The latest Canadian census data poses an interesting question: If the francophone complain their language is dying, but there is no one left who understands them, do they make a sound?
The latest census details released from Statistics Canada suggest that bilingualism is up in Canada, but not necessarily bilingualism that includes French.
From The Canadian Press:
The census shows that 17.5 per cent of the population — or 5.8 million individuals — speaks at least two languages at home. That's up from the 14.2 per cent of multilingual households counted in the 2006 census, and an increase of 1.3 million people.
Of those 5.8 million, most of them speak English plus an immigrant language such as Punjabi or Mandarin. Less than a quarter — 1,387,190, to be precise — are using both French and English at home.
More families are speaking more languages, which is good. But less of the traditional bilingual Canadian — those who speak both official languages? Sacre bleu!
(Actually, the percentage of true-blue bilinguals — those who can hold conversations in both French and English — held steady at around 17.5 per cent of the population.)
About 200 languages are spoken in Canada and almost all of them, save aboriginal languages, are becoming more prevalent.
But the growth of those other languages isn't necessarily leading to the death of French.
From the Canadian Press:
The census shows that nearly 7 million people said they spoke French most often at home. That's up from 6.7 million in 2006, but the French-speaking population is growing more slowly than the population writ large.
So, no fewer French speakers, just more people who don't understand why the Montreal Canadiens' head coach definitely needs to speak French. Although, in fairness, those who consider French as their mother tongue continues to decline outside Quebec and in Montreal.
Even before the census data came out, the Jack Jedwab, the executive director of the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies, appealed for calm from those who would use the data as proof that French was under assault in Montreal — which he calls "the island."
From the Montreal Gazette:
From 2005 to 2009, the mother tongue of more than 80 per cent of Quebec's 45,000-plus annual immigration was neither English nor French — and most of these immigrants settled on the island. Most of them will remain allophones over the course of their life, and therefore their numbers and their population share on the island and across Quebec will inevitably increase.
Without allophone immigration, the population of Montreal would likely remain stagnant. That reality needs to be stated more clearly by more Quebec intellectuals and policy-makers.