Population outpaces growth of Inuktut

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A new report from Statistics Canada stating there are more Inuktut speakers now than there were in 2011 might seem like good news – but those numbers are deceptive.

photo courtesy Statistics Canada
Inuktitut is Canada’s second-most spoken Indigenous language used in the home, among the 10 most common Indigenous languages, according to census results from 2016.

“From 2011 to 2016, the number of people speaking Inuktitut in Nunavut rose 12.1 per cent,” states the report released Aug. 2 entitled Linguistic diversity and multilingualism in Canadian homes.

As the controversy around Bill 37 escalated this year in the Legislative Assembly and among Nunavummiut, the issue of language loss loomed large. Bill 37 seeks to amend the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act to delay Inuktut and English or Inuktut and French bilingual education in schools.

“We see that the number of persons who speak Inuktitut is going up, so the number. But when we look at it as the weight inside the population, it’s going down,” explained Statistics Canada analyst Emilie Lavoie.

“Meaning that the number of people who can speak an Inuit language is going up but the number of people who speak another language is also going up, and faster.”

English or French are going up faster, Lavoie clarified.

“Even though the number of Inuit-language speakers in Nunavut has gone up, the total population is going up faster,” she said.

The numbers, at this point, do not differentiate between Inuit and non-Inuit households.

“There will be a release in October that will cover Indigenous people and in this release you will have the identity. That’s when you’ll be able to differentiate between Inuit people and non-Inuit,” said Lavoie.

Nunavut News/North previously reported on Inuit-language loss when linguist Ian Martin released Inuit Language Loss in Nunavut: Analysis, Forecast, and Recommendations on March 7.

“From 1996 to 2011, the number of Inuktut mother tongue speakers in Nunavut dropped from 88 per cent to 80 per cent. Over the same period, the use of Inuktut in Inuit homes in Nunavut dropped from 76 per cent in 1996 to a mere 61 per cent in 2011,” Martin stated.

“At the same time, English spoken mostly in the home has increased from 28.5 per cent in 1991 to 46 per cent in 2011. This steady increase in the percentage of Nunavummiut homes in which English is the most used – means that the percentage today is probably over 50 per cent.”

Martin predicted that “if the home language loss rate of Inuktut is 12 per cent per decade, then, by 2051, a mere 34 years from now, the Inuit Language will be spoken at home by only 4 per cent of Inuit in Nunavut.”

Lavoie’s analysis of current numbers supports a continued trend of Inuit-language loss in the territory.

Nationally, Cree languages are the Indigenous language most spoken at 83,985 speakers, to Inuktitut’s second-place position of 39,025.

In Nunavut, there are 25,405 people who reported an Inuit language spoken in the home.

Inuktut is not the only language experiencing a decline.

“The various linguistic indicators show an increase in other languages and in English, and a decline in French in Quebec,” states the Statistics Canada report.

French spoken in the home also declined nationally.

Overall, the report accentuates that language diversity is on the rise in Canada.

“Close to 7.6 million Canadians reported speaking a language other than English or French at home in 2016, an increase of almost 1 million (+14.5 per cent) people over 2011. Moreover, the proportion of the Canadian population who speak more than one language at home rose from 17.5 per cent in 2011 to 19.4 per cent in 2016,” states the report.

Language diversity includes immigrant languages. The top four are Mandarin, Cantonese, Punjabi and Tagalog, the Filipino language.

In Nunavut, Tagalog use rose by 54.5 per cent since 2011.