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Languages of the UK (and other countries) June 10, 2015

Posted by P, J, or J in Uncategorized.

Multilingual BritainHow many languages are spoken in the UK? Well the graphic shows the most common ones and about 40-50 languages (plus links to Bibles in them) are at, wycliffe.net/world/…country=UK , and worldbibles.org/get_languages/eng/GB/ . (World bibles includes some of the same languages under different names eg Welsh is also called Cymraeg)

Stories in a few newspapers following the release of census data talked of 100 languages but looking closer at published data spoke of “a 103 category classification”. There were details on about 80 languages plus entries such as “Any other Nigerian language” and ” South Asian Language (all other)”.

2011 Census: QS204EW Main language (detailed), local authorities in England and Wales (Excel sheet 1003Kb)

“This table provides 2011 Census estimates of the usual resident population aged 3 and over by their main language, for regions, counties, London boroughs, districts and unitary authorities in England and Wales on census day (27 March 2011). The Main language classification used in this table is a 103 category classification.”

A few years ago there was a report that talked of 300-400 languages spoken in London schools. (I found a few references but haven’t found the report)

Counting languages and the number of people who speak them isn’t easy.

Census data gives a lot of information but what is counted and the reliability of data varies from country to country. Some countries and some communities may skew the figures in order to give greater or lesser prestige to a community. Added to that, even defining a language has many complications. (see www.ethnologue.com/about/problem-language-identification )

For the last few years I’ve been compiling Wycliffe Global Alliance Bible translation statistics and the FAQs that explain why the numbers don’t always mean what people think they mean.

I find it both fascinating and frustrating, and people who just want straight answers to ‘simple’ questions like “How many languages don’t have any scripture?” probably find me a bit frustrating too. (Read the stats, the FAQs, and keep watching for further discussion)

Meanwhile there are about 7000 languages in the world (depending who’s counting). How many of those are spoken in the UK?

Nobody knows.

My guess?

At any one time in the UK there are probably at least 500-1000 languages represented.

Anyone got any better guesses?



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