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Ancestral Languages Disappearing in Canada
Matthew Little, Epoch Times Calgary Staff
6/15/2006

Many immigrants to Canada lose their ancestral languages by the third generation, and those most likely to lose their ancestral languages are higher-income earners, a recent Statistics Canada study has found.

The study—"Passing On the Ancestral Language," by Martin Turcotte—used data from the 2002 Ethnic Diversity Survey. The respondents were 42,500 children of immigrants, aged 15 and over.

The study found that 64 percent of respondents learned their parents' ancestral languages first in childhood, while 74 percent could carry on a conversation in their parents' mother tongues, suggesting that many learned those languages later in life. For respondents who had moved out of their parents' homes, however, the proportion that regularly used those languages in their own homes dropped to 32 percent, and to only 20 percent for those who had children of their own.

Of the respondents with children, only 11 percent had passed their ancestral languages on to their children. This finding echoes those of similar studies in the United States that have found that by the second generation, the vast majority of immigrants' grandchildren no longer learn their ancestral languages—despite the fact many immigrants believe their ancestral languages are an important part of their cultural identities.

Some languages were more likely to be passed on, including Mandarin, Cantonese, Punjabi, Spanish, Korean, and Greek. Others, like Dutch, Semetic languages, and Creole, were less likely to be passed on—but some of those, like Dutch, were more likely to be learned later in life instead.

Not surprisingly, respondents who married a partner having the same mother tongue were most likely to pass it on, with 68 percent of their children learning the ancestral tongues, compared to 49 percent for those of mixed-language parents.

The more recently the respondents' parents had immigrated, the less likely the respondents were to learn their parents' mother tongues. Of respondents aged 65 and older, 75 percent had learned their ancestral languages, compared to only 52 percent of respondents aged 15–24.

Languages that have large associated ethnic communities were more likely to be used and kept. Other studies have found that maintaining their ancestral languages can give children of immigrants a business advantage by allowing them to network within those ethnic communities. However, higher incomes were associated with a smaller likelihood of respondents using their ancestral languages.

51 percent of respondents whose household income was $20,000 or less used their ancestral languages at home, compared to 27 percent of those with incomes above $100,000. This finding is incongruent with a second finding, that respondents who regularly used their ancestral languages at home were more likely to have post-secondary education. The study does not suggest why higher income and lower education were both associated with using an ancestral language at home.

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