Why Do Canadians Speak French?

A bilingual stop sign in Ottawa, Canada's capital.
A bilingual stop sign in Ottawa, Canada's capital.

Several languages are used in Canada. However, English and French are the official languages accounting for 57% and 22% of Canadians respectively according to the 2011 census. Over 80% and 30.1% of the country’s population have a working knowledge of English and French respectively. A further 14.2% of the population speaks a language other than English or French at home while 5.8% speak those languages on a regular basis as a secondary language in addition to French or English. French is the official language in the province of Quebec which is home to most of the native French speakers. 95% of the population of Quebec speaks French as their mother tongue. New Brunswick, Ontario, and Manitoba also have a sizeable number of francophones.

The Evolution Of French Language In Canada

Giovanni da Verrazano, a Florentine navigator, explored the American coast from Cape Breton to Florida in 1524. He mapped out the coastal region of North America under Nova Galla. In 1534, Gulf of Saint Lawrence was discovered by Jacques Cartier, who was sent by King Francis I of France, sealing an alliance with the local people who allowed him passage to go further. Cartier discovered the Saint Lawrence River during his second expedition in 1536, but he failed to establish a permanent colony in the area. French settlement and private companies were established in Eastern Canada at the beginning of the 17th century. Quebec City was founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain who had founded Port Royal earlier. The occupation of present-day Montreal was completed in 1642. In 1635, a secondary school was established in Quebec by the Jesuits with the dominant language being French.

The revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 caused emigration of several French into Europe and North America including Canada. However, the Treaty of Paris in 1763 led to the removal of France from Canadian territory subsequently relegating the French language to second after English started to become the primary language. In 1744, the Quebec Act was passed by the parliament abrogating the Test Act and restoring the French civil laws. This act was repealed by parliament in 1791 giving the king authority to divide into two provinces: Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lower Canada (Quebec). In 1867, a federal state called Canada was formed and was composed of four main administrative regions: Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. French became the official language of Quebec.

French Dialects In Canada

There are three different but related French dialects in Canada. The dialects share some features which distinguish them from the European French. The Quebec French is spoken by communities in Quebec, Ontario, and Western Canada. Acadian French is also spoken in Quebec but mainly by the Acadians in New Brunswick. Chiac dialect originates from New Brunswick and incorporates many English word and pronunciations. Brayon French closely resembles Quebec French in pronunciations but differs in sound. Metis French is the traditional language of the Metis people. The immigration of French speakers from around the world has also brought some other French dialects into Canada.


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