In Canada, the term francophone refers to someone whose first language is French: it is the one they use most often to speak, read, write and think, and the one they use most often at home. Being francophone can also simply mean being able to speak the language fluently.
According to the 2016 census, approximately 10.36 million Canadians, or 29.8 per cent of the population, declared being able to communicate in French. Of this number, 7.45 million reported that French was their mother tongue.
The terms francophone, anglophone and allophone are used in Canada to describe three broad linguistic groups. The term francophone often refers to someone whose mother tongue is French but can also be applied for someone who speaks the language fluently and has another mother tongue. Allophone is a term that describes anyone whose first language is not English, French nor an Indigenous language (see Immigrant Languages in Canada). There are approximately 70 distinct Indigenous languages in Canada. These are categorized among 12 separate language families and are traditionally spoken by First Nations, Métis people and the Inuit.
The term francophone also provides insight into Canada’s history. 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; 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 Population Settlement of New France). Roughly 4.7 million Canadians claim to be of French ethnic origin.
Francophone can refer to more than 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 the first official language spoken (FOLS).
Mother Tongue Definition
The mother tongue definition of French speaker refers to the first language and individual learned, and still understands. More than 7.4 million Canadians, or 21.4 per cent of the population, consider French 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 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. In fact, almost 94.5 per cent of the province’s population can speak French. Quebec is the only Canadian province where French is the sole official language.
Immigrants form an increasingly large portion of the Canadian francophonie. Among them are newcomers from francophone regions such as France and Maghreb (see French Immigration in Canada). This also includes allophones who learn French in addition to their mother tongue.
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; Francophones of Newfoundland and Labrador).
Did you know?
A Francophile is someone who appreciates the French language and the culture it produced.