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Mapping the Languages of Manchester

Mar 2016

Language ,

Designed and developed by the University of Manchester, LinguaSnapp is the first mobile research app of its kind. Over the next few months, LinguaSnapp will drive a crowdsourced campaign to map the languages of Manchester.

The app relies on its users snapping pictures of different languages they see in the city and upload them to the LinguaSnapp. It will then crunch all the pictures and produce an interactive map showing where languages are most common.


LinguaSnapp was launched by the University’s President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell and Deputy Leader of Manchester City Council Councillor Sue Murphy.

Professor Rothwell hailed the importance of the app, saying: “LinguaSnapp is an excellent example of The University’s commitment to social responsibility. It demonstrates how our research can support service provision in the city while making a positive impact in our local communities.”

Councillor Murphy paid homage to the city’s diversity, saying: “Manchester’s diversity is an asset and a strong part of its identity. The app provides a fantastic opportunity for residents and visitors to find out more about the many languages that they hear and see around the city.”

The 2011 census reported that around 80 percent of Manchester’s residents speak English as their first language. Other major languages include Urdu, Polish, Bengali and Punjabi. Census data suggested there are around 100 languages spoken in the city. Of all the languages spoken in Manchester around 50 are regularly used in marketing or information materials.

Only 10 percent of census respondents said no one in their household speak English as their main language.

However, Professor Yaron Matras, project co-ordinator for Multilingual Manchester and driving force behind the app, threw doubt on those census results back in 2012.

Professor Matras and his team discovered at least 153 languages using spoken in the city — 53 percent higher than official estimates.

“Manchester is home to the fourth largest Yiddish-speaking community in the world,” said Professor Matras. “Yet the census only mentions five speakers.

“Only 1,700 people are reported to speak Cantonese, and only 13 are reported to speak Caribbean Creole, but these figures must surely be wrong. Both communities have many thousands of members.”

While the census reported that Romani had only 29 speakers in the city, the University of Manchester’s Romani Project showed that there were several hundred Romani-speaking households.

Professor Matras’ work shows that the census is clearly not an accurate depiction of the city’s linguistic landscape. Substantially more work needs to be done if we a more accurate picture.

Now, LinguaSnapp won’t replace census findings — it was never designed to — but it will contribute to the process. It will go some way to authentically representing the linguistic diversity in the city and for that we couldn’t commend it higher.

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