The video shows a girl, Moraima, who is sitting on the floor and holding a screen, from which Siri, Apple’s voice assistant, speaks to her. The little girl tries to communicate with artificial intelligence in Galician, but she repeatedly gets an answer “I think I don’t understand you.” “Because I speak in Galician, you know, Siri?”, The youngest replied. “Tell me, do you speak in Galician or do you speak in Castilian?” The images began to be disseminated on Friday morning on social networks and, beyond the first reactions due to the humor of the situation, they have rekindled the debate on the relationship between technologies and minority languages and also on the situation of Galician in the educational system.
TikTok rejects Galician: minority languages against technological megacorporations
The Twitter account from which the popularity of the video grew is that of the Galician actor and comedian Xosé Touriñán, who shared the images of Moraima, with whom he appears in the film Brothers in law. The reproductions are already close to 300,000 and the images have been retweeted and shared in various ways throughout the weekend. Many users have commented on the difficulties encountered by minority languages such as Galician when faced with technological platforms. It is not the first time that this language has run into the barrier of the large companies that develop them. At the beginning of the year TikTok, a popular short video platform, rejected an institutional campaign by the Xunta for being in Galician.
On other occasions, as happened with the platform on which Moraima’s video has spread, Twitter, social initiatives to ensure that Galician was included among the options in the applications were successful. It was in 2011.
The conversation of this girl who speaks in Galician with Siri also found an echo among institutional representatives. The Minister of Education, Román Rodríguez, reacted on his Twitter account. “I cannot promise that Siri will help us one day to ‘collect things'”, writes the councilor, alluding to a part of the exchange between Moraima and the voice assistant in which the minor suggests that she collaborate to order the room. “But I think that sooner rather than later he will speak Galician thanks to the Nós project,” he adds. It refers to an initiative of the Xunta and the University of Santiago de Compostela so that Siri and Alexa, another voice assistant, can be used in Galician.
Many Twitter users have stressed, from this episode, that technology platforms is not the only front that Galician has open. The language is being lost among the young. A report from the Galician Institute of Statistics (IGE) indicates that 23.9% of those under 15 years of age do not know how to express themselves in this language. The Council of Europe drew attention once again last April to this drift and to the situation of language in education.
Moraima’s own father, Jorge Duarte, replies to the councilor on the same social network that “the problem is not just Siri.” He explains in what context he and his partner made the video of his daughter: “We recorded her speaking in Galician because, now that she begins her schooling, she will stop speaking it, as happens to all children.” Policies are lacking to encourage its use so that it “stops looking like a second language,” he protests.