More learning Aboriginal languages as second language: StatCan
But to thrive, these must be “transmitted to children and be used in everyday life”
A growing number of people in Canada are learning an Aboriginal language as a second language.
As a result, there were 263,840 Canadians who reported that they could speak an Aboriginal language well enough to conduct a conversation in 2016.
That’s up by eight per cent since 1996, Statistics Canada said on Dec. 7 in new study based on 2016 census data.
But the study also reveals that Aboriginal languages like Inuktitut do best when there’s “a high concentration of other Aboriginal language mother-tongue speakers” and it’s spoken in the home.
“Results from the 2016 Census: Aboriginal languages and the role of second-language acquisition” looked at the extent to which Aboriginal languages, including Inuktitut, are spoken in Canada, as well as the factors that are related to Aboriginal language use and retention.
The study found that, from 1996 to 2016, the number of people with an Aboriginal mother tongue—that is, the first language learned in childhood that is still understood—dropped by one per cent.
Previous research found that people with an Aboriginal language as their mother tongue were more likely to speak it at home if they lived in an area with a high concentration of other Aboriginal language mother-tongue speakers, the study noted.
And this still holds true, StatCan said.
“Inuktitut is, perhaps, the most prominent example of this relationship between small communities with high Aboriginal-language concentration and the bulk of speakers learning the language as their mother tongue,” the study said.
The majority of those who can speak Inuktitut learned it as their mother tongue. Twelve per cent learned it as a second language.
In 2016, more than nine in 10 Inuktitut-speaking people lived in fly-in communities in either Nunavut or Nunavik, where more than three in four can speak Inuktitut, the study said.
Overall, the number of people who have acquired an Aboriginal language as a second language is on the rise, although the number with an Aboriginal language as their mother tongue has fallen.
“However, regardless of the type of acquisition, for Aboriginal languages in Canada to not only continue to exist but also to thrive, past research suggests that it is necessary that these languages be transmitted to children and be used in everyday life,” the study said.
StatCan found that parents who speak an Aboriginal language as a mother tongue are more likely to pass on the language to their children than those who learned it as a second language.
Among families with children where at least one parent had an Aboriginal language as their mother tongue, two in three were home to a child who could speak an Aboriginal language.
This proportion rose to 78 per cent in families where both parents had an Aboriginal language as a mother tongue.
“By contrast, among families where no parent had an Aboriginal language as their mother tongue but at least one parent had an Aboriginal language as a second language, just under half had a child who could speak an Aboriginal language,” the study said.
The use of an Aboriginal language at home increased among those who learned it as a second language, from 38 per cent in 2006 to 73 per cent in 2016.
Within this group, most of the increase was due to changes in the number of those who spoke Blackfoot, Cree languages, Ojibway, Salish languages—and Inuktitut.