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