In Canada, the word anglophone refers to someone whose first language is English: it is the one they use most often to speak, read, write and think, and the one they use most often at home. Being anglophone can also simply mean being able to speak the language fluently.
According to the 2016 census, almost 20.19 million Canadians, representing 58.1 per cent of the total population, reported English as their mother tongue. Approximately 29.97 million Canadians, or 86.2 per cent of the population, declared being able to speak English.
The terms anglophone, francophone and allophone are used in Canada to describe three broad linguistic groups. The term francophone often refers to 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.
Given that 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). From the 17th to the 19th century, the French and British empires colonized and attempted to conquer the land now known as Canada (see New France; British North America). Hence, the English language and its speakers had a significant influence on the Canadian society, especially after the Conquest.
Census Definitions of English Speakers
The term anglophone is used colloquially to refer to 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 the first official language spoken (FOLS).
Mother Tongue Definition
If English is a speaker’s mother tongue, it means that it was the first language they learned, and a language they still understand. More than 20 million Canadians, or 58 per cent of the population, consider English as their mother tongue.
First Official Language Spoken (FOLS) Definition
English and French are Canada’s two official languages (see Official Languages Act (1969); 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, about one’s knowledge of Canada’s official languages, one’s mother tongue, and the language one speaks at home. 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.
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. Such situations are mostly observed in Quebec, but also in 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.