Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Language Effects on Ethnic Identity in Canada

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Language Effects on Ethnic Identity in Canada

Article excerpt


Language is known to have an effect on ethnic identity in that language retention of a mother tongue or home language acts as a stronger connector to the ethnic community for such persons as compared to those who do not retain the language. This analysis uses data from a specially designed survey of Canadian university students carded out in 2000-2001. It looks at the effects of language on the emergence of a Canadian identity. The results show that respondents with higher levels of linguistic assimilation tend to exhibit lower levels of ethnic-connectedness and are therefore more likely to identify themselves as Canadian, compared to others who are less assimilated in terms of language. This research will inform the current debate on the need for new census questions regarding identity and the importance of retaining the ethnic ancestry question and the language questions on Canada's national census.

La langue affecte l'identite ethnique parce que la conservation d'une langue maternelle ou d'une langue a la maison agit en tant que connecteur plus fort h la communaute ethnique pour de telles personnes par rapport a ceux qui ne maintiennent pas la langue. Cette analyse utilise les donnees d'une enquete effectuee en 2000-2001 aupres d'etudiants universitaires canadiens. Elle traite des effets de la langue sur l'emergence d'une identite canadienne. Les resultats demontrent que les repondants ayant des niveaux plus eleves d'assimilation linguistique presentent des niveaux plus faibles de connexite ethnique et ont ainsi une plus grande probabilite de s'identifier comme Canadien compares a ceux qui sont moins assimilees sur le plan linguistique. Cette recherche contribue au debat actuel concernant le besoin de nouvelles questions sur l'identite dans le recensement national du Canada et l'importance de maintenir la question relative a l'ascendance ethnique et les questions relatives a la langue.


Isajiw argues that one of the basic ways in which ethnic groups become integrated into a society is "by developing a new identity" (1990, 34). He further argues that while immigrants to Canada may become more Canadian in their identity, they may also retain an identity with their ethnic ancestry (ibid.). While Canada's censuses have always collected some type of information on the ethnic and racial characteristics of the population, they have never collected information on ethnic identity, per se. Thus, in order to examine how Canadians identify themselves vis-a-vis their ethnicity, social scientists must collect their own data. Some respondents in every Canadian census have indicated their ethnic ancestry as Canadian. However, it has been argued that Canadian is not yet an ethnic ancestry, but instead reflects a person's ethnic identity (Kalbach and Kalbach 1995). By the time of the 2001 census, about 39 percent of the population reported being Canadian, either alone or in combination with other ethnic origins. As indicated in table one, in 2001 about 6.7 million respondents, accounting for almost one-quarter of the total population, reported Canadian as their only origin compared to only 3 percent of the population at the time of the 1991 census.

There has been a great deal of research that suggests language, that is, mother tongue or the language spoken most often at home, is related to ethnic identity (Isajiw 1999, 1990; Kalbach and Kalbach 1999a, 1999b; Dreidger 1989). Kalbach and Kalbach (1999a, 1999b), for example, argue that language may be one of the most important components of ethnic identity. Previous research has tended to focus on the role of language in the retention of ethnic ancestry. The effect of mother tongue and language spoken most often at home and elsewhere on the emerging Canadian identity has not yet been examined. It is known, however, that those respondents who report being of Canadian ancestry generally speak English or French and are native born (Pendakur and Mata 1998; Statistics Canada 2003). …

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