First Nation Languages
With over 50 Aboriginal languages, and dozens of dialects currently spoken across the country, Canada has an incredible amount of linguistic diversity.
There are at least 65 aboriginal ethnic groups in Canada and probably as many languages. However, not all natives speak their ancestral languages, even if they belong to a specific ethnic group. In 1996, some 67.8% spoke English as their mother tongue, while 5.8% spoke French (or 45,955 “ francophone” natives). Of all of Canada ’s speakers of an aboriginal mother tongue, only 15,165 (8.1%) speak an aboriginal language and do not know English or French; however, 187,670 speak an aboriginal language and one official language, usually English.
Most so-called “ francophone” natives live in Quebec (28,480), Ontario (6,610), Manitoba (5,110), British Columbia (1,580), Saskatchewan (1,265), and New Brunswick (1,015). English speakers are scattered throughout all the provinces.
One-quarter (207,000) of the native population reported that they had an aboriginal mother tongue, and even more (234,000) that they spoke an aboriginal language. According to Statistics Canada, this would indicate that a relatively large number of speakers learned an aboriginal language when they were older.
However, only 15% of the entire native population (120,000) reported that they spoke an aboriginal language at home. Knowledge of an aboriginal language appears more common among those aged 55 and over.
It is also worth noting that the Inuit are better able to speak their mother tongue: three-quarters of them reported being able to carry on a conversation in their language.
For various reasons, it is difficult to know exactly how many aboriginal languages there are in Canada. Many natives speak English and French as a mother tongue, while others speak both an aboriginal and an official language.
Others have only a passing knowledge of their ancestral language, while some minor languages are becoming or are already extinct. In addition, some natives do not participate in federal censuses, and the variety of dialects greatly complicates any classification.
Accepted research has shown that there are between 56 and 70 aboriginal languages in Canada. An American non-governmental organization called Ethnologue, based in Dallas at the Summer Institute of Linguistics, lists 63 languages for Canada.
The 32 Northern Athabaskan languages are spoken throughout the interior of Alaska and the interior of northwestern Canada in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, as well as in the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
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Atikamekw is spoken by three isolated communities on reservations of Manuane, Obedjiwan, Weymontachie, between La Tuque, Quebec, and Senneterre, Quebec, 200 to 400 km north of Montreal in south central Quebec, along the upper reaches of the St. Maurice River.
Many common place names have their origins in First Nations languages. This article gives the tribal origin and meaning of some places in the Northwest Territories which may be familiar to you.