For the first time ever, fully one-fifth of Canada’s population has a mother tongue that’s neither English nor French, Statistics Canada reported Tuesday.
The 2006 census report reaffirmed the Chinese languages as Canada’s third most common mother tongue group, with more than one million people—a growth rate of 18.5% since 2001—reporting their mother tongues as Mandarin, Cantonese, Taiwanese or four other Chinese languages.
Growth in the number of allophones—people whose mother tongue is other than French or English—was the most significant in Quebec, where their numbers expanded by 25% between 2001 and 2006, said Jean-Pierre Corbeil, chief specialist on language statistics.
The census also reported the number of Quebec anglophones grew by 2.7% between 2001 and 2006—the first increase since 1976, when the Parti Quebecois’ election win prompted a mass exodus of anglophones.
While francophone numbers within Quebec increased by 2%, their overall proportion of the provincial population declined to below 80% for the first time since 1931.
But also for the first time, a majority of Quebec’s allophones reported adopting French as their main home language. With every successive wave of immigration, the adoption rate of French has increased, with 75% of the newest immigrants speaking French.
The statistics show that immigrants are strengthening the French language in Quebec, said Mr. Corbeil.
“It’s definitely moving toward French in Quebec,” he said.
While the 2001 census showed many francophones moving from Quebec to Alberta and B.C., that trend had reversed by 2006, said Corbeil. Pockets of francophones in other provinces increased due to immigration, especially in Alberta, B.C. and the Yukon.
Overall, Italian remained the fourth largest mother-tongue language in Canada, although its numbers declined, while German held onto fifth and Punjabi claimed sixth place with a 34.4% increase. Spanish, Arabic, Tagalog—the language of the Philippines—and Portuguese followed.
Canadians reported speaking more than 200 languages. Of the 10 largest allophone groups in Canada, Urdu (a major language in Pakistan and India) grew the most, increasing by 80% to 156,000 people in 2006.
Some 68% of allophones use English or French on a regular basis while 40% use an official language exclusively at home.
The longer immigrants are in Canada, the more they use an official language. Overall, nine out of 10 Canadians speak French or English most often at home.
While the number of anglophones and francophones grew, their proportion in the population fell as allophones grew to 20.1 per cent of the population in 2006, up from 18 per cent in 2001.
“It really shifts the balance,” Corbeil said.
The number of allophones increased at three times the growth rate of the population as a whole, mainly due to the fact that four-fifths of immigrants who arrived on Canada’s shores between 2001 and 2006 during that period were allophone.
Bilingualism increased, with 17.4% of Canadians able to converse in English and French. For anglophones, 7.5% of those outside Quebec are bilingual, compared with 69% within that province. For francophones, the rate of bilingualism is 35.8% in Quebec and 83.6% of those living in other provinces.
However, while bilingualism was slightly higher for children up to age 14, it declined amongst young people aged 15 to 19.
“The ability of young anglophones to maintain their knowledge of French as a second language appears to decline with time,” the report said.
Statistics Canada noted that its numbers on bilingualism amongst francophones could have been affected by an anonymous e-mail that circulated a month before the census data was collected, urging francophones to say they knew French but not English in an attempt to ensure the federal government would not cut services to francophones.
“It seems probable that the e-mail influenced some francophones in their responses,” the report said.
While 98% of Canadians can speak one or both official languages, English or French is spoken regularly at home by 94% of Canadians.
Just over one-fifth of Canada’s population spoke French most often at home, down from 22% in 2001, and in Quebec the number dropped to 81.8% from 83.1%.
Two-thirds of Canadians (66.7%) spoke English most often at home, down slightly from 67.5% in 2001.
Since the mid-1980s, with increased immigration and the tendency of most immigrants to have a non-official mother tongue, the share of the allophone population has risen rapidly, from 13 per cent in 1986 to 17 per cent in 1996 and now to 20 per cent.
Most allophones—87%—live in a major city. Toronto claimed the highest proportion of allophones, with 44% of the population, followed by Vancouver at 41%, Montreal at 22%, Calgary at 23%, Edmonton at 21% and Ottawa-Gatineau at 17%.
Although allophones tend to live in the central areas of cities, more are moving out to the suburbs, and in three large suburban areas, they represent a majority: the Toronto suburbs of Markham and Vaughan, and Burnaby, just outside Vancouver.