People whose mother tongue is neither English nor French (allophones) now make up 20.1% of the population, up from 18.0% in the last five years. They numbered more than 6 million in 2006 (see Table A-1). The increase rate of allophones between 2001 and 2006 was 18%, the highest five-year growth rate since the 1986 to 1991 period.
Canada. Percentage of allophones by 2006 Census Divisions (CDs)
The rapid growth in the allophone population is attributable to the increase in the number of recent immigrants whose mother tongue is neither English nor French. More than 1.1 million immigrants arrived in Canada in the five years preceding the 2006 Census, and 81% of them had a mother tongue other than English or French. Since the 1960s, the majority of immigrants have had a mother tongue other than English or French.
Allophone immigration has also had an impact on the proportion of people who speak a non-official language most often at home. This number more than doubled between 1971 and 2006, from 1.6 million to 3.7 million. That proportion was 11.9% (one out of eight Canadians) in 2006, up from 10.4% in 2001 (see Table A-2).
The rapid rise in the proportion of allophones in the Canadian population pushed the share of the English mother-tongue group down from 59.1% in 2001 to 57.8% in 2006. It was also one of the factors that reduced the share of the French mother-tongue population from 22.9% in 2001 to 22.1% in 2006, maintaining a downward trend that has persisted for more than half a century.
The allophone population is very heterogeneous: more than 200 different languages were reported in 2006 in response to the census question on mother tongue. People who reported one of the Chinese languages as their mother tongue accounted for the largest proportion of allophones in Canada (16.4%), followed by Italian (7.6%) and German (7.4%). Nevertheless, each non-official mother tongue group made up only a small proportion of the country's population. For example, people whose mother tongue was a Chinese language accounted for 3.3% of the population, while Italian and German each accounted for 1.5% of the Canadian population.
In 2006, the composition of the allophone group was different from what it was in 1971. The language groups that showed the largest data in 1971 – German, Italian, Ukrainian and Polish – for the last 35 years are no longer among the list of top immigration sources. Most of the children and grandchildren of these immigrants have English or French as their mother tongue. As such, they no longer contribute to the growth of the language group of their parents or grandparents.
In contrast, the massive influx of immigrants from Asia and Latin America has significantly increased the size of other language groups. The impact of the rise in their immigration between 2001 and 2006, is readily apparent in the growth of the 10 largest mother-tongue groups other than English or French in Canada. The language groups that were most numerous in 1971 have been joined by the Chinese languages, Punjabi, Spanish, Arabic, Tagalog and Urdu.
The population with Italian as mother tongue declined by more than 17,000 between 2001 and 2006. The loss for those of Ukrainian mother tongue was of comparable magnitude. The German group, which had been declining since 1961, saw their numbers suddenly increase, gaining 11,000 since 2001. The increase was due to substantial immigration in the five years leading up to 2006, mainly to Ontario and Manitoba.
Table 2 The most common non-official mother tongues, 1971, 2001 and 2006
The population with a Chinese language as mother tongue experienced the largest increase, more than 160,000, since 2001. Two out of three people whose mother tongue is a Chinese language arrived in Canada in the last 25 years. Spanish ranks second in terms of growth, followed by Punjabi, Urdu, Tagalog and Arabic. The increase in the size of these language groups is due to the recent rise in their immigration. As for the population whose mother tongue is Italian and Portuguese, most arrived before 1981.
Figure 1 Non-official mother tongues by immigrant status and period of immigration, Canada, 2006