ISLAMABAD: Punjabi has ranked second after Mandarin among the non-official languages, spoken pre­dominately at home, by the largest number of people in Canada, new census data released by Statistics Canada has revealed.

The 2021 census, released on August 18, found that 4.6 million Canadians speak predominantly a language other than official English or French languages at home, among them Urdu has become the fifth top language in the ranking of 12 spoken languages in Canada.

The number of people whose mother tongue is Mandarin or Punjabi, the two most spoken languages nationwide, has grown significantly, with the former increasing from roughly 610,000 in 2016 to 730,000 in 2021 and the latter increasing from 543,000 to 763,000. The Punjabis counted in the census have come mainly from India, speaking gormukhii Punjabi.

Other South Asian languages that also saw marked growth in terms of numbers of people reporting them as their mother tongue include Hindi (133,000 to 224,000), Tagalog (510,000 to 590,000) and Urdu (243,000 to 297,000).

Urdu ranked fifth in ranking of 12 non-official languages, census data shows

Conservative estimates show that the number of Canadians of Pakistani origin is far more than the official estimates, and an official of the Pakistan High Commission in Ottawa when contacted said 500,000 to 600,000 Pakistanis live in Canada.

In 2021, more than half a million Canadians spoke predominantly Mandarin at home and more than half a million spoke Punjabi. Arabic language is spoken by 290,000 people, the census shows.

The growth rate of the number of speakers of these languages was at least eight times larger than that of the entire Canadian population. The number of Mandarin speakers grew from 2016 to 2021, but was outpaced by the growth in the number of Punjabi speakers.

Roughly one-quarter of the permanent residents who arrived in Canada from May 2016 to December 2020 were born in a South Asian country, according to the census results.

The results show while the number of Canadians who speak English or French predominantly at home has never been higher, their relative weight in the population has been declining since at least 2001 because of the more rapid increase of other languages.

The 2021 census also found that 4.6mn Canadians speak predominantly a language other than English or French at home. These individuals represent 12.7 per cent of the Canadian population, a proportion that has been increasing for 30 years.

By comparison, the proportion was 7.7 per cent in 1991, when immigration levels were rising.

The vast majority of the Canadian population commonly uses English and French to communicate and access services. Although both are spoken throughout the country, English is a minority language in Quebec, while French is a minority language in other provinces and territories, as well as in Canada as a whole.

According to the Canadian statistics, the number of Canadians who spoke predominantly a South Asian language such as Gujarati, Punjabi, Hindi or Malayalam at home grew significantly from 2016 to 2021, an increase caused by immigration. In fact, the growth rate of the population speaking one of these languages was at least eight times larger than that of the overall Canadian population during this period.

In contrast, there was a decline in the number of Canadians who spoke predominantly certain European languages at home, such as Italian, Polish and Greek.

In 2021, 189,000 people reported having at least one indigenous mother tongue and 183,000 reported speaking an indigenous language at home at least on a regular basis. Cree languages and Inuktitut are the main indigenous languages spoken in Canada.

A vast majority of Canadians knows and speaks at least one of Canada’s two official languages. In 2021, 98.1pc population in Canada could have a conversation in English or French, and 92.9pc spoke one of these languages at home at least on a regular basis.

Of the two official languages, most Canadians spoke English at home at least on a regular basis (74.2pc) or predominantly (63.8pc), and English was the mother tongue of more than half of the country’s population (54.9pc). From 2016 to 2021, the number of Canadians with English as their first official language spoken, rose from 26m to 27.6m.

More than 70 different indigenous languages are spoken in Canada. In many cases, incomplete transmission to future generations is reflected in the decrease and the aging of populations speaking these languages. In 2021, more than 20 indigenous languages in Canada were the mother tongue of 500 or fewer people, whose median age was 60 years and older.

Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2022

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