In Canada, the word anglophone refers to someone for whom English is their first language, the one they typically use most often to speak, read, write and think, and the one they use most often at home. In the 2016 census, 20,193,335 Canadians representing 58.1 per cent of the total population reported English as their mother tongue.
The terms anglophone, francophone and allophone are used in Canada to describe three broad linguistic groups. Francophone refers someone whose mother tongue is French. Allophone is a term that describes anyone whose first language is not English, French or an Indigenous language (see Immigrant Languages in Canada). There are around 70 distinct Indigenous languages in Canada. These languages fall into 12 separate language families and are traditionally spoken by First Nations, Métis people and the Inuit.
Because anglophone can refer to heritage, identity and community in addition to language, the term provides information and insight about Canada’s history (see English Canadians). Two European empires—France and Great Britain—colonized and attempted to conquer the land we now know as Canada in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries (see New France; British North America).
Census Definitions of English Speakers
The term anglophone is used colloquially to describe an English speaker in a general sense. The Canadian census uses more specific terminology, distinguishing between people whose mother tongue is English and people for whom English is their first official language spoken (FOLS).
Mother Tongue Definition
The mother tongue definition of English speaker refers to the first language learned and still understood by an individual. More than 20 million Canadians, or 58 per cent of the population, speak English as a mother tongue.
First Official Language Spoken (FOLS) Definition
English and French are Canada’s two official languages (see Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism; Official Languages Act (1969); Official Languages Act (1988); Commissioner of Official Languages; Bilingualism). The purpose of counting people on the basis of first official language spoken (FOLS) is to help distinguish, in broad terms, between French- and English-speaking Canadians. The FOLS definition is derived from three federal census questions: knowledge of Canada’s official languages, mother tongue, and home language. According to the 2016 census, Canadians whose first official language spoken was English represented roughly 75 per cent of the total population, or just over 26 million people. This is a larger number than that yielded using the mother tongue definition.
Where Do Anglophones Live in Canada?
Anglophones live in all parts of the country, though they are not always the majority population. In the province of Quebec, for example, French is the language of the majority population while people with English as their mother tongue are a minority, representing only about 8.1 per cent of the population (see English-Speaking Quebecers). About 13.7 per cent of Quebecers speak English as a first official language.
Because most Canadians communicate in English, the term anglophone tends to be used most frequently when describing the members of English-speaking communities in areas that are either predominantly French-speaking, or where French and English speakers live near one another. This would apply mostly to Quebec, but also to Ontario, New Brunswick and Manitoba which have sizeable and long established francophone minority populations (see Francophones of Ontario; Contemporary Acadia; Francophones of Manitoba).
Did you know?
An anglophile is someone who appreciates the English language and the culture it has produced.