Linguistic diversity increased in Manitoba, 2021 census shows

The latest census data from Statistics Canada paints a changing picture of how people communicate in this province.

While English and French are still the most commonly spoken languages across Canada, linguistic diversity is on the rise with a growing number of people speaking a different language at home.

People like teacher Oluwafemi Fasanmoye, who was enjoying a conversation with his wife and relatives in Yoruba at St. Vital Park when he took time to talk with CTV News Winnipeg about the languages he speaks.

“Yoruba is an Indigenous language in Nigeria,” Fasanmoye explained. “We’ve got like three predominant languages. There are others. You have over 300 ethnic groups so there’s so many dialects.”

In school, he learned English – the official language of Nigeria – and since immigrating to Canada and settling with his wife in Winnipeg last year he started studying French.

He is part of a growing number of Canadians and Manitobans who speak a language other than English or French.

“At home we speak Yoruba,” Fasanmoye said. “At home it’s kind of a mix because we speak English but when we really want to get into really family conversations, jokes… sometimes a joke has a deeper meaning in Yoruba than in English so we go into Yoruba.”

While English is by far the language most commonly spoken in Manitoba, the percentage of people with French as their first language decreased in the province from 3.2 per cent in 2016 to 2.8 per cent in 2021.

According to data from the 2021 census, the number of Canadians who speak languages other than English or French at home increased 16 per cent since 2016 from four million to 4.6 million people.

In Manitoba, 13 per cent of people speak predominantly another language at home, up from 11.5 per cent in 2016.

“I think it’s a continuation of trends that have been happening for the last 30, 40 years,” said Nicole Rosen, a professor in the Linguistics Department at the University Manitoba and Canada Research Chair in Language Interactions.

While linguistic diversity has been driven by immigration, Rosen said what’s changed are the languages that are spoken most commonly due to language loss through generations of earlier immigrants.

“We saw that actually in the census that a lot of the European languages were declining whereas the South Asian languages are rising and that’s because of just the shifts and trends and where people are coming from,” Rosen said.

The census figures show 1,084,900 Manitobans speak English most often at home, followed by 33,565 Manitobans who speak Tagalog most often at home. Punjabi speakers (29,395), German (18,585) and French (14,715) were the next most common.

Rosen said one impact of growing linguistic diversity has been an increased demand for translators.

“I see it coming across my desk and through the internet all the time, people looking for someone who speaks another language to help translate,” Rosen said.

While it is still the second most commonly spoken language across Canada, Stats Canada found the number of Manitobans whose first language is French decreased from 2016.

It’s a language Fasanmoye is learning to help him communicate and gain a greater appreciation of other cultures.

“It helps me to experience other people’s culture,” he said. “It helps me to experience where they’re coming from, their perspectives to life.”

Stats Canada said 189,000 Canadians speak an Indigenous language with 183,000 reporting they speak one at home on a regular basis. More data on Indigenous languages will be released in September.

Rosen said as linguistic diversity grows, it is becoming more natural for people to use their first languages out in the community as well as at home but according to Stats Canada English and French are still the languages used most commonly to communicate and access services.  

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