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2006 Census: The Evolving Linguistic Portrait, 2006 Census: The population with English mother tongue predominates in Canada, but its proportion is declining

In 2006, 18 million Canadians reported English as their mother tongue. This was nearly 500,000 more than in 2001, representing an increase of 3.0%. The rate of growth was slightly higher than in the previous five-year period when it was 2.6%.

Despite the increase, the Anglophone share of Canada's total population dropped from 59.1% in 2001 to 57.8% in 2006, primarily due to the rapid growth of the allophone population. It is the largest percentage decrease of Anglophones since more than fifty years (see Table A-3).

English as home language declines slightly

As is the case for English as a mother tongue, the use of English as the language spoken most often at home is continuing the decline that began in 1986 due to a sharp increase in the allophone immigration since the mid-1980s. The proportion of Canada's population that used English most often at home declined from 67.5% in 2001 to 66.7% in 2006.

The situation was the same in most provinces and territories outside Quebec. Despite the small decline, the number of people who speak English most often at home increased by more than 800,000, or 4.1%. By comparison, the growth rate for the period of 1996 to 2001 was 3.7% (see Table A-4).

Language transfers result in greater use of English at home

Language transfer refers to the use of a language most often at home which is different from the mother tongue.

According to the 2006 Census, 2.8 million Canadians whose mother tongue is not English use this language most often at home. This situation reflects the prevalence of transfers to English by many Francophones and allophones, though the phenomenon is less common in Quebec.

Given the decline in the proportion of English mother-tongue people (or people with English as mother tongue) and the increase in language transfers to English, there has been an increasing gap between the proportion of people with English mother tongue and of people with English as home language since 1981. In 2006, 58% had English as mother tongue while 67% spoke English most often at home.

Table 6 Population of English mother tongue and population of English as the language spoken most often at home, and difference between the two, Canada, 1971 to 2006

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