In Canada, a francophone refers to someone for whom French 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, about 7.4 million Canadians, or 21.4 per cent of the population, reported French as their mother tongue.
The terms francophone, anglophone and allophone are used in Canada to describe three broad linguistic groups. Anglophone refers to someone whose mother-tongue is English. 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.
The term also provides insight into Canada’s history. Two European empires—France and Great Britain—colonized and attempted to conquer the land we now know as Canada from the 17th to the 19th centuries (see New France; Seven Years’ War; The Conquest of New France; British North America). Some francophones in Canada can trace their family histories dating back to settlers who arrived from France and its colonies in the 17th century (see Filles du Roi). Roughly 4.7 million Canadians claim a French ethnic origin.
The term francophone can refer to more than just language. It is often tied to concepts of identity, community and heritage.
Did you know?
Canada is a member of the Francophonie—the global network of French-speaking nations and peoples.
Census Definitions of French Speakers
The term francophone is used colloquially to describe a French speaker in a general sense. The Canadian census uses more specific terminology, distinguishing between people whose mother tongue is French and people for whom French is their first official language spoken (FOLS).
Mother Tongue Definition
The mother tongue definition of French speaker refers to the first language learned and still understood by an individual. More than 7.4 million Canadians, 21.4 per cent of the population, speak French 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 French represented 22.8 per cent of the total population, or just over 7.9 million people. This is a larger number than that yielded using the mother tongue definition.
Where Do Francophones Live in Canada?
There are established francophone communities across Canada. Approximately 6.2 million Quebecers, representing over 77 per cent of the provincial population, have French as a first language and as the language they speak most often at home. Quebec is the sole Canadian province where French is the only official language.
Outside of Quebec, most Canadians communicate in English. As a result, the term francophone is often employed in the context of French-speaking linguistic minority communities, or where French and English speakers live near one another. Many provinces, notably Ontario, New Brunswick and Manitoba all have sizeable and long-established francophone minority populations (see Francophones of Ontario; Contemporary Acadia; Francophones of Manitoba). Other provinces and territories have smaller but significant francophone populations (see Francophones of Nunavut, Francophones of British Columbia, Francophones of the Northwest Territories, Francophones of Yukon, Francophones of Saskatchewan).
Did you know?
A Francophile is someone who appreciates the French language and the culture it produced.