London Tube

Using data from the Office of National Statistics and the tube network by OpenStreetMap, Oliver O’Brian a researcher in geo-visualisation from University College London, has produced a map of London tube stations which features the most common second-languages that are spoken in a 200-mile radius of each stop.




Looking at the demographics of each area and the data from the 2011 Census, O’Brian was able to map the most widely used languages along the London tube lines: “A buffer around each tube station was created, and the languages of the local population in each buffer were extracted, to produce a ‘second language’ (after English) most likely to be spoken by the local community there. An interesting and sometimes surprising set of clusters appear.”

People from many different nationalities have settled in the UK, and it is, therefore, not surprising to hear various languages when walking down the street in the country’s capital. According to the 2011 Census, 8% (4.2 million) of the population of England and Wales speak  a main language other than English. The second most widely used language after English is Polish, followed by Indian, Punjabi, Arabic, French, Chinese and Portuguese.

O’Brian’s ‘Tube Tongues’ gives us an opportunity to visualise London’s linguistic diversity and provide us with an insight into the various ‘language clusters’ around the city. Traditionally, there have been areas where specific nationalities have chosen to settle over many decades, and this can still be visible today. However, as economic and socio-political circumstances around the globe are constantly changing, new languages are becoming integrated by those choosing the UK as their new home.

The map of the Docklands Light Railway shows that there are two predominant languages, namely Bengali and Lithuanian, being spoken in the areas of Tower Hamlets and Royal Docks. The most linguistically diverse station identified by the maps’ creator is Turnpike Lane on the Piccadilly Line, which has 16 languages spoken by more than 1% of the population there.

Some experts believe that the way we speak might start to change over time due to the wide variety of languages being spoken in England. Oliver Mason, English Linguistics Lecturer at Birmingham University, explains: “We are more likely to pick up words than change accents as we find foreign words that fit much better and work better. Vocabulary may be the main area of change.”

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