What Languages Are Spoken In The United Kingdom?

English is the most widely spoken language in the United Kingdom.
English is the most widely spoken language in the United Kingdom.

English is widely used in the UK in different dialects in addition to several regional languages. A total of 11 indigenous languages have speakers across the British Isles three of which are Romance, five Celtic, and three Germanic. There are also numerous languages heard in the British Isles particularly within the inner-city regions, most of which are of Eastern Europe and South Asian origin. 98% of the inhabitants of the UK are English speakers, making it the de facto official language.

The Most Popular Language Of The United Kingdom


The English language emerged from the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of medieval England. The languageā€™s development has been ongoing for over 1,400 years. The initial form of English arose from the fusion of North Sea Germanic dialects used by Germanic tribes called the Angles, Jutes, and Saxons along the coasts of Southern Sweden, Lower Saxony, Frisia, and Jutland. The settlement of the Anglo-Saxons in British territory in the 5th century facilitated the dominance of the language. Many English words are of Latin origin since Latin in some form served as the primary language of the Christian Church as well as of the European intellectual scene. In the 8th and 9th centuries, the northern regions of the British territory came under Norse colonization, and the English language was thus influenced by Old Norse. The Norman conquest of England, which began in the 11th century, facilitated contact between Norman French and Old English to form Middle English. Middle English dominated until the 15th century when the development of Modern English began. The growth of Modern English is attributed to various factors including the Great Vowel Shift, the inauguration of the printing press, and the introduction of the King James Bible. Today, English ranks as the third most widespread languages in the world. Different organizations recognize it as either an official or co-official language including the EU and the UN.

Minority Languages Spoken In The United Kingdom

The Scottish language has its roots in the Northumbrian Old English. The language developed distinctly in the Middle English period. 2.5% of the UK's population speaks Scots, most of whom are residents of Scotland particularly in the regions of the Scottish Lowlands, Arran and Campbeltown, the Northern Isles, and Caithness. The language is also spoken in Ulster in various dialects including Northern Scots, Ulster Scots, Insular Scots, Southern Scots, and Central Scots. 1% of the residents of the UK speak Welsh, a language which enjoys equal status with English in Wales. Welsh arose in the 6th century from Brittonic, and it is recognized as a Celtic language. Welsh is used natively in Wales as well as some areas on the Welsh border in England. The Cornish language is indigenous to Cornwall where it was used widely in the middle Ages. Cornish is closely linked to Welsh, and its usage began declining after the 14th century. Until the late 18th century, Cornish was the native tongue of Penwith. Its current speakers are about 3,500 due to the revival program created by Henry Jenner in 1903. Most of the recorded history of the Irish community mentions the use of Irish as their predominant language. The Irish language, which also goes by the name Irish Gaelic, is the first language for a small Irish community. It is used by 0.1% of the inhabitants of the UK, either as a first or second tongue. Scottish Gaelic has its roots in Middle Irish, and it has about 57,000 native speakers in Scotland. Revival programs aimed to boost the number of speakers of the language have been implemented.

Immigrant Languages Of The United Kingdom

Immigrant communities have been settling in British territory in the recent decades, and they have subsequently introduced more languages. South Asians residing in the UK use dozens of distinct languages. British Asians of Punjabi origin are more than 2 million making them the largest Punjabi population living outside South Asia's borders. This group is from either Pakistan or India and their continued use of the Punjabi language has made it the third most used language in the UK. The UK has about 700,000 Bengali speakers, and about 550,000 of this population use Sylheti which is regarded as a distinct language or a Bengali dialect. Polish has grown to become the most extensively spoken immigrant language in both England and Wales. In 2001, Polish did not feature in the top 12 languages used in the UK. The participation of Poland in the EU since 2004 boosted the immigration of Poles to the British territory. In 2007, a record of 96,000 Poles moved to the UK. Poles mostly settle in London as well as small towns. The 2011 census identified 269,000 Urdu speakers used by Pakistani and Indian immigrants. Other immigrant languages are Gujarati, Chinese, Tamil, Arabic, Somali, Romanian, Italian, and Turkish.

Foreign Languages Spoken In The United Kingdom

Most of the UK's inhabitants can use or understand to a significant degree a second or third language from private classes or primary or secondary instruction. 23% of the British population can use or understand French. UK schools have traditionally offered French as a foreign form of communication as well as other non-native tongues such as German, Spanish, and Italian. 9% of the British population can speak or understand German while 8% can use Spanish. 38% of the British residents have the ability to use one language except for their mother tongue; a further 18% can use at least two while 6% can speak at least three.

British Sign Language

There was a sign language used by England's deaf societies as far back as 1670. Through importation, modification, and invention, this early language developed into the standard sign language used in the UK. Thomas Braidwood made history in 1760 when he founded a school for the deaf individuals in the UK. The country's government recognized it as an individual language on March 18, 2003. BSL is used in numerous regional dialects, and some signs are only used in particular towns or cities. The British Deaf Association identified 151,000 users of BSL in the UK in 2016, and 87,000 of them were deaf. BSL education is instructed all over the UK, and there are three examination systems. Courses are offered by private organizations, community colleges as well as local institutions for deaf people.


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