Canada Census Reveals Ever Growing Linguistic Diversity

While English and French remain the languages most spoken by Canadians, more people are speaking a language other than the country’s two official languages.

Data from the 2016 Census released by Statistics Canada on August 2, 2017 shows that “over 7.7 million people reported an immigrant mother tongue (alone or with other languages). This corresponds to 22.3% of the Canadian population.”

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This is consistent with the initial results released on February 2, 2017 that the key driver of population growth in the country is international migration.

Between the 2016 and 2011 Census, the number of Canadians speaking a language other than English or French at home increased by around one million people or 14.5%.

Asian Languages on the Rise

The report highlighted the strong growth of Asian languages, notably Mandarin (spoken by 641,100 people), Cantonese (594,705), Punjabi (568,375), Spanish (553,495), Tagalog (525,375) and Arabic (514,200).

Other languages spoken by at least 100,000 people now include Tagalog (increasing by 35% from 2011), Arabic (+30%), Persian (Farsi) (+26.7%), Hindi (+26.1%), and Urdu (+25.0%).  

French and English Declining

In contrast, the report noted that the proportion of Canadians whose mother tongue is English or French has been declining with each census. In 2011, 82.4% of Canadians reported English or French as their mother tongue. In the 2016 census, the number was down to 78.9% of the population.

Meanwhile, the report noted an increase in the number of people who speak an Aboriginal language at home, up from 213,230  to 228,770 people in 2016.

“This difference, particularly significant among youths aged 0 to 14, shows the growing acquisition of an Aboriginal language as second language,” the report explained.

The growth of multilingualism in Canada, however, appears to have no effect on the rate of English–French bilingualism, which is reported to be at its highest at 17.9% in 2016 compared to the previous peak of 17.7% in 2001. It was also found to be growing in most provinces and territories — particularly in Quebec.

Overall, 98.1% of Canadians reported that they were able to hold a conversation in at least one official language in 2016, and 93.4% spoke English or French at home at least on a regular basis,” the report concluded.

Earlier this month, a researcher in Quebec called the attention of Statistics Canada over a possible error in the surge of anglophones in Quebec.

The federal statistics agency updated the language data, acknowledging that there was an error in reporting the numbers in Quebec due to a computer glitch. However, it said, “the adjusted data do not change the portrait in Canada outside Quebec.”

“The new data shows that the population with French as a mother tongue is 77.1% rather than 76.4%, and the population that speaks French most often at home (single responses) is 79% rather than 78.3%,” Statistics Canada said in the updated language report.

Gerard Castañeda

Research Associate for Slator.com. Runs, bikes, and climbs mountains for fun.