london languagesHave you ever wondered how languages would look if they were placed on a map? A researcher from University College London (UCL) has created an interactive map of the capital, which shows in graphic form which languages in London are most common in different parts of the city. Oliver O’Brien, who specialises in geo-visualisation and web mapping in UCL’s Department of Geography, has devised ‘Tube Tongues’, a web-based tool which superimposes linguistic patterns on a map of London, clearly illustrating the principal non-English languages spoken throughout the city.

The researcher has included an impressive 21 languages in ‘Tube Tongues’, including those you would expect, such as Arabic, Urdu, French and Cantonese, but also some perhaps more surprising ones like Tagalog (Filipino) and Somali. If you would like to parler with French speakers you can do so in Knightsbridge, while those in the mood for a Turkish coffee and some konuşma would do well to venture towards Hackney. Polish speakers can be found in Hanwell, while Arabic is all the rage in Maida Vale and Kilburn. An interesting point to note is how speakers of a language sometimes follow the tube lines. Examining the map we can see that Bengali is evenly dispersed along the DLR in East London, and then as one continues eastwards on the same line Lithuanian becomes more pronounced.

O’Brien used information from the 2011 Census to identify which were the second most widely spoken languages of people living within a 200-metre radius of an underground station, and then crunched the numbers to identify the linguistic leaders. He overlaid these markers as circles on a map of London, varying the size of the circle according to the number of language speakers. The result was a striking and easily understandable illustration of which languages are most common in the capital, together with their respective locations. The interactive map also has information on occupations, so if you are interested in where legal eagles or IT consultants reside, the answer is just a few clicks away.

London is home to approximately 270 nationalities with around 300 languages spoken across the breadth of the capital. According to the Office for National Statistics, the most common country of origin for people born outside the UK is India, with an estimated 734,000 Indian-born residents living in the city. The most common non-British nationality for those living in the UK is currently Polish, with around 726,000 Polish citizens residing in the country.

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