Non-Official Languages

Canadians reported more than 100 languages in completing the 2001 census question on mother tongue. The list includes languages long associated with immigration to Canada: Chinese, German, Italian, Ukrainian, Dutch, Polish, and so on. However, from 1996 to 2001, language groups from Asia and the Middle East again recorded the largest gains. This table from Statistics Canada entitled Mother Tongue, Home Language, Work Language, and Knowledge of Non-Official Languages provides a very revealing look at the subject while taking into account aboriginal languages, which should be distinguished from non-official languages.

Figure 9. Mother Tongue, Home Language. Language of Work and Knowledge of Non-official Languages
Source: Statistics Canada

"Non-official languages" spoken by immigrants (such as Chinese, Italian, Polish, Spanish, Portuguese, etc.) should not be confused with aboriginal languages (such as Inuktituk and Cree), which are spoken mainly in the territories (Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and Yukon).


Non-Official Mother Tongue Spoken in Canada (1996)


Source: 1996 Census: Mother tongue, home language and knowledge of languages. Statistics Canada, The Daily, December 2, 1997
1 Chinese 715,640
2 Italian 484,500
3 German 450,140
4 Polish 213,410
5 Spanish 212,890
6 Portuguese 211,290
7 Pundjabi 201,785
8 Ukrainian 162,695
9 Arabic 148,555
10 Dutch 133,805
11 Tagalog 133,215
12 Greek 121,800
13 Vietnamese 106,515
  Cree (Aboriginal) 76,840
  Inuktitut (Aboriginal) 26,960
  Other non-official languages 1,198,870

The federal census also confirmed that Chinese was still the third most frequently reported mother tongue in Canada after English and French. Some 715,640 people (close to 872,400 in 2001) reported Chinese as their mother tongue.

Italian ranked second (fourth in 2001), German third (fifth in 2001), and Polish fourth. The most frequently spoken non-official languages that followed were Punjabi, Ukrainian, Arabic, Dutch, Tagalog (or filipino), Greek, and Vietnamese.

Since 1996, however, linguistic groups from Asia and the Middle East experienced rapid growth, according to the 2001 census. These linguistic groups include Chinese, Punjabi, Arabic, Urdu, Tagalog, and Tamul, but also now Dravidian languages from India and Sri Lanka, Pashtu from Pakistan and Afghanistan, Tchi from Ghana, and Konkani from India.

Canada's most recent immigrants have settled mainly in three provinces: Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec. The highest proportion of visible minorities is in British Columbia.