Edmonton leads Canada in immigrant-language growth

August 2, 2017

By John Wakefield, Vancouver Sun |

Edmonton is fast becoming one of Canada’s most linguistically diverse big cities, with more people speaking languages such as Tagalog, Punjabi and Arabic than ever before.

New census data Wednesday shows the number of people in Edmonton who use a language other than English or French as their mother tongue surged 31 per cent between the 2011 and 2016 censuses — a faster rate than in any of Canada’s other big cities.

More than 345,000 Edmontonians claim a non-official first language, nearly double the number of the 1996 census and making up around a quarter of the metro area’s 1.3 million people. Of those, 87,115 regularly speak an “immigrant language” at home, according to Statistics Canada.

“Recent immigrants continue to change the linguistic landscape of the province. That’s not a surprise,” said Alison Yacyshyn, a professor at Concordia University of Edmonton. “We see this when we’re out in the community … we hear people talking different languages in our neighbourhoods.”

Tagalog still top ‘immigrant language’

Statistics Canada distinguishes between Aboriginal languages, English and French, and languages from immigrants to Canada in the post-colonial period.

Around 7.6 million Canadians told census takers they speak a non-English or non-French language at home — equal to around 21 per cent of the population and an increase of nearly one million people (14.5 per cent) over 2011.

Two-thirds of Canada’s immigrant language speaking populations live in Toronto, Vancouver or Montréal, but Alberta saw the largest relative gains since the last census.

After Edmonton, Calgary saw a 28 per cent increase in people reporting an immigrant mother tongue. Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver still had larger overall immigrant-language speaking populations, but rates of growth in those cities cooled in the last five years.

Tagalog was the most common immigrant language in every western province and territory with the exception of British Columbia, where Punjabi was on top (Cantonese and Mandarin are reported as distinct languages).

The Filipino language was also Edmonton’s most common immigrant language, the mother tongue of 42,525 Edmontonians — 3.3 per cent of the total population.

Punjabi and Cantonese followed with 30,115 and 23,955 native speakers in Edmonton, respectively. Mandarin and Arabic each had around 20,000 speakers.

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