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2016 Census Results: Usage of Indigenous Languages Growing Fast

By Marie-Michèle Chartier-Plante, translator

The numbers are in: Indigenous and Métis populations are amongst the fastest growing populations in Canada. Numbers from the 2016 census by Statistic Canada published last month reaffirmed a trend observed since the 90’s, that these populations are growing four times faster than the rest of Canadian population.

With the growth of population comes the revitalization of indigenous languages. More than 70 languages were reported in the census, of which 36 had more than 500 speakers. Interestingly, Statistics Canada observed that more people were talking in an indigenous language at home than people having it as mother tongue. What does it mean? It means that more people are willing to learn the language of their people as a second language to keep their culture alive. Revitalization strategies such as language instructions more widely available in indigenous languages, promotion of multilingualism and cultural integration across communities yield results in these populations. Another contributing factor is the rapidly growing youth population.

Azaëlle Elliott-Bouchard is a project Manager in charge of indigenous language translation projects at Wintranslation, a Canadian translation company headquartered in Ottawa. From her experience dealing with indigenous translators in over 30 langauges Elliott-Bouchard  notes that “Not only are Indigenous and Inuit populations the fastest growing demographic, but there is renewed interest in learning their traditional languages as well.”

This renewed interest certainly has an impact on many area of society. For one thing, it has increased the demand for information such as community consultation and health promotion in native indigenous languages. Much of such information is authored in English or French and then later translated. As a result, the demand for qualified translators in indigenous languages are on the rise as well.

According to the census, the language families with the highest number of speakers are the Cree languages, Inuktitut, and Ojibway.  But these languages contain many regional variations and communicators must be mindful of using the right variant.

“Using the correct dialect when addressing an Indigenous community is definitely about respect, but also a question of comprehension. Depending on how different the dialects in a language are, one dialect may not be easily understood by another. An Ojibwe person using the Odawa dialect would probably have some difficulty understanding the Western dialect for example.” Comments Elliott-Bouchard.

The growth of youth indigenous population and revitalization of the languages is an important component of an increasingly diverse Canada. Marketers and government decisions makers alike could use the data points to make informed decisions on how to reach the indigenous populations effectively.


Huiping Zhang is the founder and president of wintranslation. She founded the company in June 1998 as a home-based, one-woman operation and built it into a thriving, award-winning business that works with multi-national companies, governments, and not-for-profit organizations worldwide. She is a Certified Localization Professional and Terminology Manager. Huiping is a member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization and serves as a board member for the Ottawa chapter.

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