languages of choice

Spoken languages of Canada

A multitude of languages are spoken in Canada. According to the 2006 census, English and French are the preferred language ("home language", or language spoken most often in the home) of 67.1% and 21.5% of the population, respectively. English and French are recognized by the Constitution of Canada as "official languages," which means that all laws of the federal government are enacted in both English and French and that federal government services are required to be available in both languages.

The five most widely-spoken non-official languages are Chinese (the home language of 2.6% of Canadians), Punjabi (0.8%), Spanish (0.7%), Italian (0.6%), and Arabic (0.5%). Aboriginal languages, many of which are unique to Canada, are spoken by less than one percent of the population, and are mostly in decline.

Patterns of individual language use

Language most spoken at home in Canada
  1996   2001
English 68.6% 68.3%
French 22.9% 22.3%
Other language 10.6% 11.2%
Note that percentages add up to more than 100% because some people speak two or more languages at home.

Language composition by Home language

The following are the top twenty languages spoken in Canada, shown as a percentage of total single responses (just over 98% of Canadians use a single language as their "home language", and slightly under 2% use more than one language at home):

  1. English 20,584,775 (67.1%)
  2. French 6,608,125 (19.1%)
  3. Chinese 790,035 (2.6%)
  4. Punjabi 278,500 (0.9%)
  5. Spanish 209,955 (0.7%)
  6. Italian 170,330 (0.6%)
  7. Ukrainian 148,090 (0.5%)
  8. Arabic 144,745 (0.5%)
  9. German 128,350 (0.4%)
  10. Tagalog 119,345 (0.4%)
  11. Vietnamese 111,440 (0.4%)
  12. Portuguese 103,875 (0.3%)
  13. Urdu 102,805 (0.3%)
  14. Polish 101,575 (0.3%)
  15. Korean 101,500 (0.3%)
  16. Persian 97,220 (0.3%)
  17. Russian 93,805 (0.3%)
  18. Tamil 92,680 (0.3%)
  19. Greek 55,100 (0.2%)
  20. Gujarati 52,715 (0.2%)
  21. Romanian 51,060 (0.2%)

Geographic distribution

The following table details the population of each province and territory by language spoken most often in the home (“Home language”).


Total population





Other languages



9,789,937 81.4%

304,727 2.5%

1,934,235 16.1%


787,885 10.6%

6,085,152 81.8%

562,860 7.6%


3,380,253 83.0%

19,361 0.5%

676,911 16.6%


2,915,867 89.5%

21,347 0.7%

319,142 9.8%


997,598 88.0%

20,515 1.8%

115,398 10.1%


900,231 94.4%

4,318 0.5%

49,301 5.2%


868,408 96.2%

17,871 1.9%

16,811 1.9%


496,850 69.0%

213,878 29.7%

8,913 1.2%


494,695 98.8%

740 0.1%

5,170 1.0%


130,270 97.1%

2,755 2.1%

1,175 0.9%


36,918 89.9%

458 1.1%

3,678 9.0%


28,711 94.8%

578 1.9%

985 3.3%
29,325 13,120 44.7% 228 0.8% 15,950 54.5%
Source: Statistics Canada, 2006 Census Profile of Federal Electoral Districts (2003 Representation Order): Language, Mobility and Migration and Immigration and Citizenship. (Figures combine single and multiple responses. Multiple responses for “French/English”, “French/Other” and “English/Other” were allocated with one-half of all respondents placed in either linguistic category. Multiple responses for English/French/Other” were allocated with one-third of all respondents being placed in each of the three categories.).

Use of English

In 2006, just under 20.6 million Canadians spoke English at home. English is the major language in all provinces except Quebec, where it is the preferred language of only 10.5% of the population. Only 3.6% of Canada's English-speaking population resides in Quebec--mostly in Montreal.

Use of French

In 2006, just over 6.6 million Canadians spoke French at home. Of these, 91.2% resided in Quebec. Outside Quebec, the largest French-speaking populations are found in New Brunswick (which is home to 3.5% of Canada’s francophones) and Ontario (4.4%, residing primarily in the eastern and northeastern parts of the province and in Toronto). Smaller indigenous French-speaking communities exist in some other provinces. For example, a vestigial community exists on Newfoundland's Port au Port Peninsula; a remnant of French occupation of the island.

In addition to francophones of French-Canadian and Acadian origin, many francophones of Haiti, France, Belgium, Morocco, Lebanon and Switzerland have emigrated to Quebec since the early 1960s. As a result of this wave of immigration and the assimilation of many earlier generations of non-francophone immigrants (Irish, English, Italian, Portuguese, etc.), Canadian-born francophones of Quebec are of diverse ethnic origin. Five francophone Premiers of Quebec have been of British ethnic origin, as defined by Statistics Canada: John Jones Ross, Edmund James Flynn, Daniel Johnson, Sr., Pierre-Marc Johnson and Daniel Johnson, Jr.

The assimilation of francophones outside Quebec into the English-Canadian society means that outside Quebec, over one million Canadians who claim English as their mother tongue are of French ethnic origin. (1991 Census, ethnic origin and mother tongue, by province).

Personal French-English bilingualism

According to the 2001 census, only 2% of Canadian residents are unable to speak at least one of the country’s two official languages, but only 17.5% of Canadians are bilingual in French and English.

Knowledge of each of the official languages is nearly universal in the parts of the country where it predominates, but relatively rare in the part where it is not predominant. The statistics reveal a significant division between language knowledge in Quebec and in the Rest of Canada.

French-English bilingualism among linguistic groups.
Anglophones Francophones Allophones
Canada 9% 43.4% 11.8%
Quebec 66.1% 36.6% 50.4%
Rest of Canada 7.1% 85.1% 5.7%

Outside Quebec, almost 99% of Canadians know how to speak English, but only about 10% know how to speak French. Within Quebec, the situation is reversed: about 95% of Quebec residents speak French, but only about 37% can conduct a conversation in English.

Thus, even though most Quebecers are unilingual, a majority of bilingual Canadians come from the province.

Non-official languages that are unique to Canada

Aboriginal languages

According to the 2006 census, just over 250,000 Canadians know how to speak one or more of the country's top 25 aboriginal languages. About half this number (129,865) reported using an aboriginal language on a daily basis. The most widely-spoken languages are Cree, Inuktitut, Ojibway, Innu, and Dene.

Most widely-spoken aboriginal languages

The following are the top twenty-five aboriginal languages spoken in Canada.

Aboriginal language No. of speakers

Mother tongue

Home language
Cree 99,950 78,855


Inuktitut 35,690



Ojibway 32,460 11,115


Montagnais-Naskapi (Innu) 11,815 10,970


Dene 11,130 9,750


Oji-Cree (Anishinini) 12,605 8,480


Mi’kmaq 8,750 7,365


Siouan languages (Dakota/Sioux) 6,495 5,585


Atikamekw 5,645 5,245

Blackfoot 4,915 3,085


Tłįchǫ or Dogrib 2,645 2,015 1,110

Algonquin 2,685 1,920

Carrier 2,495 1,560 605
Gitksan 1,575 1,175 320
Chilcotin 1,400 1,070 435
North Slave (Hare) 1,235 650 650
South Slave 2,315 600 600
Malecite 790 535 140
Chipewyan 770 525 125
Inuinnaqtun 580 370 70
Kutchin-Gwich’in (Loucheaux) 570 355 25
Mohawk 615 290 20
Shuswap 1,650 250 250
Nisga’a 1,090 250 250
Tlingit 175 0 0
Source: Statistics Canada, 2006 Census Profile of Federal Electoral Districts (2003 Representation Order): Language, Mobility and Migration and Immigration and Citizenship Ottawa, 2007, pp. 2, 6, 10.

Canadian dialects of European languages

Canadian Gaelic

Scottish Gaelic was spoken by many immigrants who settled in the Maritimes. Scottish Gaelic was spoken predominantly in New Brunswick's Restigouche River valley, central and southeastern Prince Edward Island, and across the whole of northern Nova Scotia--particularly Cape Breton Island.

While the language has mostly disappeared, regional pockets persist. These are mostly centred on families deeply committed to their Celtic traditions. Nova Scotia currently has 500-1000 fluent speakers, mostly in northwestern Cape Breton Island.

There have been attempts in Nova Scotia to institute Gaelic immersion on the model of French immersion. As well, formal post-secondary studies in Gaelic language and culture are available through St. Francis Xavier University, Saint Mary's University, and the Gaelic College.

In 1890, a private member's was tabled in the Canadian Senate, calling for Gaelic to be made Canada's third official language. However, the bill was defeated 42-7.

Newfoundland Irish

Some of the original immigrants to Newfoundland were native speakers of Irish, who passed on a version of their language to their children. As a result, Newfoundland became the only place outside Europe to have its own Irish dialect. Newfoundland was also the only place outside Europe to have its own distinct name in Irish: Talamh an Éisc, which means 'land of the fish'. The Irish language is now extinct in Newfoundland.


Also the use of the Welsh is found in Newfoundland from previous Welsh settlement since the 17th century from Wales where it is the country's co-official language. Also there was an influx of Patagonian Welsh from Argentina settled in Canada after the 1982 Falkland Islands War when Great Britain successfully ousted Argentine troops from the disputed British colony with Argentina. About 1,000 fluent speakers of Welsh are found in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, but Welsh-Argentines are fluent in Spanish as well in English.

Acadian French

A unique form of Canadian French which incorporates not only distinctly Canadian phrases but also nautical terms, English loan words, linguistic featues found only in older forms of French as well as ones found in the Maritime English dialect.

Canadian Ukrainian

Canada is also home to a distinct dialect of the Ukrainian language, spoken mostly in Western Canada by the descendants of first two waves of Ukrainian settlement in Canada who developed in a degree of isolation from their cousins in what was then Poland, Austria-Hungary, and the Soviet Union.

Doukhobor Russian

Canada's Doukhobor community, especially in Grand Forks and Castlegar, British Columbia, has kept its distinct dialect of Russian. It has a lot in common with South Russian dialects, showing some common features with Ukrainian. This dialect's versions are becoming extinct in their home regions of Georgia and Russia where the Doukhobors have split into smaller groups.


The meagerly documented Bungee language (also known as Bungy, Bungie, Bungay, and as the Red River Dialect) is a dialect of English which evolved within the Prairie Metis community. It is influenced by Cree and Scots Gaelic. Bungee was spoken in the Red River area of Manitoba. In 1989, at the time of the only academic study ever undertaken on the language, only six speakers of Bungee were known to still be alive.

Pidgins, mixed languages, & trade languages

In Canada as elsewhere in the world of European colonization, the frontier of European exploration and settlement tended to be a linguistically diverse and fluid place, as cultures using different languages met and interacted. The need for a common means of communication between the indigenous inhabitants and new arrivals for the purposes of trade and (in some cases) intermarriage led to the development of hybrid languages. These languages tended to be highly localized, were often spoken by only a small number of individuals who were frequently capable of speaking another language, and often persisted only briefly, before being wiped out by the arrival of a large population of permanent settlers, speaking either English or French.


Michif (also known as Mitchif, Mechif, Michif-Cree, Métif, Métchif and French Cree) is a mixed language which evolved within the Prairie Metis community. It is based on elements of Cree, Ojibwa, Assiniboine and French. Michif is today spoken by less than 1,000 individuals in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and North Dakota. At its peak, around 1900, Michif was understood by perhaps three times this number.

Basque pidgin

In the 16th century, a Basque pidgin developed in coastal areas along the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Strait of Belle Isle as the result of contact between Basque whalers and local aboriginals.

Chinook Jargon

In British Columbia, Yukon and throughout the Pacific Northwest a pidgin language known as the Chinook Jargon emerged in the early 19th Century which was a combination of Chinookan, Nootka, Chehalis, French and English, with a smattering of words from other languages including Hawaiian and Spanish. Certain words and expressions remain current in local use.

Franglais And Chiac

A portmanteau language which is said to combine English and French syntax, grammar and lexicons to form a unique interlanguage, sometimes ascribed to mandatory basic French education in the Canadian anglophone school systems. While many Canadians are barely conversant in French they will often borrow French words into their sentences. Simple words and phrases like "quest que c'est ca?" (what is that?) or words like "arrete" (stop) can alternate with their English counterparts. This phenomena is more common in the Eastern half of the country where there is a greater density of Francophone populations. Franglais can also refer to the supposed degradation of the French language thanks to the overwhelming impact English Canadian has on the country's Francophone inhabitants, though many linguists would argue that while English vocabulary can be freely borrowed as a stylistic device, the grammar of French has been resistant to influences from English and the same conservatism holds true in Canadian English grammar, even in Quebec City. One interesting example of is Chiac, popularly a combination of Acadian French and Canadian English, but actually an unmistakeable variety of French, which is native to the Maritimes (particularly New Brunswick which has a large Acadian population).

Demolinguistic descriptors

Mother tongue: The language spoken by the mother or the person responsible for taking care of the child is the most basic measure of a population's language. However, with the high number of mixed francophone-anglophone marriages and the reality of bilingualism and trilingualism, this description does not allow to fully determine the real linguistic portrait of Canada. It is, however, still essential, for example in order to calculate the assimilation rate.

Home language: This is the language most often spoken at home. This descriptor has the advantage of pointing out the current usage of languages. It however fails to describe the language that is most spoken at work, which may be a different language.

Knowledge of Official Languages: This measure describes which of the two official languages of Canada a person can speak informally. This relies on the person's own evaluation of his/her linguistic competence and can prove misleading. It was developed by Statistics Canada.

First Official Language Spoken: This is a composite measure of mother tongue, home language and knowledge of official language. It was developed by Statistics Canada.

Official language minority: Based on first official language learned, but placing half of the people equally proficient in both English and French into each linguistic community; it is used by the Canadian government to define English- and French-speaking communities in order to gauge demand for minority language services in a region.

Official bilingualism

English and French have equal status in federal courts, Parliament, and in all federal institutions. The public has the right, where there is sufficient demand, to receive federal government services in either English or French. Immigrants who are applying for Canadian citizenship must normally be able to speak either English or French.

The principles of bilingualism in Canada are protected in sections 16 to 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982 which establishes that:

  • French and English are equal to each other as federal official languages;
  • Debate in Parliament may take place in either official language;
  • Federal laws shall be printed in both official languages, with equal authority;
  • Anyone may deal with any court established by Parliament, in either official language;
  • Everyone has the right to receive services from the federal government in his or her choice of official language;
  • Members of a minority language group of one of the official languages if learned and still understood (i.e., French speakers in a majority English-speaking province, or vice versa) or received primary school education in that language has the right to have their children receive a public education in their language, where numbers warrant.

Canada's Official Languages Act, first adopted in 1969 and updated in 1988, gives English and French equal status throughout federal institutions.

Official policies of the Provinces and Territories

Officially French-only

Until 1977, Quebec was the only officially bilingual province in Canada and most public institutions functioned in both languages. English is also used in the legislature, government commissions and courts. With the adoption of the Charter of the French Language by Quebec's National Assembly in August 1977, however, French became the sole official language of the government of Quebec. However, the French Language Charter also provides certain rights for speakers of English and aboriginal languages and most government services are available in both French and English. Regional institutions in the Nunavik region of northern Quebec offer services in Inuktitut and Cree.

De facto English only

Most provinces have laws that make either English or both English and French the official language(s) of the legislature and the courts, but may also have separate policies in regards to education and the bureaucracy.

For example, in Alberta, English and French are both official languages of debate in the Legislative Assembly however there is no requirement that laws (invariably drafted solely in English) be translated into French. French can be used in some lower courts, education is offered in both languages, but the bureaucracy functions almost solely in English. Alberta is therefore thought of an officially English province. Ontario and Manitoba are similar but allow for more services in French at the local level.

In Ontario, the French Language Services Act ensures that the province provides French speaking people with services in the French language.

In Alberta, the Alberta School Act protects the right of French speaking people to receive school instruction in the French language in the province.

In Manitoba, the French Language Services Policy guarantees access to provincial government services in French, and various kinds of French-language education is provided.

Officially multilingual

Only one province (New Brunswick) is officially bilingual. The province's officially bilingual status has been entrenched in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms since the 1980s. As well, all of Canada's three territories explicitly proclaim multiple languages co-official.

The official languages are:

In the case of New Brunswick, this means something close to perfect equality. In the other cases, the recognition sometimes amounts to a formal recognition of official languages, but limited services in official languages other than English.

For example, NWT residents have the right to use any of the territory's eleven official languages in a territorial court and in debates and proceedings of the legislature. However, laws are legally binding only in their French and English versions, and the government only publishes laws and other documents in the territory's other official languages when asked by the legislature. Furthermore, access to services in any language is limited to institutions and circumstances where there is significant demand for that language or where it is reasonable to expect it given the nature of the services requested. In reality, this means that English language services are universally available and there is no guarantee that other languages, including French, will be used by any particular government service except for the courts.

See also


External links

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