Canadians still mostly speak English and French, but nearly one in four reported having another mother tongue, according to the census.
With immigration making up most of Canada’s population growth, it’s hardly surprising that newcomers arrive speaking a variety of languages. The top mother tongue in Canada, other than English or French, is Mandarin, with 641,000 speakers. Another Chinese language, Cantonese, takes second place, and Punjabi is third.
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However, Canada’s fastest-growing language is Tagalog, a language of the Philippines. The number of people reporting speaking Tagalog at home grew by 35 per cent since the last census. This corresponds directly to immigration patterns – the top source country for permanent residents is currently the Philippines and has been for years. Over 50,000 Filipinos became permanent residents in 2015.
“We really saw a strong increase in Tagalog from 2006 to 2011,” said Jean-Pierre Corbeil, assistant director of the centre for ethnocultural language and immigration statistics at Statistics Canada.
“In 2011, we had less than 400,000 people reporting Tagalog as their home language. In terms of increase, we now have 525,000. Tagalog is now among the six most-reported languages.”
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Similarly, looking at the top languages in different regions gives a sense of immigration patterns in the area.
Arabic is the top language, other than English or French, spoken at home in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Mandarin was the main immigrant language spoken at home in Prince Edward Island.
Arabic also increased in Quebec, which also reported a decline in French as a mother tongue from 79.9 per cent to 78.4 per cent.
“In Quebec, those who have Arabic as their mother tongue or home language, for the most part, come from North Africa,” said Corbeil. “Whereas outside Quebec, for instance in the Atlantic provinces or in Ontario, most of them come from the Middle East.”
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Nearly half of all people who reported speaking an immigrant language at home in 2016 lived in Ontario. Mandarin was the top non-official language there. Half of Canada’s Mandarin speakers are in that province, said Corbeil.
Tagalog was the top immigrant language in the Prairies and the territories, and Punjabi was the top language in B.C., with Mandarin and Cantonese close behind.
“Over the last census, it’s clear that Canada is receiving more and more immigrants from Asia and the Middle East,” said Corbeil.
“Despite all of this diversity, some languages are really predominant.”
Although there were 213 languages other than English and French reported in the census, seven languages account for more than half of those speakers: Mandarin, Cantonese, Punjabi, Spanish, Tagalog, Arabic and Italian.
European languages are slowly losing their dominance when it comes to languages spoken at home, said Corbeil. For example, although German is the top-reported mother tongue in Manitoba (other than English or French), Tagalog is spoken most often at home.
Corbeil expects that Tagalog will likely overtake German as the top mother tongue in that province by the next census.
Two Aboriginal languages, Inuktitut in Nunavut and Dogrib (Tlicho) in the Northwest Territories, were also often spoken at home. The number of people who reported speaking Inuktitut actually grew since the last census.
The top non-official language spoken at home in Newfoundland and Labrador is also an Aboriginal language: Montagnais, the language of the Innu.
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“There are three languages that are growing pretty fast,” said Corbeil. “We know that Cree, Inuktitut and Ojibway are the most-reported languages.”
Together, these three languages account for 63 per cent of people who report speaking an Aboriginal language at home. “These three languages, Cree, Inuktitut and Ojibway, keep growing because their birth rate is above the national average and because they represent a sizeable population.”
Three-quarters of people who report having an immigrant mother tongue live in one of Canada’s six largest metropolitan areas: Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa-Gatineau, Calgary, Edmonton or Vancouver.
Arabic is the top immigrant mother tongue in Ottawa and Montreal. Cantonese is the top in Vancouver and Toronto, and Tagalog is the top in Calgary and Edmonton.
Corbeil is careful to note, however, that the growth in immigrant languages doesn’t mean that English or French is losing ground. Seventy per cent of people who report an immigrant mother tongue or who speak an immigrant language at home also speak English or French at home, he said.
“Canada is not going to have Mandarin as its main population.”
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