Monday, July 1, 2013

Canada Day: The Languages of Canada

Today is another celebration of a nation. In fact, it's Canada Day. In honour of the day, we're going to take a quick look at the languages spoken in the world's second largest country. We covered the languages spoken in Quebec last week, so we'll skirt past those and tell you about those spoken in Canada's other provinces.

As you should already know, Canada has two official languages. English accounts for nearly 57% of the population, while French is spoken by just over 23% of the population. French is principally spoken in Quebec and towards the provincial border of Ontario. English, on the other hand, is fairly prominent in all the remaining provinces. As both English and French are both well-known languages, we'll be talking about some of Canada's other languages, including native languages and immigrant languages.

In terms of indigenous or aboriginal languages, Canada has 65 distinct languages. Many of these languages are spoken in small rural communities by very few people and are at a high risk of going extinct. 

The Aurora Borealis seen over Yellowknife,
capital city of the Northwest Territories.
The largest region of Canada, Nunavut, has the lowest proportion of English and French speakers, with nearly 53% of the population not speaking either of these languages. The main native Inuit languages of Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun hold official language status in the province. The two languages are closely related and can be found across most of the northern extremities of Canada, as well as in Alaska and the western parts of Greenland.

In terms of linguistic diversity at the administrative level, the Northwest Territories probably have the rest of Canada beat. After you count English and French, the area has nine additional official languages. One of these languages is Cree, the most spoken aboriginal language in all of Canada. It has about 100,000 speakers, which means that its chances of linguistic survival are quite good. The aforementioned Inuktitut is also doing quite well in terms of number of speakers, but most of the other official languages of the Northwest Territories are endangered. The Tłı̨chǫ language is spoken near Great Slave Lake by just a few thousand speakers, while Gwich'in is severely endangered, with a mere 500 speakers.

Canada is also home to many immigrants who have brought their native languages with them to the country over the years. Punjabi, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, German, Italian, Arabic, Cantonese, and Tagalog are all spoken by over 1% of the country's population, while many more languages are spoken in smaller numbers.