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Victoria a rainbow state of spoken languages

15 August 20141 comment

Victorians speak more languages than there are countries in the world with more than 250 tongues in regular use across the state, a new analysis has found.

Across Melbourne, thirty per cent of people speak a language other than English at home and the variety is steadily growing as changing patterns of migration reshape the city. This represents a rise of 200,000 people over a decade.

As longer-established European languages are being used less, new languages such as Mandarin, Arabic, Tamil and Korean are on the rise.

The pattern is similar across regional Victoria with dozens of different languages spoken in towns and locations around the state.

language graphic

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics

Melbourne has long been a multicultural city, but some analysts warn the city’s melting-pot status is at risk because housing costs are forcing new arrivals into concentrated pockets, particularly in the outer suburbs.

In about almost 10 per cent of suburbs half or more than half the population speaks languages other than English at home. And in seven distinct areas a language other English is dominant.

In Cairnlea, Braybrook, Sunshine North and Springvale, Vietnamese is the most common language spoken domestically.

In Campbellfield, in Melbourne’s north, more people speak Arabic than English and 80 per cent speak a language other than English – the highest in Victoria and one of the highest across Australia.

In nearby Dallas and Meadow Heights, Turkish is the dominant language but Assyrian and related dialects are also on the rise. Almost a sixth of the population in both areas speaks Arabic.

Other than English, Greek, Italian, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Cantonese and Arabic are the most commonly spoken languages in Metropolitan Melbourne.

But the pattern is changing and between 2001 and 2011, numbers of Mandarin speakers have risen from about 60,000 to 100,000.

Mandarin is now the second-most spoken language in inner city areas including the CBD and Carlton, while in Glen Waverley, Box Hill and Oakleigh, between 10 and 13 per cent of people speak it at home.

Other languages with small but significant numbers of speakers that have seen increases in recent years include Somali and Hindi.

About 44 Melbourne suburbs now are home to a Somali speaker.

Italian is the most widely dispersed non-English language, followed by German and Dutch.

The findings are the result of an analysis of Census data by migrant and refugee settlement agency AMES.

The analysis shows of how emerging communities are changing the face of Melbourne. In the localities of Hallam and Narre Warren South the most common language other than English is Dari, spoken largely by refugees and migrants from Afghanistan.

In Frankston North it is Nuer – spoken by people from South Sudan; in Lara, on Melbourne’s western outskirts, it is Tagalog – spoken by Filipinos; and in Heidelberg West, it is Somali.

Multiculturalism is not just confined to metropolitan Melbourne.

Interestingly, in the locality of Nicholson, in Gippsland, Afrikaans is the language most spoken after English and in Nhill, in western Victoria it is Karen – a language spoken by ethnic Karen originally from Burma.

In Ouyen, in north western Victoria, the language most spoken other than English is Punjabi; and in Donald, Wycheproof and Boort it is Malayalam – spoken by migrants from Kerala in India.

Monash University science lecturer Meead Saberi has also been analysing Melbourne’s population. His team has created maps that give a visual representation of ethnic distribution.

Dr Saberi says the data showed a multicultural rainbow landscape of hundreds of different languages.

“It is interesting to compare Melbourne with American cities such as Chicago and Washing DC – US cities are very segregated with one particular language group concentrated in one area,” he said.

“Often you find half the city is white, half the city is black and they are not mixing at all.

“But Melbourne is very mixed. We can see that there some areas emerging, such as in Springvale and Dandenong where you have a concentrated specific ethnicity.

“But it does seem that Melbourne has a history of the second or third generations of migrant families becoming absorbed into the society and moving out of those suburbs,” Dr Saberi said.

But Monash University population researcher Bob Birrell warns economic currents could be pushing language groups towards greater segregation.

“The big picture is quite clear,” he says. “As Melbourne’s population expands very rapidly and competition for housing increases … those with limited resources, particularly recently arrived migrants who are from the family reunion and refugee stream, will have no choice but to move into relatively low-cost middle and outer suburbs.”