Letter: London's languages

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The Independent Culture
Sir: As the authors of the forthcoming research referred to in your article of 29 March ("London: multilingual capital of the world"), we were very pleased to see your positive coverage of London's linguistic riches.

Even on the most conservative estimates of the number of languages, there are considerably more languages in the world than your article suggests. The Linguasphere project, which is concerned with classification of all the world's languages and dialects, reveals more than 10,000 languages, although it does depend on the precise definition of "language" adopted.

A quarter of these are African languages. Preliminary findings from our work suggest that about a quarter of London's top 30 languages are also African. This includes people from politically and economically important countries such as Nigeria.

The London Research Centre's figures are based on country of birth. They therefore understate the size of the population speaking each language. Our figures are based on languages spoken by schoolchildren. Thus, the estimates of the number of people speaking Creole (as spoken in Mauritius, the Seychelles, St Lucia and Dominica) is probably two or three times that based on the number of people born in those countries.

It is very likely that London is the most linguistically diverse city in the world but, importantly, we are probably the only city in the world which can count the languages spoken. The schools language surveys are a unique resource created originally to support the case for teachers to support the language needs of immigrant children.


Queen Mary and Westfield College

University of London


School of Oriental and African Studies and University of Westminster