Emigrants in the 1800s and 1900s were not only making a dangerous trip into the unknown, but leaving something behind. That something was not so much their culture (as testified by the many Little Italies in the United States), but a live connection to their home culture. They could count on the fact that their home culture would evolve largely without them – that new words and new ideas would develop ‘back home’ and that the emigrant had little and very slow means of impacting that process or even just keeping up to date. For the mobile person of nowadays, that is not the case anymore, and the reason is quite self-evident: the internet.
Already in 1996, Appadurai noted that electronic media and their immediacy were having an unprecedented impact on mass migration and its everyday culture:
… both persons and images often meet unpredictably, outside the certainty of home and the cordon sanitaire of local and national media effects. This mobile and unforeseeable relationship between mass-mediated events and migratory audiences defines the core of the link between globalization and the modern. (from Modernity at Large)
That was even before social media made it possible not only to communicate almost instantly, not only to deploy media from different cultural sources, but also to continue participation within a community. Someone who moves to a different country only needs a smartphone, and to enter an area with Wi-Fi connection, to keep participating (virtually) in the community that he/she left, even after years.
What are the consequences of this never-interrupted link on speech and language?
Socio-linguistics have started analyzing web forums to describe digitally driven changes to the migrant experience and to its communication, as people become
mobilized both in terms of their highly diverse backgrounds and complex migration patterns, but also with regard to participation in online communication and its deterritorialized and dis-located nature. (Heyd 2014)
In this increasingly complicated models of communication, we would like to concentrate on the narrative (and particularly autobiographical) aspects. Narrative of migration are sometimes communicated in published books but to arrive at this stage, a migrant needs to be very established in a society and only very few can achieve this level of impact. We are looking at that immediate dissemination of the human imagination that Appadurai theorised in the 1990s and that social media make a fact of the everyday – and searching for the narrative within.
The investigation in My Story – My Words will concentrate not only on the everyday experience of linguistic displacement of immigrants in Ireland; but also on the cultural practices and narrations that can be produced in Ireland, but have living links with other countries in the global, digital conversation.