Yoruba and Igbo from Nigeria, Konkani from western India, Pashto from Iran, and Uyghur from North-western China – these are just a handful of the many tongues spoken in Manchester.
Western Europe’s most multilingual city is home to around 150 languages. It is estimated half of the city’s adults communicate in more than one, and their rich linguistic tapestry fills the streets all around; with roughly 70 languages spoken at any one time.
Multilingual Manchester (MLM), a research project based in the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, works to promote awareness of this language diversity, and how it can be harnessed to boost growth in the city and beyond.
Lead Researcher and Linguist, Professor Yaron Matras, says: “The combination of celebrating the city’s diversity and heritage translates into skills which become beneficial for the rest of the population.”
Indeed, MIDAS, Manchester’s inward investment agency, cites MLM in a report on the city’s workforce; stating the multilingual population is a magnet for attracting global businesses to the region. Language skills are a key factor that motivate investors to the city, and are instrumental to its growth and development, it says.
“At MLM we bring our research and our vision, take the reality of the everyday linguistic situation, and translate it to make it clear. “At the same time we give a message in how important the University is in both attracting people from international backgrounds, but also in supporting and developing the language skills of the population,” explains Professor Matras.
Thanks to the work of researchers and linguistics students, MLM has a rich database it can draw on to gain an accurate picture of language diversity in the region. The website has become the biggest online archive on research into multilingualism in any community, and its impact is powerful.
“It has a hand in shaping key policies. We work with numerous partners, including healthcare providers, police and emergency services, schools and community groups,” the Professor says.
The combination of celebrating the city's diversity and heritage translates into skills which become beneficial for the rest of the population.Professor Yaron Matras / Professor of Linguistics
There are several activities running at any one time; a school support platform encouraging speakers of more than one language to explore themes in their native tongue, as well as English; conversation classes for asylum seekers and refugees; recording patient experience in hospitals; and the Open World Research Initiative consortium funded project on linguistic communities around the globe.
Professor Matras says: “What started as a teaching and learning tool, has very quickly had an impact. Multilingual Manchester breaks the traditional linear arrangement of: we do research, our research informs our teaching, and from our research we derive impact.”