“Mother” Languages and First-generation Canadians

Nicholas Keung, thestar.com, 8 June 2011

Thanks to a post-war immigration policy that has focused on ushering in migrants as complete families, newcomer communities in Canada are faring better at retaining their mother tongue.

A new Statistics Canada study, released Tuesday, showed that 55 per cent of the Canadian-born children of immigrants shared the same mother tongue as their mothers in 2006 — a jump from 41 per cent for their counterparts in 1981.
 

Nicholas Keung, thestar.com, 8 June 2011

Thanks to a post-war immigration policy that has focused on ushering in migrants as complete families, newcomer communities in Canada are faring better at retaining their mother tongue.

A new Statistics Canada study, released Tuesday, showed that 55 per cent of the Canadian-born children of immigrants shared the same mother tongue as their mothers in 2006 — a jump from 41 per cent for their counterparts in 1981.
 

“While immigrant groups of European origin have had more difficulty preserving their language over time, more recent immigrant groups, such as those who speak Spanish, Chinese or Punjabi, are generally more likely to maintain theirs,” says the report, titled “Evolution of Immigrant-language Transmission in Canada.”

“The most important factor is the extent to which children are exposed to those languages within the family.”

Canada’s strong emphasis on family reunification between 1980 and 2000 brought in a lot of parents and grandparents, the agents for passing on the native language to the next generation.

While fewer than one in five children from Dutch, Italian, Creole and Tagalog linguistic backgrounds retained the language, the rate exceeds 70 per cent among children born to parents who speak Armenian, Punjabi, Chinese, Persian, Turkish, Bengali and Urdu.

To study how intergenerational language transmission has changed over time, researchers compared mothers in 1981 with their daughters, who later became mothers themselves.

While 41 per cent of mothers passed on their language to their kids in 1981, less than one-quarter of their daughters did so — a significant 18 per cent decrease.

“It is the ‘marriage market,’ more than any other factor, that determines how intergenerational language transmission changes over time,” says the report. Marrying a person who does not share the same mother tongue makes it harder for the couple’s child to acquire the language.

Over three generations, the report found, very few grandchildren of the 1981 immigrant mothers spoke the same mother tongue.

On average, four out of 10 second-generation immigrant children could speak their mother’s native language. By the third generation, that ratio fell to one out of 10.

The group with the highest language retention is Punjabi: Some 33 per cent of third-generation children have mastered the language. Hungarian, by contrast, is spoken by only 3 per cent of third-generation Hungarian-Canadians, followed by German (5 percent), Polish (6 percent), Portuguese (8 percent), Italian (11 percent, Spanish (12 percent) and Serbo-Croatian (12 percent).

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