Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Census 2011 Release on Languages: Is Multiculturalism Stifling Bilingualism?

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Census 2011 Release on Languages: Is Multiculturalism Stifling Bilingualism?

Article excerpt

Language: final census release due Wednesday


OTTAWA - Have the two forces that have defined Canadian culture for the past 40 years -- multiculturalism and bilingualism -- turned on each other?

The final release of 2011 census data this week will offer Canadians some insight into the answer.

On Wednesday, Statistics Canada will publish language data showing how many people speak English, how many speak French, and how many speak a myriad of other languages -- a consequence of increasingly diverse immigration.

In the last census, in 2006, the number of people who called French their mother tongue was almost -- but not quite -- on par with the number of people who identify other languages as their first.

If the trend lines continue, as the experts expect they will, they could cross come Wednesday. Measured in terms of percentage of the total population in Canada, French is expected to continue its long, slow decline as a mother tongue and "other" languages will continue their ascent, with the number of allophones -- those with a mother tongue other than Canada's two official languages -- surpassing their francophone counterparts.

So have we reached the point where the twin forces unleashed during the 1970s are now competing forces, with multiculturalism drowning out bilingualism?

Canada's commissioner of official languages understands well the temptation to answer that question with a "Yes " -- especially if you're a francophone in Quebec. But in fact, Graham Fraser said in an interview, the answer is "No."

Fraser draws his answer from the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism that was published in 1969. It was the report that set Canada on the path of becoming a country defined by bilingualism and multiculturalism, two policies that were "linked at birth, if you like: the Siamese twins of Canadian social policy," Fraser said.

At the time, there was a push to give Canada a third official language: Ukrainian. There were about 450,000 Ukrainian speakers in the 1950s, Fraser recounts. By 1981, there were about a tenth as many.

"It's an indication how rapidly language usage can change," Fraser said. "There has not been that kind of change in francophone communities."

Other languages and cultures have always been popular in Canada, and in some communities those third languages are in the majority, he continued.

But no single "other" language is giving French or English a run for predominance across the country or even in a single region. And none of those languages has the staying power of French or English.

"Historically, the pattern in Canada has been that immigrant community languages do not survive to the third generation as a language spoken at home," Fraser said.

But at the same time, he said he understands why there is deep angst in Quebec, especially among francophones on the island of Montreal, where languages from around the world are heard as often as French.

Again, he turns to history to explain the discontent. …

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