An increasingly diverse linguistic landscape: Highlights from the 2016 Census

Excerpts from the StatsCan summary:

Immigrant languages show strong growth

“Immigrant languages” refer to languages (other than English and French – the national official languages) whose existence in Canada is originally due to immigration after English and French colonization. This expression excludes Aboriginal languages and sign languages, in addition to English and French.

The first results from the 2016 Census, released on February 8, 2017, showed once more that international migration is the key driver of population growth in Canada. As such, Canada’s linguistic landscape is constantly changing. In the 2016 Census, over 7.7 million people reported an immigrant mother tongue (alone or with other languages). This corresponds to 22.3% of the Canadian population.

Over 7.3 million people reported speaking an immigrant language at home. The main immigrant languages spoken at home by Canadians in 2016 were Mandarin (641,100 people), Cantonese (594,705 people), Punjabi (568,375 people), Spanish (553,495 people), Tagalog (Pilipino) (525,375 people) and Arabic (514,200 people). Proportionally speaking, the number of people who speak each of these languages individually represents between 1.4% and 1.9% of the Canadian population.

Some languages saw significant growth from 2011 to 2016. Among the languages spoken by at least 100,000 people, Tagalog (Pilipino) (+35.0%), Arabic (+30.0%), Persian (Farsi) (+26.7%), Hindi (+26.1%) and Urdu (+25.0%) experienced the largest increases. The number of people who spoke a Chinese language at home rose 16.8% from 2011 to 2016 (see note to readers).

Chart 2  Chart 2: Variation between 2011 and 2016 in the population who reported speaking certain immigrant languages, Canada
Variation between 2011 and 2016 in the population who reported speaking certain immigrant languages, Canada

Chart 2: Variation between 2011 and 2016 in the population who reported speaking certain immigrant languages, Canada

Conversely, some European languages were reported by fewer people as the language spoken at home, led by Italian (-10.9%), Polish (-5.5%), German (-3.3%) and Greek (-2.3%).

These trends reflect the changes that Canada has undergone in terms of the geographic origin of its immigrants. The number of people who speak languages from countries that are recent sources of immigration, primarily Asian countries, is on the rise. Meanwhile, the number of people who speak certain European languages—which reflect older waves of immigration—is declining.

Immigrant languages are more commonly spoken in Canada’s large census metropolitan areas (CMAs). The infographic Immigrant Languages in Canada gives a general overview of the main immigrant languages spoken in the different regions of Canada.

The population with an immigrant mother tongue is increasing across Canada

The population with an immigrant mother tongue rose in every region of Canada. In absolute numbers, Ontario (+352,745 people) and Western Canada (+414,260 people) saw the largest growth from 2011 to 2016.

In relative terms, the Atlantic provinces (+33.2%) and the territories (+27.6%) saw the largest increase in the population with an immigrant mother tongue, despite accounting for only 1.2% of this population in 2016. In 2011, these two regions accounted for 1.0% of this population.

The population with an immigrant mother tongue is largely concentrated in large CMAs, with nearly two-thirds living in the CMAs of Toronto (35.3%), Vancouver (14.1%) and Montréal (13.0%). These proportions were down slightly from 2011, when they were 36.3%, 14.3% and 13.3% respectively.

In relative terms, the population with an immigrant mother tongue experienced more rapid growth in the CMAs of Edmonton (+31.1%), Calgary (+28.0%) and, to a lesser extent, Ottawa-Gatineau (+15.5%). This growth was 10.3% in Toronto, 10.6% in Montréal and 11.5% in Vancouver.

The document Linguistic diversity and multilingualism in Canadian homes presents the main immigrant mother tongues in the large CMAs in Canada. In Montréal and Ottawa-Gatineau, Arabic was the main immigrant mother tongue. In Calgary and Edmonton, the three most common immigrant mother tongues were, in order, Tagalog, Punjabi and Cantonese. In Toronto and Vancouver, they were Cantonese, Mandarin and Punjabi.

Cree languages are the Aboriginal languages most commonly spoken at home

The 2016 Census of Population provides data on close to 70 Aboriginal languages.

Cree languages were the Aboriginal languages most often reported as the language spoken at home in Canada (83,985 people) in 2016. Inuktitut was spoken by 39,025 people, while 21,800 people spoke Ojibway, 13,855 people spoke Oji-Cree, 11,780 people spoke Dene and 10,960 people spoke Montagnais (Innu).

Overall, the number of people who speak an Aboriginal language at home (228,770 people) is higher than the number of people who have an Aboriginal mother tongue (213,230 people). This difference, particularly significant among youths aged 0 to 14, shows the growing acquisition of an Aboriginal language as second language. In this age group, 44,000 people have an Aboriginal language as a mother tongue, while 55,970 people speak an Aboriginal language at least on a regular basis at home.

More detailed analysis highlighting the richness and diversity of Aboriginal languages will be made available with the release of 2016 Census data on Aboriginal Peoples on October 25, 2017.

English and French are pathways of integration into Canadian societyLinguistic diversity is also measured by the growth of multilingualism in Canadian homes. Multiple languages in the homes of Canadians of all origins are becoming more common.

The proportion of the Canadian population who speak more than one language at home rose from 17.5% in 2011 to 19.4% in 2016. There were also more multiple responses to the question on mother tongue, with the proportion of people who reported more than one mother tongue rising from 1.9% in 2011 to 2.4% in 2016.

Multilingualism primarily occurs when official languages are used increasingly with an immigrant language. For more information, see Linguistic diversity and multilingualism in Canadian homes.

For example, 69.9% of people with an “other” mother tongue (reported alone) spoke English or French at home in 2016—mostly in combination with the mother tongue.

Similarly, 69.8% of people who spoke an “other language” at home (regardless of mother tongue) did so in combination with at least one of the two official languages.

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.

Strong growth of Arabic in the Atlantic provinces

There was an increase in immigrant languages as mother tongue and as a language spoken at home in the Atlantic provinces. Arabic in particular saw strong growth from 2011 to 2016 and was the main immigrant language spoken at home in three Atlantic provinces.

The only exception was Prince Edward Island, where Mandarin was the main immigrant language spoken at home (2,290 people).

Montagnais (Innu) (1,505 people), an Aboriginal language, was the other language most frequently reported spoken at home in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Decline in the use of French at home in Quebec

The various linguistic indicators show an increase in other languages and in English, and a decline in French in Quebec.

Arabic was the most common immigrant language spoken at home (213,055 people) in 2016 in Quebec, up 23.7% from 2011.

English as a mother tongue rose from 9.0% in 2011 to 9.6% in 2016, and as a language spoken at home it increased from 18.3% in 2011 to 19.8% in 2016.

French saw a decline as a mother tongue (from 79.7% in 2011 to 78.4% in 2016) and as a language spoken at home (from 87.0% in 2011 to 86.4% in 2016).

Nearly half of Canadians with an immigrant mother tongue lived in Ontario in 2016

Ontario accounted for nearly half (49.5%) of Canadians whose mother tongue or language spoken at home was an immigrant language in 2016, down slightly from 2011 (50.9% for mother tongue and 51.2% for language spoken at home).

Immigrant languages spoken at home rose significantly in Ontario from 2011 to 2016, led by Arabic (+30.5%), Persian (Farsi) (+24.0%), Urdu (+21.3%), Tagalog (Pilipino) (+19.3%), Chinese languages (+17.4%) and Punjabi (+14.5%).

Asian languages see strong growth in the western provinces

Tagalog (Pilipino) is the main immigrant language spoken at home in the Prairie provinces. From 2011 to 2016, Tagalog (Pilipino) increased 123.1% in Saskatchewan, 68.3% in Alberta and 42.3% in Manitoba.

In numbers, Punjabi was the main immigrant language spoken at home in British Columbia (222,720 people) in 2016, up 10.9% from 2011, followed closely by Mandarin (202,625 people) and Cantonese (200,280 people).

Strong growth for Tagalog in the territories

The number of people who reported speaking Tagalog (Pilipino) rose sharply in Yukon (+105.4%), the Northwest Territories (+58.8%) and Nunavut (+54.5%). The main “other” languages spoken at home were Dogrib (Tlicho) in the Northwest Territories (2,005 people) and Inuktitut in Nunavut (25,405 people). From 2011 to 2016, the number of people speaking Inuktitut in Nunavut rose 12.1%.

All French linguistic indicators increased in the three Canadian territories.

Source: The Daily — An increasingly diverse linguistic landscape: Highlights from the 2016 Census

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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