Maps tell story of Montreal's changing linguistic landscape

The most popular and fastest-growing foreign languages in the greater Montreal area might surprise you.

Most popular, fastest-growing foreign languages might surprise you

Quebec Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil greets members of a Syrian refugee family in 2016. Arabic is one of the most common non-official languages spoken in the greater Montreal region now, Statistics Canada's 2016 census data has found. (Clement Allard/Canadian Press)

The 2016 census showed that language diversity is growing in Canada. More than one out of every five Canadians said at home, they speak a language other than English or French.

A similar proportion said they speak more than one language at home.

A lot of this change is happening in Montreal.

Here are five maps that show how language is evolving in the metropolitan area.

Note: Although Statistics Canada has acknowledged there were problems with census numbers involving anglophones in Quebec, the agency said counts in Montreal are unaffected by the computer error that skewed language counts in some regions of the province.

Allophones are leaving the island

People whose mother tongue is neither English nor French have lived mainly on the island of Montreal and Laval. But that's changing as more and more allophones move to the suburbs on Montreal's South and North Shores.

"We've been seeing a dynamic of non-official languages spreading more outside the island of Montreal," Émilie Lavoie, a demographer at Statistics Canada, confirmed.

Most spoken foreign languages different here

In other large Canadian cities, the most common non-official languages tend to be Asian: Mandarin, Cantonese, Tagalog, Punjabi and Urdu.

In Montreal, however, Arabic, Spanish and Italian are predominant.

Much of that can be explained by Quebec's preference for immigrants who already speak French — witness the influx of people from North African countries, who also speak Arabic — or who speak languages close to French, such as Spanish and Portuguese.

(Earl Cabuhat/CBC)

The fastest-growing languages hint at new immigration

Montreal's main immigrant groups have historically been Italians, Greeks, Portuguese and people from the Caribbean.

But immigration from those countries has ebbed. The latest census shows that other countries are supplying the city's newer residents.

In the city of Montreal, the three fastest-growing languages are all from India: Malayalam, Telugu and Marathi.

Although their numbers are relatively small (Malayalam grew from 140 in 2011 to 250 speakers in 2016), they hint at a burgeoning Indian immigration.

Likewise, Laval had a big increase in Tamil and Bengali speakers, but the number of speakers of the East African language Swahili doubled in five years, to 120 people.

Farsi, the language of Iran, also saw an impressive bump, growing 43 per cent in five years, to 12,600 speakers in the city. It's also the fastest-growing language in the Montreal suburbs of Côte-Saint-Luc and Hampstead.

(Earl Cabuhat/CBC)

Spanish was the language that grew in the most municipalities in Quebec — mostly in rural or suburban areas.

Municipalities where a language grew the most since 2011
(where there were at least 50 speakers in 2011)

Spanish:  25
Arabic:  20
Inuktitut:  13
Cree:  7
Chinese languages:  7
Romanian:  5

No competition with Toronto

There's a census tract in Côte-des-Neiges where 48 different languages are spoken in homes — the most linguistically diverse area in the Montreal metropolitan region.

What's a census tract?

These are small zones in metropolitan areas with a population between 2,500 and 8,000 people.

What makes that even more impressive is that this little corner of Montreal, delineated by Darlington Avenue, Jean-Talon Boulevard, Van Horne Avenue and Côte-des-Neiges Road, only has a population of 6,600 and is less than half a square kilometre in size.

Some of the languages spoken include Tagalog, Arabic, Spanish, Vietnamese, Tamil, Bengali, and lesser known tongues like Ilocano and Hiligaynon (from the Philippines), Wolof and Fulah (West Africa) and Kabyle (Algeria).

Here's a close-up of the census tract, below left. Next to it, bordering Côte-Sainte-Catherine Road, another tract where 47 languages are spoken at home.

Montreal's most linguistically diverse census tracts, where up to 48 unique languages are spoken inside of homes. (Earl Cabuhat/CBC)

Yet, these pale in comparison with St. James Town in Toronto, which boasts 63 languages among 11,800 people.

Then there's Brittania Youngstown in Edmonton, with 59 languages for 7,250 people.

(Earl Cabuhat/CBC)