When it comes to French decline, the devil is in the details and in the choice of pointers. Language data from Census 2021, which was published in August 2022, has caused shockwaves and countless analyses. French as a mother tongue has declined by nearly two percentage points since 2016, standing at 74.8% in the 2021 census.
On Wednesday, Statistics Canada instead provided a historical look at the languages in the country located in Tables dating back to ancient censusesthat is, until 1951. Based on this new publication, duty He introduced lesser-known facts to the magnifying glass of sociologist Jean-Pierre Corbel, who has been studying linguistic data for more than 25 years and is an associate professor at Laval University.
Thus, the historical data makes it possible to identify “very weighty trends that have been around for a long time” or even to identify certain “blind spots” in the language debate in Quebec, Mr. Corbel believes.
Knowledge of French has been stable for nearly 40 years
If the government of François Legault highlights mainly the statistics of the mother tongue and the language spoken at home, there is also the question of knowledge of the official languages in Statistics Canada. Almost 94% of Quebecers say they can Have a conversation in Frenchwhich is higher than it was in 1951 and almost equal to that of 2001.
The researcher explains, “This growing ability is explained by the adoption of the French Language Charter in 1977 and other measures.” He notes that the obligation to attend a French-language school for immigrant children contributed to this in particular, but also encouraged native English speakers to enroll their children in French immersion schools.
But can we really trust someone who claims to be “able to hold a conversation”? “It’s not a perfect measure,” he admits, but the data for the population of workers who use French at work also corresponds to about 95%. “At the very least, people who say they can speak a language actually use it in their daily lives,” he explains. However, frequency of use is a separate matter, “and in itself,” he says.
On the other hand, the percentage of people who say they speak neither French nor English has been fairly constant, around 1%, since 1951.
The percentage of English speakers has decreased
The percentage of Quebecers who report English as their mother tongue has declined since 1971, standing at 7.6% at the last census. For knowledge of English only, 5.3% of respondents checked this box. Despite the small jump between 2016 and 2021, which is attributed in particular to the strong growth of non-permanent residents, says Jean-Pierre Corbel, this statistic has never returned to the levels of 1951 to 1971.
“The story is very simple. This phenomenon is mainly explained by the large exodus of the English-speaking population of Quebec, who left for Ontario and other provinces from the mid-1960s until 1981”, particularly after the arrival of the Governor Party of Quebec.
Almost half of Quebec’s population only speaks French
Bilingualism is steadily progressing in Quebec between census periods, notes Mr. Corbel. There was still 47.3% of the population who said they did not speak French until the 2021 census.
“This is what is often referred to as cutting Quebec in two. People in urban areas have a lot of contact with other languages.” On the other hand, a large part of the population cannot express themselves in another language. “It is a good argument for learning French, because it is spoken by the largest number of people,” the professor adds.
Montreal is by far the most multilingual city in the country
More than one person in five, or 21.5%, can speak three or more languages in Montreal’s census area, according to Mr. Corbel’s compilation. If we just look at the territory of the city of Montreal, trilingual and quadrilingual are represented 31.6% of the population, or nearly a third. “Newcomers want to learn French or already know it. But they know that English is pretty much inevitable in the Montreal area. […] This is how we meet very high levels of trilingualism, ”says Jean-Pierre Corbel.
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