What is a French speaker?

Prime Minister François Legault has repeated several times in recent weeks that the proportion of Francophones has fallen below 50% in Montreal, to 48.3%. This figure from Statistics Canada’s 2021 census data is accurate, but it is based on only one of the many ways of defining a Francophone, that of “language spoken most often at home”. This definition is far from unanimous among specialists. There are other measures that must also be taken into account in order to fully grasp the nuances required by the linguistic debate.

What is a French speaker

The mother tongue

The basic measure is the mother tongue. In the past, the linguistic portrait was simple. The Quebec population was divided between the descendants of French settlers and British settlers, to which immigrants were gradually added when they opted for one of the two languages.

The current portrait is really more complex. In 2021, according to the last census, 44% of citizens on the island of Montreal were of French mother tongue, 16.3% of English speakers, and 2.2% said they had both as their mother tongue. These data show that the low proportion of Francophones, according to this definition, is due less to the weight of Anglophones than to that of residents of various origins who are neither Francophones nor Anglophones, 32.5%. Finally, a not insignificant 7.2% of Montrealers say they have several mother tongues.

1670065967 3 What is a French speaker

The language most often spoken at home

The second measure that defines a Francophone does not relate to the language of origin, but to the language spoken at home. It is with this measure that we obtain the proportion of 48.3% in Montreal, cited by Premier Legault. This figure reflects the large influx of immigrants, permanent and temporary, who overwhelmingly choose Montreal, as well as the exodus of Francophones to the suburbs and the regions.

But the fact of not speaking French at home is not enough to exclude someone from the Francophone group. A large number of those who are part of the 51.7% are fluent in French and use it in the public space, while speaking their native language at home. This is particularly the case for people from Haiti, the Maghreb, Africa or the Middle East, not to mention those who have adopted French while retaining their language. The proportion of those whose home language is French is higher in Greater Montreal, at 63.8%.

We must also take into account the fact that in many families, several languages ​​are often spoken. Quebecers of Haitian origin, for example, switch from French to Creole (2.9%).

There are also French-English bilingual families (2.7%), and trilingual families (1.1%). The French total then goes above the 50% mark and reaches 55%.

“If we define Francophones based on their mother tongue or the language spoken at home, there are many who escape us,” explains Richard Marcoux, director of the Demographic and Statistical Observatory of the Francophone Space.

“Dany Laferriere. Kim Thúy, Jim Corcoran, for example, are people who don’t have French as their mother tongue, but they are great pens of the French language. So, for me, mother tongue is very, very restrictive in defining francophones. It is the same for the language spoken at home. »

1670065967 654 What is a French speaker

The official language spoken

The third measure is the first official language spoken (FOLS). It designates the first official language spoken by this person. This measure also makes it possible to measure the linguistic progress of newcomers, by reflecting either the official languages, French and English, which they knew when they arrived, or the language they learned here. This gives an idea of ​​the attraction of French and English, and of the dynamics of linguistic transfers.

With this measure, French is dominant, even on the island of Montreal. French is the first official language spoken by 58.4% of people. English gets 30.6%. When we take into account those who speak both languages, very numerous on the island of Montreal, we count 67.2% for whom French is the FOLS, and 39.3% for English. The proportions are 78% compared to 27.1% for Greater Montreal.

1670065967 508 What is a French speaker

Knowledge of official languages

Finally, a fourth measure concerns knowledge of languages, regardless of origins or family background, namely the ability to speak and understand French. On the island, 84.4% of people say they have sufficient knowledge of French to hold a conversation, of which 24.6% know only French, and 59.8% both French and English. This data reminds us that the rate of bilingualism is high in Montreal. For this reason, knowledge of English is also strong. 73.1% speak English.

For Richard Marcoux, the ability to hold a conversation in French is the best definition of who is a Francophone.

“It’s the definition that seems to me to be the most coherent,” he explains. It has the advantage of being obviously quite inclusive. For me, someone who speaks a language other than French at home can also be French-speaking. »

1670065968 855 What is a French speaker

The language of work

Finally, a last measure can help complete this portrait, namely the language of work. It does not concern the origins of citizens or their language skills, but rather their work environment. On the island of Montreal, 60% of people work primarily in French, a higher proportion than that of the language spoken at home, which illustrates the fact that many non-francophones work in French. 10.2% work in both languages. But the proportion of those who work mainly in English is 28.1%.

Jean-Pierre Corbeil, professor in the sociology department at Laval University, to care about remember that the foundations of Quebec’s language policy are based on the use of language in the public space and not on the language spoken at home. “In my opinion, the best indicator would be the use of languages ​​in the public space,” he says.

The writer Marco Micone, who wrote three plays on the immigrant condition and a poem entitled Speak What, is of the same opinion. “The objective of Bill 101 was to make French the common public language,” he says. Therefore, anyone who complies with this requirement should be considered a Francophone. »

With the collaboration of Pierre-André Normandin, The Press

Learn more

  • 321,000,000
    Number of French speakers on the planet


We wish to thank the author of this article for this amazing material

What is a French speaker?

You can find our social media profiles , as well as the other related pageshttps://nimblespirit.com/related-pages/