2016 Census topic: Language

Release date: August 17, 2017

Update of the 2016 Census language data

After Statistics Canada was notified of anomalies, for various regions in Quebec, in the 2016 Census language data released on August 2, it conducted an in-depth investigation to identify their source.

During the census, Statistics Canada follows up with households that partially completed the census questionnaire. For the 2016 Census, Statistics Canada developed a computer program to perform certain steps of this operation. An error was identified in this computer program that affected French-language questionnaires.

The census language questions are the only questions for which response options differ between the French and English versions. Since 2001, the French version of the census questionnaire has given precedence to French in the wording of the questions and the response options. This only affects census questions on mother tongue, language spoken at home and knowledge of official languages. The example below illustrates this difference with respect to language spoken most often at home. This distinction was not taken into account by the new computer program used for partial non-response follow-up in 2016.

Bilingual figure showing Question 8 a) from the 2016 Census of Population questionnaire

This bilingual figure shows Question 8 a) from the 2016 Census of Population questionnaire. The left portion of the figure displays the question in English which asks “What language does this person speak most often at home.” The answer categories are “English; French; Other language – specify.” The right portion of the figure displays the question in French which asks “Quelle langue cette personne parle t elle le plus souvent à la maison.” The answer categories are “Français; Anglais; Autre langue – précisez.”

The resulting error led to incorrect allocation of responses to the census language questions for roughly 61,000 individuals, mainly in Quebec. It resulted in an overestimation of the growth of English in Quebec between 2011 and 2016, both as a mother tongue and as a language spoken at home.

After correcting these allocation errors, Statistics Canada conducted an in-depth review to ensure that no other census questions were affected by an error and that the computer programs did not affect other variables. Moreover, Statistics Canada extensively reviewed the many data editing and control stages.

General consequences of the error on the language data results

The error resulted in an overestimation of the growth of English in Quebec and some of its regions, both for mother tongue and language spoken at home, and an overestimation of the decline of French. It also resulted in a slight overestimation of the rate of English–French bilingualism in Quebec and, as a result, across Canada.

Tables 1 and 2 show the proportions and numbers for each language variable in 2011 and 2016 (before and after adjustment) for Canada, Quebec and Canada outside Quebec.

In percentages (Table 1), it can be seen that the correction of the error does not affect Canada outside Quebec and that the findings reported on August 2 remain the same. It is mainly in Quebec that the correction results in changes to the findings.

In Quebec, both for mother tongue and language spoken most often at home, French declined less than initially reported. Thus, after adjustment, the population with French as a mother tongue (single responses) is 77.1% rather than 76.4% (roughly +55,000 individuals), and the population that speaks French most often at home (single responses) is 79.0% rather than 78.3% (roughly +57,000 individuals).

In terms of English as mother tongue, there is now a slight decrease instead of an increase. The proportion of the Quebec population with English as its only mother tongue is now 7.5% rather than 8.1% (roughly -55,000 individuals). With regard to English spoken most often at home, there is a slight decrease instead of an increase in terms of single responses (now 9.7% after adjustment instead of 10.4%, roughly -57,000 individuals) and a smaller increase when all of the responses are taken into account (now 12.0% instead of 12.7%, roughly -57,000 individuals).

These corrections slightly modify the national portrait for these two variables, with French declining slightly less than what was reported in the initial language data release.

Finally, these corrections slightly modify the level of English–French bilingualism previously reported, as well as the data on the first official language spoken. At the national level, the rate of bilingualism remains practically unchanged (18.0% to 17.9%), as well as for Canada outside Quebec (from 9.9% to 9.8%). In Quebec, the rate of English–French bilingualism is slightly lower than reported (44.5% rather than 44.9%).

The adjusted data on first official language spoken do not change the portrait in Canada outside Quebec. In Quebec, however, they show a smaller decline in French and a smaller increase in English. After equally redistributing the English–French category, English as the first official language spoken is now 13.7% instead of 14.4% (roughly -57,000 individuals), while French is now 85.4% instead of 84.7% (roughly +57,000 individuals).

Table 1
PopulationFootnote 1 (in proportion) by mother tongue (single and multiple responses), language spoken most often at home (single and multiple responses), knowledge of official languages, and first official language spoken, Canada, Quebec, and Canada outside Quebec, 2011, 2016 before correction, 2016 after correction
Language groups Canada Quebec Canada outside Quebec
2011 2016
before correction
2016
after correction
2011 2016
before correction
2016
after correction
2011 2016
before correction
2016
after correction
percent
Mother tongue (single responses)
English 56.9 56.1 56.0 7.7 8.1 7.5 72.2 70.6 70.6
French 21.3 20.4 20.6 78.1 76.4 77.1 3.8 3.5 3.5
Other 19.8 21.1 21.1 12.3 13.2 13.2 22.2 23.4 23.4
Mother tongue (including multiple responses)Footnote 2
English 58.6 58.2 58.1 9.0 9.6 8.9 74.0 72.9 72.9
French 22.0 21.3 21.4 79.7 78.4 79.1 4.2 4.0 4.0
Other 21.3 22.9 22.9 13.4 14.5 14.5 23.8 25.5 25.5
Language spoken most often at home (single responses)
English 64.8 63.9 63.7 9.8 10.4 9.7 81.8 80.1 80.1
French 20.6 19.8 20.0 80.0 78.3 79.0 2.3 2.1 2.1
Other 11.1 11.5 11.5 7.1 7.3 7.3 12.3 12.8 12.8
Language spoken most often at home (including multiple responses)Footnote 2
English 68.0 68.3 68.1 11.7 12.7 12.0 85.3 85.1 85.1
French 21.5 20.9 21.1 82.5 81.7 82.4 2.6 2.5 2.5
Other 14.2 15.8 15.8 9.3 10.2 10.2 15.7 17.5 17.5
Knowledge of official languages
English 68.1 68.3 68.3 4.7 4.6 4.6 87.7 87.6 87.6
French 12.6 11.8 11.9 51.8 49.6 50.0 0.5 0.4 0.4
English and French 17.5 18.0 17.9 42.6 44.9 44.5 9.7 9.9 9.8
Neither English nor French 1.8 1.9 1.9 1.0 0.9 0.9 2.1 2.1 2.1
First official language spoken
English 74.5 75.0 74.8 12.0 12.7 12.0 93.8 93.8 93.8
French 22.7 22.0 22.2 84.0 83.0 83.7 3.7 3.6 3.6
English and French 1.1 1.2 1.2 3.1 3.5 3.5 0.5 0.5 0.5
Neither English nor French 1.8 1.8 1.8 0.9 0.9 0.9 2.0 2.1 2.1

Source: Statistics Canada, Census of Population, 2011 and 2016.

Table 2
PopulationFootnote 1 (in number) by mother tongue (single and multiple responses), language spoken most often at home (single and multiple responses), knowledge of official languages, and first official language spoken, Canada, Quebec, and Canada outside Quebec, 2011, 2016 before correction, 2016 after correction
Language groups Canada Quebec Canada outside Quebec
2011 2016
before correction
2016
after correction
2011 2016
before correction
2016
after correction
2011 2016
before correction
2016
after correction
number
Mother tongue (single responses)
English 18,858,980 19,519,095 19,460,855 599,225 656,555 601,155 18,259,755 18,862,540 18,859,700
French 7,054,970 7,108,450 7,166,700 6,102,210 6,164,255 6,219,660 952,760 944,195 947,040
Other 6,567,680 7,321,070 7,321,060 961,695 1,060,845 1,060,830 5,605,985 6,260,225 6,260,230
Mother tongue (including multiple responses)Footnote 2
English 19,424,090 20,251,590 20,193,335 700,405 774,385 718,985 18,723,685 19,477,205 19,474,350
French 7,298,180 7,393,830 7,452,070 6,231,600 6,321,675 6,377,080 1,066,580 1,072,155 1,074,990
Other 7,062,535 7,974,375 7,974,370 1,049,715 1,173,345 1,173,340 6,012,820 6,801,030 6,801,030
Language spoken most often at home (single responses)
English 21,457,080 22,222,660 22,162,870 767,415 839,425 782,185 20,689,665 21,383,235 21,380,685
French 6,827,860 6,884,010 6,943,800 6,249,080 6,318,430 6,375,670 578,780 565,580 568,130
Other 3,673,865 3,997,205 3,997,200 554,400 585,895 585,890 3,119,465 3,411,310 3,411,310
Language spoken most often at home (including multiple responses)Footnote 2
English 22,509,750 23,737,130 23,677,345 912,360 1,022,865 965,615 21,597,390 22,714,265 22,711,730
French 7,115,095 7,262,410 7,322,210 6,450,370 6,586,845 6,644,095 664,725 675,565 678,115
Other 4,705,030 5,500,405 5,500,405 727,900 821,995 821,995 3,977,130 4,678,410 4,678,410
Knowledge of official languages
English 22,564,670 23,758,065 23,757,525 363,860 373,210 372,450 22,200,810 23,384,855 23,385,075
French 4,165,015 4,108,730 4,144,685 4,047,175 3,997,575 4,032,640 117,840 111,155 112,045
English and French 5,795,575 6,251,490 6,216,070 3,328,725 3,620,715 3,586,410 2,466,850 2,630,775 2,629,660
Neither English nor French 595,920 648,970 648,970 76,195 75,060 75,060 519,725 573,910 573,910
First official language spoken
English 24,662,895 26,067,415 26,007,495 935,635 1,021,165 964,120 23,727,260 25,046,250 25,043,375
French 7,507,885 7,645,825 7,705,755 6,561,510 6,693,905 6,750,950 946,375 951,920 954,805
English and French 367,635 417,495 417,485 245,230 278,720 278,710 122,405 138,775 138,775
Neither English nor French 582,755 636,515 636,515 73,575 72,775 72,780 509,180 563,740 563,735

Source: Statistics Canada, Census of Population, 2011 and 2016

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