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How many Languages are Spoken in Britain? September 26, 2019

Posted by P, J, or J in multilingualism.

Nobody really knows, but its definitely more than the 300 sometimes quoted for London or for UK Schools. The question of main language was introduced for the first time in 2011 census and reported languages in over 100 classifications.

The Census in Scotland identified 178 classifications spoken by more than ten respondents  in addition to 1,921 speakers of “Other languages”.

It should be noted that the census was not attempting to capture the full range of languages spoken by people but rather identifying additional languages needed in order to supply services.

The “300” languages for London dated back to at least 1999 (the earliest public article I could find) when the Independent reported on London: multilingual capital of the world

“Most reports into the number of languages spoken in London are based on research carried out in 1993 by the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. This research estimated that 275 languages were regularly spoken within the capital. However The Independent has learnt that new research, due to be published later this year, will reveal a total that is closer to 300.” – Andrew Buncombe , Monday 29 March 1999

So has the real number of languages increased since then? Yes, but know one knows by how much, at least not yet. Following an article I saw in 2015 about over 300 languages being used in schools I obtained a list of what they actually were and also discovered that because it’s hard to keep track of all the languages in the world the survey has a list of 320 languages and categories against which to check them. So there are still quite a number that get bundled together or listed as ‘other’.

Added to this the question doesn’t ask about all the languages spoken at home, so when people speak several they may sometimes just mention the most prestigious one.

Stay tuned. I still don’t have the answer but I have more reasons why I know the existing one is an underestimate and clues as to where to find some of the languages that may be missing from the lists.


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