What is a "Canadian" language?

A map of Canada.

A mosaic of unique languages and dialects are spoken in Canada. According to the 2016 Canadian census, more than 200 languages are spoken among Canada’s 35 million citizens. These languages come both from within Canadian borders and from regions around the world.

Every day, Canadians talk to family and friends, mail letters, make phone calls, write e-mails and send texts in a rich array of languages. However, languages aren’t just the way millions of Canadians communicate with one another; they’re an important part of Canadian identity and culture.

Let’s take a closer look.

Click to hear phrases for "thank you" in a few of Canada's languages.

Canada is home to many Indigenous languages. There are over 60 Indigenous languages spoken in all parts of Canada. Today, linguists linguists
people who study languages
recognize 12 Indigenous language families. Cree, Ojibwe and Inuktituk are the most spoken Indigenous languages in Canada. Cree and Ojibwe belong to the Algonquian language family, while Inuktituk is from the Inuit language family.

An illustration of Canada's 12 indigenous language families: Algonquian, Athabaskan, Haida, Inuit, Iroquoian, Kutenai, Michif, Salish, Siouan, Tlingit, Tsimshian and Wakashan.

Canada’s official national languages are English and French. These languages are used by the Canadian government in official communications and have a special legal status. However, this does not mean that all Canadians speak just English or French. In fact, 7.7 million Canadians have a mother tongue mother tongue
the first language a person learns
other than English or French.

Hover over a province or territory to see its top 5 mother tongues and how many speakers each language has.

Although the national government recognizes English and French, some provinces and territories have their own official languages. The Northwest Territories has 11 official languages, the most of any Canadian province or territory. Nine of these languages are Indigenous and belong to the Algonquian, Athabaskan and Inuit language families.

Sign languages are an important part of Canada’s language mosaic. In 2016, more than 48 000 Canadians knew a sign language. Sign languages have their own dialects, just like spoken languages. For example, the Maritime Sign Language dialect is used throughout Canada’s eastern coast. In Canada, the most popular sign language is American Sign Language with more than 20,000 users. Canadians also use Quebec Sign Language, Plains Sign Language, and Inuit Sign Language.

A map showing Canadian sign languages: Plains Sign Language, Inuit Sign Language, Quebec Sign Language and Maritime Sign Language.

Canada’s linguistic mosaic is made up of many different languages. This diverse linguistic landscape is constantly changing, shifting, and transforming. In Part II, you can explore the history of Canada’s languages and events that have contributed to the way language is experienced in Canada today.