Multilingualism provides vitality to cities, not just a problem to be solved. As a result, cities must preserve and promote this vitality through policies and services.
Recently, Michael Erard, author of Babel No More, made this claim in an article about multilingualism in cities. He followed the studies by a European consortium called Languages in Urban Communities: Integration and Diversity for Europe (or LUCIDE) in the book, The Multilingual City.
The researchers, Erard explained, studied some of the unofficial ways that languages are used in a cosmopolitan area, such as graffiti, posters, and trash—the “detritus” of less visible communities.
The studies focused on Europe, with some further research in Canada and Australia. They also tended to focus on “European” languages—more highly valued than perceived “foreign” languages like Romani and Arabic.
How would Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota, USA, measure up to the multilingualism of these studies?
Our multilingualism here comes from immigration. The situation does not resemble the multilingualism of Bilbao or Dublin, where the same languages have subsisted side-by-side for centuries.
What are the “species” in my ecolinguistic sphere?
I look forward to reading the LUCIDE study, but I’m ready to start looking around my city for the “detritus.” What are the languages around? Where are they used? By whom?
What are the “networks” in my ecolinguistic sphere?
I’m also curious about who is multilingual in my town, and their attitudes and motivation. I’ve noticed that one language leads to the next. Many of the Somalis around were born in Kenya, so they also speak Swahili. My Oromo teacher speaks Norwegian, thanks to his time living there, in addition to Amharic. Some Arabs and Somalis I’ve met picked up Spanish since coming to Minnesota, simply by talking to people. How often do people of different native languages converse in languages other than English?
I have also been curious about the situation in Asian and African cities. What multilingualism do you see in Manila? New Delhi? Nairobi? Does anyone know of studies in those places?