February 16, 2021
One zoom meeting is pretty much like any other so I thought I’d share a minor innovation I encountered recently. Asked for a 1-3 word reflection about the issue we’d been discussing, we were to write in the chat box but not press send until everyone was ready. On the count of three, an avalanche of reflections flew past. One woman, in what sounded like a Polish accent, mused that it read like a crowd-sourced poem. No surprise then to discover that she is a bit of a language expert herself. Which must help working in Scotland’s most language-diverse community.
It’s a figure that’s long been debated – the number of different languages spoken on the streets of Govanhill. A survey carried out in 2016 counted 32, but ask anyone locally and they’ll tell you it should be much higher than that.
It turns out it is. Quite a lot higher in fact.
New research has found that Govanhillians can speak at least 88 different languages, from Arabic to Yoruba and everything in between. While the results are not entirely conclusive – the new survey has only been completed by 222 of the neighbourhood’s many thousand residents – it confirms the incredibly diverse make-up of this unique neighbourhood.
- The survey was completed by 222 people, around 80 per cent of whom live in the area. The rest had a strong connection to Govanhill through working here or living here previously for example.
- There are 54 different ‘mother tongue’ languages spoken by Govanhillians.
- 182 people said they spoke at least two languages, and quite a few were comfortable using even more.
- With these additional languages, and further research, the total spoken reaches 88.
The survey was carried out by Marzanna (Mana) Antoniak, in her role as the Community Connector for the Thriving Places initiative in Govanhill. Originally from Poland, Mana has worked in Govanhill for six years and considers herself an ‘aspiring polyglot’. As well as fluent English, she speaks Russian, intermediate Arabic and Spanish and has a strong basis of Romanian, but that isn’t all:
“Through exposure, I’ve developed a very good understanding of Ukrainian and Slovak, which allows me to grasp all the other Slavic languages, though I wouldn’t claim I speak them. There are some more languages on my wish list, including Persian, Turkish, Romanes, and British Sign Language.”
Mana wanted to count the languages spoken to find out whether there was a scope for a bigger language project as part of a heritage-based regeneration strategy for the neighbourhood. Mana previously worked teaching English in Govanhill so knew that a wide range of languages were spoken here, but said that even she was surprised by the results:
“I didn’t expect we would end up with such a high number of languages. Especially as what we’ve got so far are just initial results. With 222 responses to date, the survey has reached only a fraction of our community. As more people join in, more languages are bound to appear.”
“I have lived through hearing different languages spoke in the area as the population changes. It makes it interesting, and I love the multicultural nature of the area.”
— SURVEY PARTICIPANT
Some of the other languages that Mana came across when teaching English with the Govanhill Community Development Trust include Edo [a Volta–Niger language spoken in Nigeria], Sorani [a dialect of Kurdish], Mandinka [spoken in parts of West Africa], and Dari [spoken in Afghanistan].
“So far, we don’t have entries for those languages in the survey, but I know that they are spoken in Govanhill. I’ve also compared the survey results with the records of languages spoken in some of the local schools, and I discovered languages I’d never heard of before such as Twi [spoken in the southern part of Ghana] or Xhosa [ a language with click consonants from South Africa and Zimbabwe]. “
Govanhill is widely considered to be the most multicultural neighbourhood in Scotland, and Mana believes that this survey confirms that. She says: “Govanhill ‘feels’ multicultural, everyone says so, but the survey has shown us that it’s even richer than we could have thought. So I guess I’ve learned that Govanhill truly is where the world meets. And it’s been a reminder that people are immensely proud of their languages. They are, after all, a significant part of our identity.”
“Love the diversity, which we should promote more widely beyond Govanhill and show the world exactly what the benefits are of living in a diverse and multicultural community. ”