Chapter 6. Couples in which at least one partner is a Francophone immigrant and the intergenerational transmission of language

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"Francophone immigrant couple" refers here to a couple in which at least one of the partners is a French first official language spoken (FOLS) or French-English FOLS immigrant. Both the number of such couples and their relative weight among couples living in Canada outside Quebec are fairly modest. Such couples numbered approximately 57,000 in 2006, accounting for only one percent of all couples. The 2006 Census also counted 27,270 Francophone couples with at least one minor child, representing 1.2% of couples with children aged 18 or under. As to children under 18 years of age living with a couple in which at least one Francophone partner is a Francophone, they numbered 50,300, and they too represented only 1.2% of all children of the same age.

This section will examine the composition of couples with at least one Francophone partner and with children under 18 years of age; it will consider these couples from the perspective of whether they are homogamous or mixed. However, the central focus of this section is to study the intergenerational transmission of language from parents to minor children in terms of mother tongue, language spoken in the parental home and first official language spoken (FOLS).

Couples in which at least one partner is a Francophone immigrant

Data on couples in which at least one partner is a Francophone immigrant were constructed in two stages. First, for all couples, we cross-tabulated the group defined according to the first official language spoken (FOLS) and the immigrant status of each partner. Groups defined according to first official language spoken (FOLS) and immigrant status are as follows:

  • French FOLS, Canadian-born
  • French-English FOLS, Canadian-born
  • French FOLS, immigrants
  • French-English FOLS, immigrants
  • Non-Francophone immigrants and non-permanent residents
  • Non-Francophone, Canadian-born

We then selected only those couples in which at least one of the partners is both Francophone (either French FOLS or French-English FOLS) and an immigrant. From this cross-tabulation, we obtained eleven types of couples in which at least one partner was a Francophone immigrant, without regard to the sex of that partner.1 Of these eleven couple types, five had small numbers and were therefore grouped into a residual category (other types of couples comprised of at least one Francophone immigrant) for purposes of the analyses presented below. Our attention will therefore focus on the other six couple types with the largest numbers. The number and percentage distribution of the couple types are shown in table 6.1.

Table 6.1 Percentage of Francophone opposite-sex couples with children under 18 years of age according to type of couple, Canada less Quebec

In and of themselves, the six main couple types account for more than 95% of all couples that include at least one Francophone immigrant partner, with or without the presence of minor children. The same is true for the children: nearly 96% of them live in families in which the parents form one of the six main types of couples. The most numerous type, accounting for more than one-third of couples, consists of a French-English FOLS immigrant and a non-Francophone immigrant or a non-permanent resident (NPR). Four other types each account for between 10% and 15% of couples; in three of them, at least one partner is French FOLS. The couple type consisting of two French FOLS partners, one of whom is an immigrant and the other is Canadian-born accounts for 6.2% of couples with children under 18 years of age and 7.5% of all couples in which at least one partner is a Francophone immigrant.

Homogamy and mixed couples

Here we will examine the homogamous or mixed nature of couples with children under 18 years of age where at least one of the partners is a Francophone immigrant. The criterion of being either homogamous or mixed refers to the mother tongue of each of the spouses. A homogamous couple, then, is defined as one where both spouses have the same mother tongue(s), whereas a mixed couple is defined as one where the two spouses have one or more different mother tongues. We could have chosen another criterion for defining the homogamous or mixed nature of couples, such as the language spoken most often at home or the first official language spoken (FOLS), but we chose mother tongue because it is usually this language that parents pass on to their children. This brief foray into the heart of a complex subject will shed light on the nature of intergenerational transmission of a language, which operates within families in which one of the parents is a Francophone immigrant.

Couples with children under 18 where at least one parent is a Francophone immigrant vary greatly as to whether they are homogamous or mixed (chart 6.1). With one exception, each type of couple tends to be characterized by a dominant form of homogamy or mixedness. Couples comprised of two French FOLS partners constitute the majority of homogamous Francophone couples, that is, couples where both partners have French as their mother tongue. However, two types of couples differ from each other. Among couples consisting of a Canadian-born French FOLS person and a French FOLS immigrant, nearly one-third are mixed, with one partner having French as a mother tongue and the other having a mother tongue that is not an official language. Among couples comprised of two French FOLS immigrants, 27% are homogamous couples with a mother tongue other than French or English.

Chart 6.1 Opposite-sex couples with at least one Francophone immigrant partner with chidren under 18 years of age according to hte homogamous or mixed nature of the couple and type of couple, Canada excluding Quebec

Among couples in which one of the partners is a French FOLS immigrant and the other is a non-Francophone (Canadian-born or immigrant) or a non-permanent resident, the vast majority are mixed. Almost all (99.6%) unions between a French FOLS immigrant and a non-Francophone Canadian-born person are mixed couples, mainly "French + English." Where the other partner is a non-Francophone or a non-permanent resident, nearly equal proportions of such couples are mixed "French + English" (37%) and "French + a non-official language" (42%).

Also, among unions consisting either of two French-English FOLS immigrants or of a French-English FOLS immigrant and a non-Francophone immigrant or a non-permanent resident, more than 90% are homogamous couples sharing the same non-official language (93% and 91.5% respectively).

In all, 55% of opposite-sex couples with minor children where one of the partners is a Francophone immigrant (French FOLS or French-English FOLS) are homogamous couples with the same non-official language. This situation tends not to be conducive to the transmission of French as the mother tongue to the children of couples where at least one immigrant partner is a Francophone. However, 30% are mixed unions, primarily "French + English" and "French + non-official language."

Intergenerational transmission of French

Intergenerational language transmission (language transmitted from parents to their children) is influenced by a number of factors, such as the linguistic characteristics of each parent, their place of origin and residence, their socioeconomic profile and the children's characteristics. These factors combine to determine which language(s) the children will inherit and which language(s) they are likely to use in their daily lives.

Mother tongue

Overall, nearly half of children brought up in Francophone immigrant families (families headed by a couple in which a least one partner is a Francophone immigrant) have a language other than French or English as their mother tongue (table 6.2). French is transmitted as a mother tongue to only 25% of children (including cases of transmission of both French and English), which is less than the proportion of those to whom only English is transmitted, namely 28%. There is considerable variation from one type of couple to another. As regards the transmission of French to children, two types of couples stand out from the others, namely types in which each partner has French as the first official language (French FOLS). The type of couple consisting of a French FOLS Canadian-born person and a French FOLS immigrant appears to best ensure that French is transmitted to the children, in 92% of cases (including cases of joint transmission of French and English). Conversely, the transmission of French to children under 18 years of age is low or very low for two types of couples: the type consisting of two French-English FOLS immigrants and the type consisting of one French-English FOLS immigrant and another immigrant who is a non-Francophone or a non-permanent resident.

Table 6.2 Population of children under 18 years of age living with opposite-sex Francophone couples according to mother tongue by type of couple, Canada less Quebec

English is transmitted more commonly than French for two types of couples. Couples consisting of a French FOLS immigrant and a non-Francophone native-born Canadian transmit English to their children under 18 years of age in 75% of cases, compared to 15.5% for French only. Also, unions between a French FOLS immigrant and a non-Francophone immigrant or a non-permanent resident transmit English to their children in 55% of cases, compared to 19% for French only.

When all types of couples with at least one Francophone immigrant partner are combined, non-official mother tongues are found to be transmitted to children in the largest number of cases, namely 47%. A non-official language is transmitted to children in a majority of cases for two types of couples (disregarding the residual category consisting of "other types"): couples comprised of two French-English FOLS immigrants (76%) and those comprised of a French-English FOLS immigrant and a non-Francophone immigrant or a non-permanent resident (80%).

Language spoken at home

As regards the language spoken at home by the children of couples in which at least one partner is a Francophone immigrant, a comparable percentage of children under 18 years of age use English or a non-official language most often at home, at respectively 39% and 37% (table 6.3). As to French, 20% of children use it most often at home, and this percentage rises to 24.6% if children who use both French and English are added. Among couples of the first two types, namely couples in which both partners are French FOLS, a majority of children speak French most often at home; for couples comprised of a Canadian-born person and an immigrant, the proportion is 89%, while for those comprised of two immigrants it is 65%. These percentages rise to 90% and 72% if cases of "French and English" use are added.

Table 6.3 Population of children under 18 years of age living with opposite-sex Francophone couples according to language most often spoken at home by type of couple, Canada less Quebec

In the other types of couples, most children tend to speak either English or a non-official language. In three types of couples in particular, French ranks third among the languages spoken most often at home, behind English and a non-official language.

The information on language spoken most often at home was combined with information on language spoken on a regular basis at home in order to obtain a more complete picture of the use of French at home by children under 18 years of age living within unions consisting of at least one Francophone immigrant partner (table 6.4). The degree of use of French at home hardly increases, since the proportion of children who speak French on a regular basis at home does not even reach 10%. Thus, when the four categories of use of French at home shown in Table 6.4 are summed, it emerges that one-third of children speak French either most often or on a regular basis at home.

Table 6.4 Population of children under 18 years of age living with opposite-sex Francophone couples according to the level of French use at home by type of couple, Canada less Quebec

First official language spoken

We examined the transmission of languages according to the criterion of the first official language spoken (FOLS) by children living with a parental couple in which at least one partner is a Francophone immigrant. The results differ from those based on mother tongue and language spoken at home. Children's first official language spoken is English in 58% of cases and French in 24% (table 6.5). It is again the same two types of couples for whom the majority of children have French as their first official language spoken, namely those consisting of an immigrant and a Canadian-born person, both of whom have French as their FOLS (92%), and those composed of two French FOLS immigrants (75%). English is the dominant language for all other types of couples in which at least one partner is a Francophone immigrant. However, the transmission of both French and English is a reality for nearly one-third of children living with parental couples comprised of two French-English FOLS immigrants.

Table 6.5 Population of children under 18 years of age living with opposite-sex Francophone couples according to first official language spoken by type of couple, Canada less Quebec

In summary, it emerges that the transmission of French depends both on the type of couple with whom the children live and the context in which that language is used. French is transmitted firstly by couples in which both partners have only French as their first official language: in their case, the majority of minor children have French as their mother tongue, speak it most often at home and have it as their first official language spoken. The situation is completely different for other types of couples, where the transmission of English or a non-official language dominates. The context is also important. French is transmitted to 25% of children as a mother tongue; it is transmitted to 34.4% of children as a language spoken at home (at least on regular basis) and to 36.6% of children as the first official language spoken (FOLS). The competition of English is strong in all contexts: as a mother tongue, English (excluding cases of simultaneous transmission of French and English) is transmitted to 28% of children, as a language spoken at home to 63% of children and as an FOLS to 58% of children. In the three cases of intergenerational transmission, English surpasses French in terms of the number of children to whom the language is transmitted. As to non-official languages, their transmission to minor children is substantial and more widespread than for French: 47% of children have a non-official language as their mother tongue and nearly the same proportion, 46%, use a non-official languages at least on a regular basis at home (not including cases where a non-official language is transmitted simultaneously with French or English).


Note

  1. The sex of the partners was not taken into account in cross-tabulating each partner's group defined according to first official language spoken (FOLS) and immigrant status because of the small number of couples characterized by the presence of at least one Francophone partner who is an immigrant to Canada outside Quebec. Taking the partners' sex into account would have doubled the number of couple types and reduced the number of couples for each type by roughly half.
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