Language in Canada





Language in Canada

English and French are two of the most widely spoken countries around the world; thus, English and French speakers are among the biggest speech communities. This speech community exists across all of the world’s continents and includes millions of people across many countries. Canada adopts the use of both of these languages, which are spoken by the majority of the Canadian population. The majority of Canada’s population, about 56%, speak English as their mother tongue, while French is the mother tongue to about 21.4% of the country’s population. Canada is divided into ten provinces, and each of these has its own official language. Quebec is the only province that has French as its official language, and New Brunswick is unique in the sense that both French and English are the official languages to the same extent. The other provinces use English as their official language, although both French and English have federal status across the country. Aside from the two major languages, there are many other indigenous languages spoken by a minority of the population in Canada. These languages include Babine, Abenaki, Han, Kaska, Seneca, Dogrib, Cayuga, Munsee, among many others (Norris 27). The main speech community of focus in Canada is the French speakers in the country.

Part 2

The French-speaking community in Canada pre-dates nationhood. French was first introduced in the country in the 17th Century by French explorers who discovered Canada. French explorer Jacques Cartier was the first to discover present-day Canada while on an expedition to find a direct route from France to Asia. In 1605, the French set up their first settlements in Quebec and Acadia. Soon more French settlers followed, and French became a widely spoken language in the region. In the 18th Century, the British took over the rule of Canada after a series of wars between the British and the French. The British attempted to Anglicize the French population but failed. The British Parliament passed the 1774 Quebec Act, which restored French civil laws, and promoted the coexistence of French and English speakers in the country (Foucher 54). Since then, the French speech community has gained equal recognition as an English speech community, the largest speech community in the country.

Part 3


Canada is a multilingual country, though the different speech communities in the country vary in size. Before the arrival of the French and the British, indigenous communities occupied present-day Canada. These communities spoke various indigenous languages. However, when the French set up their settlements in the 17th Century, they taught their language to the indigenous people around their settlement. The same happened when the British took over Canada after a war with the French in the 18th Century. At first, the British wanted to eliminate the French language in Canada, but this proved to be a challenge. The British caved to pressure and passed laws in 1774 to make French an official language (Hudon & Ménard 13). Since then, Quebec has remained the only Canadian province with the majority of French-speaking citizens. The indigenous languages were subordinated by French and English, although a limited population of Canadians, about 0.6%, still speak indigenous languages as their mother tongue.

Official Language Policy

Canada takes the issue of language very seriously, and the country even has an Official Languages Commissioner to monitor languages across the provinces. There have been several laws regarding language over the years. The first notable language policy in Canada’s history is the 1774 Quebec Act that gave French official status in the Quebec Province. More recently, the 1969 Official Languages Act gave French and English equal federal status in the country. This means that pieces of legislation and other official government in the country must be enacted in both languages. Quebec has worked hard to protect the French language as the main one used in the province. For example, the province passed the Official Language Act in 1974 to cement French as the province’s official language (Foucher 60). This policy was replaced in 1977 by a charter that required the use of French as the predominant language in government, education, commerce, and employment.

Language and Schooling

UNESCO reports that children stand to benefit a lot from the use of mother tongue during the early years of education. The organization promotes the use of three languages in education, mother tongue, a national as well as an international language. The use of these three is meant to foster diversity and interconnectedness among people from different parts of the world. In the case of the French-speaking community in Canada, these three languages are often the same one. The challenge with these is that children end up missing out on the benefits of multilingualism. Quebec Province mandates that French be the dominant language, and this is a challenge for multilingual efforts within the Quebec French community.

Language in Everyday Life

Popular media is still dominated by languages spoken by the majority of the population as it forms a bigger audience. However, media should also work towards the inclusivity of other languages as well. The current attitudes towards French, especially in Canada, is that the language is under threat, especially by English. English remains the most widely spoken language in the country, with more than half of the population being Anglophone. This is why Quebec has worked so hard to protect the status of French as the dominant language in the province. A perfect example of this is the 1977 charter that mandates the use of French across important areas such as government, education, employment, and others.

Works Cited

Foucher, Pierre. “Legal environment of official languages in Canada.” International Journal of the Sociology of Language 2007.185 (2007): 53-69.

Hudon, Marie-Ève, and Marion Ménard. Official languages in Canada: Federal policy. Parliamentary Information and Research Service, 2009.

Norris, Mary Jane. “Aboriginal languages in Canada: Emerging trends and perspectives on second language acquisition.” Canadian Social Trends 83.20 (2007): 11-008.