Europe’s most exotic city?

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iol travel jan 3 manchester REUTERS Kids throw snowballs at each other during a snow storm in Manchester.

London - Its detractors try to portray it as a cold, wet and sometimes insular place.

But Manchester is actually one of the most exotic cities in the world, researchers claim. This is due to its cultural diversity, with at least 153 languages spoken.

Two-thirds of Mancunian school children are bilingual, with the number of languages likely to increase, according to the study by Manchester University.

The city is more diverse than London, and rivalled only by New York and Paris for its ethnic and linguistic mix, claims Professor Yaron Matras, who carried out the research.

“Manchester’s language diversity is higher than many countries in the world,” Professor Matras said. “It is very likely to be the top of the list in Europe, certainly when compared to other cities of its size.”

With a population of 500,000, Manchester is much smaller than London, where more than 300 languages are spoken by eight million inhabitants.

Professor Matras said: “There are certainly a greater number of languages spoken in London but these are by people who are passing through – diplomats, businessmen, etc – but in Manchester, the foreign language speakers are residents.

“Around two-thirds of Mancunian school children are bilingual – a huge figure which indicates just how precious its linguistic culture is. As immigration and the arrival of overseas students to the city continues, it’s fair to say that this already large list is set to grow.”

Manchester’s rapid growth began during the Industrial Revolution, with the city’s textile trade attracting workers from across the empire, setting the pattern for diversity.

The policy of recruiting from abroad for public services, such as the NHS, has helped bring in some of the more obscure languages, the professor says. These include more than a dozen Indian languages, ten from West Africa, three Kurdish dialects, various forms of the Romany language of Eastern European gypsies, Uyghur – which is spoken by the Muslims of north-west China – and even Nahuatl, the tongue of the ancient Aztecs of Mexico.

Professor Matras said the Census data released last week underestimated the number of multi-lingual households in the UK, as respondents were asked to name their main language.

“Most multi-linguals speak a language other than English at home, but use English at work, in their place of study, so they will answer that English is their main language, even though this is not strictly accurate.” - Daily Mail

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