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Languages and relocation December 18, 2018

Posted by P, J, or J in Uncategorized.


I almost missed it but Dec 18th was International Migrants Day . I’m a migrant, though in recent years I have migrated back to near where I was born.

I always thought of myself as British as well as English and for a a few years now I’ve also been a Canadian. I’ve learned other languages but not enough to be fluent. In the UK I’ve lived in  seven English counties, two Canadian provinces, and also spent a couple of years in a country in Asia. In each of the places I’ve lived I’ve spoken English (most of the time) but my accent and speech patterns have shifted a bit.

I’m on the border of Staffordshire and Derbyshire so I might have grown up sounding a bit like this…

But I don’t (at least to my ear) and I hadn’t heard the words “gostered” or “gloppant”. 

When people move they take their language(s) and dialects with them but the way they talk and the people they talk to changes.

A BBC  Future article talked about how people can lose their first language, even as adults and delved deeper into the how and why.

I’ve been involved in a lot of interesting discussions about languages over the last 22 years and in the last year a lot of those have been about how migration, urbanisation and multilingualism make thinking about what language someone speaks a lot more complicated than I’d previously thought.

Firstly, a huge number of people don’t just speak one language. A Dutch colleague is quite fluent in four languages and knows bits of a few more, a Kenyan colleague said he could preach in about ten languages and greet people in a few others.

Often our organisation talks about ‘heart language’ or ‘mother tongue’. Some people grew up with just one language spoken at home and then been exposed to another when they go to school and and then perhaps learn more as they move to a new location, but  many people today are exposed to several languages in their home and wider community from birth.

No one knows exactly how many languages are spoken in the UK (or any other country) as records are often imprecise. In the 2011 UK census there was a question about language but it asked what people’s ‘main language’ was and was open to a lot of interpretation and has lead to considerable under reporting.

Multilingual Manchester, a project of Manchester University has encouraged the office of national statistics to rethink it’s census question to uncover the many hidden languages in the data.

One example of the need for this cited the difference in census reporting vs information reported by local schools, ” in the Manchester ward of Ardwick just 2.2% of residents declared Urdu to be their ‘main language’ while over 13% of schoolchildren in that ward were registered as having Urdu as their ‘first language’.”

Language is strongly linked to identity but it’s possible to identify as belonging to multiple groups as well as speaking multiple languages.

How multilingualism is regarded in society and in the UK church is something I hope to investigate further in the coming months. 

But for now here’s a seasonal multilingual link


Do you or anyone in your church know how to say it in a language not listed on the Why Christmas site?


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