Ottawa’s multilingualism – the 2021 census

By Sophie Shields

Walking through the Glebe, you hear many different languages, from French to Mandarin to Korean. But this begs the question, how multilingual is Ottawa really?

With the recent release of the 2021 census, we can finally take a peek at the linguistic happenings in our backyard – the Ottawa-Gatineau Census Municipality Subdivision. Let’s start with the basics – our mother tongues: English for 53.4 per cent of the Ottawa-Gatineau population, French for 30.6 per cent and Other for 21.7 per cent. Within the realm of Other, the most common mother tongue is Arabic (20 per cent) followed by Mandarin (8.1 per cent), Spanish (7.3 per cent), Cantonese (3.6 per cent), Italian (3.1 per cent) and so on. Of course, there are so many more languages being spoken (over 400!), including Indigenous ones, with Inuktitut and Cree being the most common. Imagine so many languages within bussing distance!

Since the last census five years ago, a lot has changed in the Ottawa linguistic language profile. Almost seven per cent more of us are bilingual in English and French and almost double the number of people claim more than one mother tongue. Of course, there are also some worrying statistics, such as a 1.4-per-cent reduction in French speakers and about a 30-per-cent decline in Indigenous language speakers. On a more positive note, language learning continues to be an important way to maintain and increase language vitality, and it’s a promising start that more than 45 per cent of us speak two languages and 10 per cent speak three!

If this census tells us anything, it’s that we can probably learn another language just by knocking on our neighbours’ doors. So, with a bit of effort and a love for language learning and, who knows, maybe by the next census, we can reach 20% of ‘three-language’ speakers. Glebe-wide challenge anyone?

Sophie Shields is a Carleton student studying global literature and a proud Franco-Ukrainian. She is the social media coordinator for the Glebe Report.

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