, Volume 71, Number 1

The map was created by Oliver O’Brien, a researcher at UCL Department of Geography. www.oobrien.com

This ‘Tube tongues’ graphic shows London’s diversity by displaying the second most common languages (after English) spoken by residents, according to the 2011 census.

As the top-ranked global city, London is a magnet for rich and poor from all over the world. To some, its openness is a model for all which aspire to join the elite club of cities with global impact in finance, technological innovation and cultural reach. To others it is a cautionary tale showing how unrestricted flows of people and capital can make a city unliveable for its original residents. 

This ‘Tube tongues’ graphic shows London’s diversity by displaying the second most common languages (after English) spoken by residents, according to the 2011 census. Each blob represents the most popular second language within 200 metres of stations of the London Underground, with the size of the blob representing the proportion of people who speak that language. Only the inner three zones of the London transport area are shown.

The map shows language, not necessarily origin. The high concentration of Bengali speakers in east London points to people of Bangladeshi heritage.  But the ‘Portuguese’ blobs may refer to people from Portugal or Brazil or Angola. Similarly ‘French’ may refer to all French-speaking countries. But since London is now the sixth biggest French city and has a resident member of the National Assembly to represent expatriates, it is a fair bet that many are from France.   

Many parts of London display dramatic linguistic diversity. Around Turnpike Lane 16 languages are spoken by more than one per cent of the population, topped by Polish at 6.7 per cent.