Demolinguistics of Quebec

From Academic Kids

This article presents the current demolingistics of the Canadian province of Quebec.



  • Population: 7,542,800 (2004)
  • Official language: French (de jure)
  • Majority group: francophone (81.2%)
  • Minority groups: anglophone (8.0%), allophone (9%), autochtone (1%), bilingual (french and english) (0.8%)
  • Political status: province of the Canadian federation since 1867

Note: The language mentioned refers to the mother tongue (see below), unless otherwise specified.

Demolinguistic descriptors

The complex nature of Quebec's demolinguistic situation, with its often bilingual and trilingual population, has required the use of multiple methods in order to determine who speaks what language.

Mother tongue: The language spoken by the mother or the person responsible for taking care of the child is the most basic measure of a population's language. However, with the high number of mixed francophone-anglophone marriages and the reality of multilingualism in Montreal, this description does not give a true linguistic portrait of Quebec. It is, however, still essential, for example in order to calculate the assimilation rate. Statistics Canada defines mother tongue as the first language learned in childhood and still spoken; it does not presuppose literacy in that or any language.

Home language: This is the language most often spoken at home. This descriptor has the advantage of pointing out the current usage of languages. However, it fails to describe the language that is most used at work, which may be different.

Knowledge of official languages: This measure describes which of the two official languages of Canada a person can speak informally. This relies on the person's own evaluation of his/her linguistic competence and can prove misleading.

First official language spoken: This is a composite measure of mother tongue, home language and knowledge of official language.

Demolinguistic situation

Among the ten provinces of Canada and the 50 states of the United States, Quebec is the only jurisdiction whose majority is francophone. Quebec francophones account for 19.5% of the Canadian population and 90% of all of Canada's French-speaking population. Quebec is the only province whose francophone population is currently not declining. (See Language in Canada).

The 8% of the Quebec population whose mother tongue is English resides mostly in the Greater Montreal Area, where they have a well-established network of educational, social, economic, and cultural institutions.

The remaining 10%, named allophones in Quebec, comprises some 30 different nationalities. With the exception of the aboriginal peoples (Inuit, Huron, etc.), the majority are of 20th century immigration. There are 6.3% Italians, 2.9% Spanish speakers, 2.5% Arabs, 1.7% Chinese, 1.5% Greeks, 1.4% French Creoles, 1.1% Portuguese, 0.9% Vietnamese, 0.8% Polish, and so on.


There are today two distinct territories in the Greater Montreal Area: the metropolitan region itself and Montreal Island, which has been coterminous with the City of Montreal between the municipal merger of 2002 and the "demerger" scheduled to occur in 2006.

Quebec allophones form 9% of the population of Quebec, but 88% of them are concentrated in the GMA. (Anglophones are also concentrated in a similar proportion.)

Francophones account for 68% of the total population of the Greater Montreal Area, anglophones 12,5% and allophones 18.5%. On the island of Montreal, the francophone majority drops to 52.8%, a net decline since the 1970s. The anglophones account for 18.2% of the population and the allophones 29.0%.


In 1996, 34% of native francophones claimed to also know English, compared to 26% in 1971, and 63% percent of native anglophones claimed to also know French, compared to 37% in 1971.

Among allophones, 23% know French as well, 48% French and English, and 19% English. On the whole, there has been a progression towards a better knowledge of French since 1971.

In 1996, some 182 480 persons (2.6% of population) were trilingual French-English-Spanish.

Birth rate

Quebec's fertility rate is now among the lowest in Canada. At 1.48, it is well below the replacement fertility rate of 2.1. This contrasts with the fertility rate before 1960 which was among the highest of the industrialized countries. The fertility rate is a little bit higher among the allophones than among the francophones and the anglophones.


In 2003, Quebec welcomed some 37,619 immigrants. A large fraction of these immigrants originated from francophone countries and countries that are former French colonies. Countries where people immigrate to Quebec from are Haiti, Congo, Lebanon, Morocco, Rwanda, Syria, Algeria, France and Belgium since the 1960s.


Evolution of the languages in Quebec
Language / Year 1951 1961 1971 1976 1981 1986 1991 1996 2001
French 82,5%81,2%80,7%80,0%82,4%82,9%82,1%80,9%81,2%
English 13,8%13,3%13,1%12,8%11,0%10,3% 9,6% 8,3% 8,0%
Allophones 3,7% 5,6% 6,2% 7,2% 6,6% 6,8% 8,3%10,7%10,0%
Bilingual - - - - - - - - 0,8%


There are two sets of language laws in Quebec, which overlap and in various areas conflict or compete with each other: the laws passed by the Parliament of Canada and the laws passed by the National Assembly of Quebec.

Since 1982, both parliaments have had to comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which constitutionalized a number of fundamental human rights and educational rights of minorities in all provinces (education is a provincial jurisdiction in Canada). Prior to this, Quebec was effectively the sole province required constitutionally to finance the educational needs of its linguistic minority. Ontario and Quebec are both required to finance schools for their principal religious minorities (Roman Catholic in Ontario, Protestant in Quebec), but only in Quebec is the minority almost completely composed of speakers of the minority language. (Quebec also provided English schools for anglophone Roman Catholics.) In 1997, an amendment to the constitution allowed for Quebec to replace its system of denominational school boards with a system of linguistic school boards.

The federal language law and regulations seek to make it possible for all Canadian anglophone and francophone citizens to obtain services in the language of their choice from the federal government. Ottawa promotes the adoption of bilingualism by the population and especially among the employees in the public service.

In contrast, the Quebec language law and regulations try to promote French as the common public language of all Quebecers, while respecting the constitutional rights of its anglophone minority. The government of Quebec promotes the adoption and the use of French to counteract the trend towards the anglicization of the population of Quebec.


With over 80% of the population speaking French, it might not be obvious to understand why language is such a big issue in Quebec. A closer look at the situation of Montreal, the largest city in Quebec and the second-largest city in Canada (3.5 million) allows us to understand why. (See the Montreal section in this article for the statistics.)

With only 18.2% of the population, the anglophone Quebecers living in Montreal attract significantly more immigrants to their community than the size of their population would let us assume. Numerous socio-economic factors are behind this reality: the influence and prestige of the English language in North America (and indeed the world) and thus the perceived advantage of learning English rather than French being the most important.

In 1996, about 51% of allophone immigrants assimilated to French, compared to 29% in 1971. All other linguistic transfers go to English. By comparison, in the rest of Canada, linguistic transfers are generally at over 95% towards English. On the island of Montreal, the francophones do not possess the critical mass to insure that the majority of the linguistic transfers will be towards French.

Another reality is that of the French-English bilingualism in the private sector. Although the Charter of the French language makes French the language of the workplace, English is very often made a requirement for employment by Quebec businesses. The result is that the workforce of Quebec, and especially Montreal, is largely bilingual. Francophones are compelled to learn English to find employment, anglophones are pressured to do the same with French and allophones are asked to learn both. In reality, allophones often learn one of the two, mostly English but more and more French. In 2001, 29% of Quebec workers declared using English, either solely (193 320), mostly (293,320), equally with French (212,545) or regularly (857,420). The proportion rises to 37% in the Montreal metropolitan area.

Aboriginal peoples

Quebec's aboriginal peoples are comprised of a heterogeneous group of about 71,000 individuals, who account for 9% of the total aboriginal population of Canada. Approximately 60% of those are officially recognized as "Indians" under the federal Indian Act. Nearly half (47%) of the Aboriginal population in Quebec reported an Aboriginal language as mother tongue, the highest proportion of any province. The following table shows the demolinguistic situations of Quebec's aboriginal people:

People Number Linguistic family Region of Quebec Language of use Second language
Abenakis 1,900 Algonquian Mauricie French Abenaki
Algonquins 8,600 Algonquian North East Algonquin French or English
Atikameks 4,900 Algonquian North Atikamek French
Crees 13,000 Algonquian North Cree English
Malecites 570 Algonquian St. Lawrence South shore French English
Micmacs 4,300 Algonquian Gaspésie Micmac French or English
Innus 13,800 Algonquian North Coast Innu French
Naskapis 570 Algonquian North East Naskapis English
Hurons 2,800 Iroquoian near Quebec City French English
Mohawks 13,000 Iroquoian near Montreal English Mohawk
Inuit 8,000 Eskimo-Aleut Arctic Inuktitut English

See also

External links

fr:Démolinguistique du Québec es:Sociolingüística de Quebec


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