Mandarin Tops List of Immigrant Languages in Vancouver, Canada

July 25, 2016

By Hu Shengqiao, Women of China |

Mandarin has replaced Cantonese as the top immigrant language commonly spoken by the largest visible minority groups in Vancouver, Canada, according to a recent report from the Global Chinese Broadcasting Cooperation Network.

As early immigrants to Canada were mostly from the Cantonese-speaking regions in south China’s Guangdong Province, Hong Kong or Macao, Cantonese has long been the most prevalent language in many immigrant communities, followed by Mandarin, Minnan, and Hakka.

Specifically, Mandarin is the official dialect most people refer to when they mention the Chinese language, whilst Minnan and Hakka are two major dialects besides Cantonese spoken in southeastern China, parts of Taiwan and in the New Territories of Hong Kong.

Mr. Watt, one of those from Hong Kong who migrated to Canada in the late 70s, recalled that he barely noticed any inconveniences in the lives of those from immigrant communities, as he was bound to hear people talks in Cantonese, which was his mother tongue, from time to time either in casual daily talks or in business. Whereas the Mandarin speaking population was still relatively fresh off the boat and closed knit within their circles.

However, with open door immigration, this initially popular language was gradually diluted by Mandarin due to an increase of over 400,000 immigrants in Canada from mainland China between 1997 and 2009, according to a report released in 2012 by the Statistics Department of Canada. Comparably, there were no more than 50,000 immigrants from Hong Kong in that period, the report shows. In addition, the official report also reveals that the total number of people who speak Cantonese had reached 390,000 by then.

Nowadays, those early immigrants have been settled down in their new land and assimilated well with locals for decades or generations, especially in Vancouver, which stands out from the rest of Canada in that it has a high concentration of immigrants who speak Asian languages. This is partly due to Vancouver’s proximity to the Asia-Pacific but also because of its early-established Asian communities. A census report in 2011 suggested that 24.5 percent of the population of Metro Vancouver spoke an immigrant language most often at home. In addition, it reveals there are other minority Chinese groups that usually speak Cantonese and/or Mandarin in addition to their family’s own language.

Furthermore, China’s booming economy and the country’s demand for higher education have been constantly fuelling the influx of immigrants, who come from a wide range of geographic areas and educational backgrounds, covering virtually every province in mainland China, and settle across the region. Therefore, the dialects in those new Chinese families are no longer Cantonese only, and they don’t live around Chinatowns either. However, there are still large numbers of families that speak Cantonese exclusively as the dialect still maintains its vitality.

To avoid losing the language, the University of British Columbia launched a program in 2015, enrolling students to focus on Cantonese study and its inter-linked cultures, which is Canada’s unique program in the field. So far, Watt along with his family has raised funds of a total of two million Canadian dollars for the program.

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