Canada

These 6 graphics show how language is changing in Canada

A quarter of Canadians now have a first language that is neither English or French, according to newly released census data on language, which marks a record high.
An illustration showing a map of Canada, with speech bubbles of various sizes and colours popping up off the map.
The number of Canadians who predominantly speak a language other than English or French hit a record high in 2021, according to new census data. (Wendy Martinez/CBC)

A quarter of Canadians now have a first language that is neither English nor French, according to newly released census data on language, which marks a record high.

These six graphics — based on Statistics Canada data from the 2021 census — provide insight into languages that Canadians know how to speak and which ones they're using at home. 

In Quebec, bilingualism has increased 1.9 percentage points since the 2016 census. It comes after Quebec adopted Bill 96 earlier this year in an attempt to strengthen French language in the province, particularly in the courts, businesses and among immigrants to the province.

Among Indigenous languages in Canada, knowledge of Inuktitut, Oji-Cree and Nehiyawewin (Plains Cree) is highest, according to the latest census data. Statistics Canada also indicated the number of Canadians who can speak an Indigenous language has slightly decreased.

But the agency has cautioned against comparing figures from previous censuses, stating that the COVID-19 pandemic limited its ability to accurately count First Nations and Indigenous communities.

The agency also cited heat waves and wildfires in British Columbia and northern Ontario as challenges during the census process. Statistics Canada said accurate comparisons can't be made until September.

Language data offers a glimpse into the diversity of Canada. Using the Language Diversity Index — which measures the probability that two random people will not have the same first language — we can calculate just how linguistically diverse each province is. 

Calculations by CBC News indicate Nunavut and Ontario have the highest index scores, while Newfoundland and Labrador has the lowest.

The number of Canadians who speak Mandarin, Punjabi or Spanish at home saw the biggest increases since the 2016 census — and those languages remain among the top non-official languages spoken in Canada. (Cantonese is the third-most common non-official language spoken at home in Canada, though it saw a slight decrease between 2016 and 2021.) 

Several other languages also increased since the last federal census. 

Tagalog, spoken mostly by those from the Philippines, is the most common non-official language spoken at home in three provinces and territories — Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Yukon. 

Mandarin, the official language of China, is the most common in Ontario, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

The number of people who know sign languages in Canada — including American Sign Language (ASL) — has increased by about 1,000 people.

In Saskatchewan, for example, sign language interpreters were used for the first time during televised news conferences updating the public on the COVID-19 pandemic, exposing more people to the language.

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story showed a notable increase in the number of Serbo-Croatian and Haitian Creole speakers in Canada. This reference has been removed due to methodological changes in the census.
    Aug 19, 2022 11:03 AM ET

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Graeme Bruce

Producer, data visualizations and graphics

Graeme Bruce is a producer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. Previously, he was a digital editor at the Winnipeg Free Press. Find him on Twitter @graemebruce_ and reach him by email at graeme.bruce@cbc.ca.

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