The language situation in Canada, a country of more than 35 million people, is not so simple as it might seem at a first sight. It’s not simply a bilingual country, but a country with many linguistic specialties, lots of dialects, the languages of minorities, and so on. In this article, we will try to uncover the real language situation in this country.
Canada’s official languages and the colonial past
As for the present time, there are two official languages in Canada: French and English. At first, exactly the French state established a colony in Canada under the name “New France”, while inhabiting the lands with its people and popularizing the French language among the aboriginal Canadians. After losing in the Seven Years’ War, France had ceded most of the Canadian territories, but the British rulers agreed to protect the right of the Canadians to speak French. This resulted in the present-day situation, when there are two state languages and all the legislature must be translated into both languages.
The census, which was carried out in 2011, showed that 56.9% of the Canadian population consider English to be the mother tongue, whereas 21.3% of the Canadian citizens adhere to French. When it comes to the knowledge of languages, over 85% of the Canadians possess working knowledge of the English language. The share of the Canadian people having a good command of French is far smaller: 30.1%.
The language situation in Canada is not as simple as it might seem at a first sight
Even though both languages are recognized as official at the state level, the language situation varies across the regions. For instance, Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan have only English as an official language. In regions like Ontario, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island there are no official languages, yet English is de facto an official one. Quebec has only official language as well: French. Provinces like Yukon and New Brunswick have two official languages: French and English. At the same time, Nunavut region has also Inuit language as an official one, in addition to French and English. After all, the Northwest Territories have 11 official languages, including both English and French.
The languages of minorities in Canada
Canada is truly a land of immigrants, and it should not be a surprise that there are many national minorities, whose ancestors came from other countries. Therefore, the Canadian state agreed to protect the rights of speakers of the minority languages.
A large number of immigrants were coming to Canada from Europe in the 18th and 19th century, and so there are a large number of speakers of European languages in Canada, namely: Spanish (758 thousands), Italian (661 thousands), German (623 thousands), Dutch (350 thousands), Portuguese (275 thousands), Polish (243 thousands), Russian (192 thousands), Ukrainian (174 thousands), and Greek (157 thousands). At the same time, there are large minorities from Asia and Middle East, with 472,080 of Chinese speakers, 434,720 Cantonese speakers, 365,085 Arabic speakers, 324,120 Filipino speakers, 299,600 Punjabi speakers, 281,840 Mandarin speakers, and 208,115 Urdu speakers.
The aboriginal languages in Canada
There are more than 25 aboriginal languages and dialects spoken in Canada nowadays. The languages with the biggest numbers of speakers are the following ones: Cree (99,950 speakers), Inuktitut (35,690 speakers), Ojibwe (32,460 speakers), Innu (11,815 speakers), and Dene Suline (11,130 speakers).