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Inuktitut still strong but in slight decline

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In much of the North, Inuktitut, the Inuit language, continues to be one of the most widely spoken Aboriginal tongues, though its use is declining. Some Inuit are learning it as a second language.

In the 2006 Census, 32,200 Inuit, or 64% of the Inuit population, reported Inuktitut as their mother tongue, a decline of four percentage points since 1996. Mother tongue is the first language a person learns at home in childhood and still understands today.

The proportion of Inuit who speak Inuktitut most often at home is also decreasing. In 2006, about 25,500 Inuit, or 50% of the population, reported it as their ‘home language’—the language they speak most often at home—down eight percentage points from 1996.

Some Inuit learn Inuktitut as a second language. About 11,100 Inuit youth aged 14 and younger, 63% of the Inuit youth population, know it as their mother tongue. About 12,200 Inuit, or 69%, can speak Inuktitut well enough to carry on a conversation, down from 72% in 1996.

Inuit living in the North are much more likely than those in Canada’s southern urban areas to speak Inuktitut.

In 2006, just 15% of Inuit in urban areas could converse in Inuktitut, compared with 84% in Inuit Nunaat—the Inuit homeland in northern Canada.

However, fluency with Inuktitut varies greatly across Inuit Nunaat. In Nunavik, 99% of Inuit could speak it well enough to converse; in Nunavut, 91% could.

By contrast, just 27% of Inuit in Nunatsiavut could converse in the language and only 20% in the Inuvialuit region could do so.