The Dynamics of Language Shift in Canada

By Patrick Sabourin, Alain Bélanger, Paul Reeve

This article proposes a method for estimating language shifts based on fictitious cohorts and survival analysis. With this method, data from a single census can be used to obtain language shift rates in different population groups in Canada (by language first learned in childhood, immigrant status, age at immigration, level of education) and in all relevant regions of the country. The robustness of the method was validated by comparing the results obtained with data from the Canadian censuses of 1991, 1996, 2001, and 2006. Language shift rates by age and time since immigration are robust over time, but the rates vary significantly between population groups. They are very low in first-generation allophone immigrants who arrived in Canada as adults, but can reach 90% in the second generation. These rates vary little from one Canadian region to another among allophones, but they vary more in official language minorities, in some cases reaching rates comparable to those observed in the second generation of allophone immigrants. In Quebec, where French and English are both languages of convergence for allophones, the rise in language shifts towards French is largely due to changes in the ethnolinguistic composition of immigration.


  • language shift
  • language transfer
  • Canada
  • Quebec
  • immigrants
  • demolinguistics
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