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English and French rightly remain Canada’s official languages

A symbol of official bingualism

Paul Giamou/iStockphoto

French continues to thrive in officially bilingual Canada, and the growth of other languages in the country is not a threat to the two founding languages. This state of affairs may not be what the linguistic doomsayers among Quebec separatists want to hear, or for that matter the other critics of official bilingualism. But the latest report by Statistics Canada reconfirms that Canada is solidly an English and French nation.

Yes, there are a growing number of people speaking languages other than English or French as a mother tongue, and their cumulative total now surpasses French. That was seized upon by some as significant. But why? Their numbers are small when each language is taken individually. The largest of those, Punjabi, is the mother tongue of only 3 percent of Canadians. The fastest-growing mother tongue in Canada is Tagalog, the language of the Philippines.

It is desirable that these languages, along with many others like Spanish, Mandarin, Urdu and German, should be taught in some schools, where numbers warrant, but the so-called allophones are not a unified linguistic group. Some people insist on comparing the percentage of Canadians who speak French with the combined percentage of Canadians who speak all the other languages that aren't English or French? It suggests a certain schadenfreude against French – or against Quebec's being part of Canada.

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A European Union study on language reported this year that more than half of Europeans can converse in a second language, but more strikingly, a quarter are able to speak at least two additional languages and one in 10 are conversant in at least three. In this respect, Canadians should look to Europe for inspiration. This country is richer for its many languages, and the more languages Canadians speak the better.

But these flourishing immigrant languages should not be used as a justification for undermining French. Tagalog and others are not official languages, and but no single one of them has the heritage, but more importantly the numbers, to justify such a status. Canada still needs to have common languages that allow us to communicate with each other. As the census shows, these are English and French. They remain the right choices as the two official languages of Canada.

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