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Little India on Gerrard Street East in the Gerrard India Bazaar in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Deborah Baic/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
Little India on Gerrard Street East in the Gerrard India Bazaar in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Deborah Baic/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

Dominance of French and English languages shrinking, census shows Add to ...

Immigration is turning Canada into a country of many languages, with the historic dominance of French and English shrinking.

Canada remains a nation of French and English speakers, but people are speaking a greater variety of languages at home, as long-term trends in immigration shape the country’s linguistic landscape.

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The proportion of Canadians who reported speaking two or more languages at home was 17.5 per cent in 2011, up from 14.2 per cent five years earlier, according to Statistics Canada language data from the 2011 Census.

Some demographers had predicted the 2011 census could mark the first time that the number of Canadians who identified French as their mother tongue drops below the number of those who speak immigrant languages.

Although the gap closed slightly, 21 per cent of Canadians identified French as their mother tongue in 2011, still slightly more than the 20.6 per cent who say another language is their mother tongue.

Jane Badets, director general of social and demographic statistics for Statistics Canada, said there’s a clear increase in the diversity of languages Canadians are speaking.

“But at the same time, the presence, the duality of our official languages, English and French, [is still] there,” she said, adding that 94 per cent of Canadians said they speak at least one of the official languages at home.

The greatest increase among immigrant languages was in the Philippines-based Tagalog, with 64 per cent more Canadians reporting that it was the language they speak most often at home in 2011, compared with 2006. The use of Tagalog has been increasing steadily over the past 10 years and was the most common immigrant language spoken at home in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan in 2011.

Mandarin and Arabic also grew significantly between 2006 and 2011, according to the census.

The most commonly spoken immigrant language in Canada in 2011 was Punjabi, followed by Chinese. Other widely-used immigrant languages included Spanish and Tagalog.

The proportion of people who say they can conduct a conversation in French fell slightly, part of a general picture of a long-term decline in the prevalence of French in Canada.

French is becoming a slightly less dominant language in Quebec as well, with just under 73 per cent of Quebec households that they speak only French in 2011, down from about 75 per cent.

But it remains the most commonly-used language in the province by far, Ms. Badets said, though it's more frequently being spoken alongside another immigrant language. "French is very dominant. It's still the major language in Quebec," she said.

Of the 200 languages reported in the census, 60 were aboriginal languages. Among the 213,400 people who reported that they speak an aboriginal language at home, about 38,000 reported a different language as their mother tongue.

Cree languages, Inuktitut and Ojibway were the most frequent aboriginal languages Canadians reported as a mother tongue in 2011, according to the census.

Most immigrant-language speakers live in Canada's largest cities – a long-term trend that corresponds with immigration patterns – with about 80 per cent of them concentrated in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa-Gatineau.

The dominance of different immigrant languages varies considerably by city, with Arabic and Spanish accounting for close to one-third of immigrant languages spoken at home in Montreal and Ottawa-Gatineau, Punjabi taking the top spot in Vancouver, and Tagalog and Punjabi rating highest in Edmonton.

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