Language Projections for Canada, 2011 to 2036
Chapter 4. The composition of language groups, 2011 to 2036

The factors likely to influence how the composition of language groups evolves between now and 2036 are many and complex. This chapter explores these factors. First, as background, we will present the components of population growth of language groups in Quebec and the rest of Canada. Age pyramids and age structure indicators are included to illustrate the evolution of age structure in the language groups between 2011 and 2036. We will then examine the changes in the composition of the English first official language spoken (FOLS) and French FOLS populations by generation status. Specifically, the purpose of this section will be to bring to light the growing ethnocultural diversity (immigrants and second-generation individuals) within the two official language groups, on account of international immigration. Lastly, we will examine language transfers to English and French that which occur when individuals adopt a language other than their mother tongue as the language spoken most often at home.

4.1 Language groups’ components of population growth

Four components contribute to population growth of language groups: natural increase, net internal migration, net international migration and net linguistic mobility. Natural increase is the difference between the number of births and deaths in a population. When it is negative, there are more deaths than births. Internal migration in a province or any given geographic area is the difference between the number of in-migrants from another part of the country and the number of out-migrants who move to elsewhere in the country. International migration refers to the number of new immigrants who have moved to the country minus the number of emigrants, or those who have left the country to return to their country of birth or to settle in another country. Lastly, net linguistic mobility is the difference between, on one hand, the number of people who join a language group as a result of learning one or more official language or changing the language spoken most often at home, and, on the other, the number of people who no longer belong to this language group for the same reasons.

The previous chapter analysed scenarios that varied the components one at a time, either by the size or the composition of international migration, internal migration or the rate of transmission of French.   This highlighted the impact that the evolution of these components could have on the demographic dynamics of language groups.  This section briefly examines the possible evolution of the components themselves between 2011 and 2036.

The components of population growth do not have the same magnitude from scenario to scenario and language groups as defined by mother tongue, home language or the first official language spoken.  However, a common point in these scenarios and various definition criteria, is the importance of net international migration.  To illustrate the importance of each component of the demographic growth of language groups, these components are presented in language groups defined according to the first official language spoken.

According to all the projection scenarios, the language groups—defined by FOLS—should grow at different rates between 2011 and 2036 (Table 4.1). The English FOLS population living in Quebec should see the fastest growth, followed by the English FOLS population in the rest of Canada (respectively, 13.7 and 10.7 per thousand annually between 2011 and 2036, as per the reference scenario). The French-speaking populations should show a slower growth rate.

According to the three immigration scenarios, net international migration is expected to be the main contributor to growth of the English and French FOLS populations in Quebec and the rest of Canada between 2011 and 2036. None of the three other components should surpass it, however, some variation exists in these trends, depending on the scenario considered.

The English FOLS population in Canada outside Quebec should see an increase in its total population between 2011 and 2036 on account of all four components, with net international immigration and natural increase playing the biggest role.

Net international migration should account for the largest share of total French FOLS population growth in Canada outside Quebec, while the contribution of natural increase would be negative. On account of the population aging characterizing minority French-language communities (see Chapter 2), the number of recorded deaths in these communities is high. Moreover, the transmission of French is incomplete, such that the number of children with the same mother tongue as their mothers is not as high as it could be in a complete language transmission situation (see Chapter 2). The reference scenario suggests this negative natural increase could persist throughout the projection period. The rate of natural increase and the rate of net linguistic mobility between 2011 and 2036 should be negative.

The English- and French-speaking populations in Quebec are expected to grow over the next 25 years and at a faster rate than their respective counterparts outside Quebec.Note 1 As in the rest of Canada, growth in Quebec would stem mainly from international immigration. However, both language groups should lose a share of their populations to an increase in internal migration, due to a mobility towards the other provinces.

According to the reference scenario, the population growth components are expected to differentially affect the development of the English- and French-speaking populations in Quebec. Whereas net linguistic mobility is likely to contribute positively to English-speaking population growth (FOLS)— linguistic mobility should have virtually no impact on the growth rate of the French FOLS population (0.048 per thousand annually) over the same period.

We could see a negative balance in natural increase for French-speaking populations both inside and outside Quebec, whereas the balance should be positive for the English-speaking populations. In fact, natural increase of the French FOLS population in Quebec should become negative at some point during the projection period (2031 under the reference scenario), whereas natural increase in the English FOLS population is expected to remain positive throughout the projection period.

In 2036, as in 2011, immigration should continue to contribute the largest share of population growth in Canada’s language groups (defined by FOLS) while internal migration and linguistic mobility could have more limited impact. Linguistic mobility should benefit English FOLS populations only. Internal migration should positively impact the growth of populations outside Quebec only, and this positive effect should be more pronounced for the French-speaking population.

4.2 The evolution of age structures

Population pyramids provide a unique graphic representation of the age and sex structure of a population, and, as we saw in Chapter 2, this information can prove useful in interpreting the demographic situation of a given language group. The four pyramids below allow us to compare the age structures of the English FOLS and French FOLS populations in Quebec and in Canada outside Quebec, and illustrate the aging population in each population between 2011 and 2036, as the percentage of persons aged 65 or over rises (Charts 4.1 and 4.2). The pyramids for Canada outside Quebec do not necessarily reflect the situation of any given province. In fact, most provinces’ age structures differ markedly from those shown for Canada outside Quebec. This is the case for Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia and the territories (charts not showed). In these provinces, the bases of the French FOLS population pyramids are substantially narrower than those of the English FOLS pyramids in both 2011 and 2036, under the reference scenario. Conversely, in Ontario and New Brunswick, the pyramids are similar to those of Canada outside Quebec, which is explained by the fact that these two provinces, alone, account for more than 75% of the French FOLS population living in Canada outside Quebec in both 2011 (77.4%) and 2036 (76.5%) under the reference scenario.

The English-speaking populations were younger than the French-speaking populations in 2011 and would remain so in 2036. The median age of the English FOLS population was 38.9 years in 2011 and should reach 42.8 years in 2036 for Canada as a whole under the reference scenario. The difference between the English-speaking populations in Quebec and the rest of Canada are negligible (Table 4.2).

The median age of the French-speaking populations in Canada broke the 40-year mark in 2011 and could reach over 45 years in 2036 under the reference scenario. The French-speaking population living outside Quebec, however, was the oldest age structure of all groups, as indicated by the particularly narrow base of its pyramid. In 2036, the median age of the French FOLS population living outside Quebec would be close to 50 years, which means that half the population would be 50 years or older and the other half under the age of 50. In Quebec, the median age would be 46 years.

The proportion of the population aged 65 or over—an age structure indicator—is presented in Chart 4.3 for the two FOLS language groups in 2011 and 2036 by province of residence. In the French-speaking population living outside Quebec, the proportion of people 65 or over numbered 18% in 2011, compared with 13.3% for the English-speaking population. In Quebec, there was only a 1.5 percentage-point difference between these two groups; specifically, 14.1% for the French FOLS population and 15.6% for the English FOLS population. Meanwhile, the interprovincial differences among English and French-speaking populations alike were pronounced in 2011. However, the reference projection scenario suggests an increase in population aging in both groups and across all provinces between 2011 and 2036, with the exception of the French language population living in Saskatchewan. In this province, the decrease in the percentage of the population aged 65 or over is due to the fact that, in 2011, this percentage was relatively high while the proportion of young people was relatively low, and that the projection predicts a notable increase in the percentage of youth attributable to immigration of French-speakers.

The proportion of people aged 65 or over in certain provinces could double in both English- and French-speaking populations. In New Brunswick, for example, the percentage of seniors could rise from 17% in 2011 to over 37% in 2036 for the French FOLS population and from 16% to around 30% for the English FOLS population. The Atlantic provinces had the highest proportions of people aged 65 or older in 2011, which should still be the case in 2036.

An aging population is associated not only with a higher percentage of seniors among the total population, but also with a lower proportion of youth. The percentage of the population aged 0 to 14 years is thus another indicator of population age structure (Chart 44). Here, the aging of the French-speaking populations outside Quebec is demonstrated by a smaller percentage of youth aged 0 to14 years among the population compared with English-speaking populations. Between 2011 and 2036, this indicator is not expected to vary as systematically or rapidly as the proportion of seniors, which could double in some provinces. Across the country, the proportion of youth could fall in some cases, rise in others or even remain relatively stable. In the Atlantic provinces, population aging could manifest in a relative decrease in the population of young people between 2011 and 2036. The gap between the English- and French-speaking populations, already sizable in 2011, is expected to persist in 2036 in all three projection scenarios. In most other provinces, the share of youth should remain stable or vary only very slightly, especially among English-speaking populations. In general, the gap between English- and French-speaking populations is expected to be maintained between now and 2036, such that the former should have higher percentages of youth aged 0 to 14 years than the latter groups.

4.3 Ethnocultural diversity in the official language groups

Immigration is expected to impact the size and evolution of Canada’s official language groups. It should also change the socioeconomic composition of these two language groups. The percentage of immigrants and their children within a given population is a measure of the population’s socioeconomic composition and, more specifically, is an indicator of ethnocultural diversity (Statistics Canada 2017a). In this section, we will examine the changes in the share of immigrants and second-generation individuals (i.e., children of immigrants) in English FOLS and French FOLS populations across the provinces and territories between 2011 and 2036.Note 2

Table 4.3 presents the English FOLS and French FOLS populations by generation status in 2011 and 2036, for Canada, Quebec and Canada outside Quebec, as well as the growth rate for the period, according to three projection scenarios. An immigrant is a first-generation person, and children who are born in Canada to immigrant parents are second-generation individuals. The latter group includes children of couples in which at least one of the spouses is an immigrant. Lastly, third generation or higher comprises everyone in the population who is born in Canada to two parents who were also born in Canada. Table 4.3 does not include non-permanent residents.

In 2011, the third generation or higher group numbered the largest in Canada as a whole, Quebec and Canada outside Quebec for both English FOLS and French FOLS populations. This trend is expected to remain stable in the next 25 years, with the exception of the English FOLS population in Quebec. Specifically, in the Quebec English-language group, the immigrant population in 2036 should, in all three projection scenarios, number between 525,000 and 700,000, which would surpass both the second- and third-generation-or-higher populations, which could number just over 500,000.

Table 4.3 also reveals that the size of the English FOLS population should increase in all three immigrant groups in Canada, Quebec and Canada outside Quebec. In contrast, there could be negative growth in the third-generation-or-higher French FOLS population. The weakest rates are expected in Canada outside Quebec, where this population could decrease by approximately 200,000 between 2011 and 2036, by all three projection scenarios’ estimates. This change would result from a combination of negative natural increase and negative linguistic mobility.

The immigrant and second-generation populations should see the strongest growth, independent of projection scenario, and the increases should be most marked among the French FOLS group. Specifically, the immigrant French FOLS population is expected to double in size in Canada, Quebec and Canada outside Quebec, under the reference and high-immigration scenarios. Outside Quebec, the French-speaking immigrant population, which numbered 120,000 in 2011, could reach between 230,000 and 320,000 in 2036, depending on the projection scenario, representing a growth rate of just over 90% according to the high-immigration scenario.

The second-generation population should also experience rapid growth between 2011 and 2036, with doubling of French FOLS populations in Canada and Quebec, under the reference and high-immigration scenarios. In Quebec, for example, the population of children of immigrants should rise from its 2011 levels of around 400,000 to between 815,000 and a little over 930,000 in 2036, depending on the projection scenario considered.

One of the consequences of these changes is that there would be a shift in the two official language groups’ composition by generation status. Charts 4.5 and 4.6 present the population shares represented respectively by the immigrant and second-generation populations and the population with an immigration background (the sum of immigrants and their Canadian-born children) in the English and French language groups in 2011, as well as the weight they could represent in 2036 under the three projection scenarios.

These two charts show that immigration should differentially impact the population composition of the English FOLS and French FOLS groups. In the English FOLS group, there should be a systematic increase in the immigrant population share across all provinces and territories of residence (Chart 4.5). For Canada as a whole, nearly 23% of the English-speaking population were immigrants in 2011, and this percentage could rise to between 26% and 31% in 2036. The Quebec English FOLS group was the population with the largest share of immigrants in 2011, at 33.6%. In 2036, this percentage should rise to between 34% and over 40%, and this population would remain the one with the highest share of immigrants. Four provinces should see immigrant population shares between 24% and 34%, namely Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia.

As for the second-generation cohort, its share in the English FOLS population would not grow as rapidly as the immigrant group, and could even fall in three western provinces, namely Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia. It is again within the Quebec English-speaking population where the share of second-generation immigrants would be the highest in 2036 under all projection scenarios, at around 29%.

The population with an immigration background (i.e., the sum of immigrants and the second generation) which, in 2011, represented over 40% of the English FOLS population in Canada as well as three provinces (Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia), should rise by 2036. Manitoba and Alberta could surpass the 40% mark in 2036, and Ontario and British Columbia reach between 50% and 60%, while the share of the population with an immigration background in Quebec’s English FOLS population could be somewhere around 60% to 70% by the end of the projection period. In the Atlantic provinces and territories, percentages should rise significantly yet remain lower than in other regions of the country.

Future immigration trends are expected to have a marked impact on the generation composition of the French FOLS population (Chart 4.6). As we saw above, the numbers of third-generation-or-higher immigrants in the French-speaking population should see a negative increase between 2011 and 2036, which means that net immigration, which should be positive over the same period, stands to play a major role in the dynamic of this population. Moreover, the French-speaking immigrant and second-generation populations are expected to grow more rapidly than their English-speaking counterparts, which should accentuate the gap between the two language groups in terms of generation composition. According to the data in Chart 4.8, we should see a notable increase in the share of the French FOLS population with an immigration background across all regions of Canada in all three projection scenarios. These increases, which are higher than those projected for the English FOLS population, should similarly be borne out in the immigrant population share and, to a lesser extent, the second-generation population share (except in Saskatchewan).

In Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan, the immigrant population share within the French FOLS group could multiply threefold under the low-immigration scenario and fourfold under the high-immigration scenario (except in Newfoundland and Labrador). The most extreme example is that of Saskatchewan: in 2011, immigrants made up 8.7% of the French FOLS population, a percentage that could rise to between 35% and 44% in 2036. However, the percentages of immigrants are expected to remain lower in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec than in other regions. In New Brunswick in particular, the immigrant population in 2036 should represent 2.7% to 3.9% of the total French FOLS population in this province. In Quebec, the immigrant population share should be between 14% and 18% in 2036. Higher percentages are projected for the other provinces, ranging from 30% in Ontario to 40% in Alberta. For Canada outside Quebec, the immigrant population share among minority French-speaking populations is expected to be between 23% and 30% in 2036.

The second-generation population share in the French FOLS group is also expected to rise between 2011 and 2036 in the three projection scenarios. However, the increase should be less pronounced. In total, the percentage represented by the population with an immigration background among the French FOLS population in Canada could reach somewhere between 26% and 31% in 2036, compared with 15% seen in 2011. Such increases would be observed in most provinces and territories, owing to the combined effect of rising immigrant and second-generation populations, on the one hand, and declining third-generation and higher populations, on the other. In Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, the generation composition of the French-speaking population in 2036 should thus be comparable to that of the English population in provinces where the share of the population with an immigration background is highest.

4.4 Language transfers

The home language dynamic in Canada, Quebec and Canada outside Quebec is strongly influenced by the pull exerted by the majority languages—and, in the case of Quebec, English as the minority language—on other languages. As such, in 2011, 80% of the population spoke the majority language of their region of residence most often at home, i.e., French in Quebec and English in the rest of Canada. In Canada as a whole, 65% of the population reported speaking English, the country’s majority language, most often at home in 2011. This contrasts with the finding that the percentage of the population that identified the majority language as their mother tongue was below 80% in Quebec and in Canada outside Quebec, and below 60% in Canada as a whole. The differences in population size by home language and mother tongue are explained by the phenomenon of language transfers, or shifts.

Language transfers or shifts are a particular form of linguistic mobility that mainly affect a population by home language and, to a lesser extent, FOLS. They also indirectly shape population by mother tongue, insofar as the language transmitted to children is often determined by the language both parents speak at home (see Chapter 2). A language transfer occurs when a person adopts as the home language a language other than his or her mother tongue.

The French language situation in Canada requires that we examine Quebec separately from the rest of Canada. In Quebec, just as in 2011, the population share whose language spoken most often at home is French in 2036 should remain higher than that whose mother tongue is French, in all three projection scenarios. Outside Quebec, the reverse situation prevailed in 2011 and should continue to be observed throughout the projection period: the French-speaking population size and share is expected to remain smaller than that of the French-mother-tongue population between 2011 and 2036, under the three projection scenarios.

At the pan-Canadian level, the pull of English, the country’s majority language, is such that a sizable proportion of the population with a non-official language as its mother tongue tends to adopt English as the language spoken most often at home, mainly as a result of exogamous marriageNote 3 or children. A certain number of people having a non-official language as mother tongue also adopt French as the language spoken most often at home. This situation is mainly observed in Quebec (see Chapter 2), and the percentages are much smaller than for English. In 2011, 92% of language transfers among the non-official-mother-tongue population were toward English, and 8% were toward French, for 2.9 million and 260,000 transfers, respectively (Table 4.4).

In Canada outside Quebec, over 99% of language transfers among the non-official-mother-tongue population were toward English, compared with less than 1% toward French in 2011. In addition, English exerts a significant pull on the French-mother-tongue population. The 2011 NHS revealed that, outside Quebec, 41% of the French-mother-tongue population had adopted English as the language spoken most often at home (see Chapter 2). By comparison, only a minute share of the English-mother-tongue population in Canada outside Quebec had transferred toward French, specifically, less than 0.2%.

In Quebec, French is the majority language and the main language of convergence, but, given its status, English also exerts a strong pull among those whose mother tongue is other than English, especially in the Montréal area. Specifically, in 2011, among the language transfers that occurred in the non-official-mother-tongue population, 54% were toward French and 46% were toward English (see Chapter 2).

We will examine four notable language transfer pathways (or currents): transfers toward English from French-mother-tongue and non-official-mother-tongue persons living outside Quebec; and language transfers toward English or toward French by non-official-mother-tongue persons living in Quebec. In total, these transfers represented around 95% of all language shifts recorded in the country in 2011, and this percentage should be maintained in 2036 (last line of Table 4.4).

In Canada outside Quebec, the language transfer ratesNote 4 toward English among the French-mother-tongue and non-official-mother-tongue populations were comparable in 2011, at 41% and 47%, respectively (Chart 4.7). Our projections indicate that the transfer rate in the French-mother-tongue population should decrease from 2011 until 2036, under all three projection scenarios, to around 38% or 39% at the end of the projection period. In the case of the non-official-mother-tongue population, the evolution of the transfer rate would depend on immigration levels. Under the low-immigration scenario, the transfer rate could reach close to 48%, and under the high-immigration scenario, it could drop to 45%.

Among these two populations, the extent and rate of language transfer are explained by differences in language behaviours between the Canadian-born population and immigrants. The transfer rates toward English among the Canadian-born population and French-mother-tongue immigrants were relatively similar to each other in 2011, at 40% and 45%, respectively. However, this quasi-parity situation could change, depending on the projection scenario. In 2036, while the transfer rate of the non-immigrant French-mother-tongue population would have barely moved from 2011 rates under the three scenarios, the transfer rate of immigrants could drop by nearly 15 percentage points, to around 30%. Just like the projected stability of transfer rates among the Canadian-born population, this rapid change is but an extension of recent trends, as shown in Chart 4.8. It is explained in part by the selection of French-speaking immigrants, of whom a growing percentage come from countries where French is the official or national language (sometimes among other languages), particularly in Africa (Houle, Pereira and Corbeil 2014).

Among the Canadian-born non-official-mother tongue population in Canada outside Quebec, close to 65% spoke English most often at home in 2011. In 2036, this transfer rate could rise to between 67% and 70%. The transfer rate of the immigrant non-official-mother-tongue population is markedly lower than that of their Canadian-born counterparts: it was at 41% in 2011 and, in all three projection scenarios, should vary little over the projection period to reach 40% or less in 2036. Overall, the projection suggests that the language transfer rate toward English in Canada outside Quebec should drop between 2011 and 2036, except among Canadians having a non-official mother tongue.

In Quebec in 2011, close to 70% of language transfers involved the non-official-mother-tongue population, immigrants and non-immigrants combined.Note 5 The main issue is whether the direction of these transfers is toward English or French.Note 6 In 2011, the language transfer rates were 20% toward English and 24% toward French. Between 2011 and 2036, the gap between these two language “destinations” should widen (Chart 4.9). In all three projection scenarios, the transfer rate toward French from the non-official-mother-tongue group in Quebec could reach between 29% or 30% in 2036, an increase from 2011, while the transfer rate toward English could range between 17% and 19%, down from 2011. As a result, the gap between the two rates (4 percentage points in 2011) in favour of French could be more pronounced in 2036 and range from 10 and 13 percentage points, depending on the projection scenario.

The language transfer rates among the Quebec population with a non-official language as its mother tongue vary greatly depending on immigrant status, as well as by transfer direction (toward English or French). First, the transfer rate of this population is generally about the same in Quebec as in Canada outside Quebec, when all language transfers are taken together. In 2011, the transfer rate of this group in Canada outside Quebec was 46.4%, compared with 43.8% in Quebec (see Chapter 2). In 2036, the two rates should be similar, but the rate in Quebec is expected to slightly surpass the rate for Canada outside Quebec. Specifically, depending on the projection scenario, the transfer rate of the non-official-mother-tongue population should reach between 44% and 47% in Canada outside Quebec and between 45% and 48% in Quebec in 2036.

The gap between the transfer to English and to French in the non-official-mother-tongue population living in Quebec could widen in both the immigrant and Canadian-born populations. The transfer rate toward English was markedly higher among the Canadian-born than among immigrants in 2011 (33.5% and 15.2%, respectively). However, the transfer rate toward French was higher among immigrants than among non-immigrants (27% and 18%, respectively). By 2036, the transfer rate toward English should decline and the rate toward French should rise in all three projection scenarios. That said, the majority of transfers among the Canadian-born non-official-mother-tongue population in Quebec should still be toward English in 2036, while the majority of transfers among the immigrant population should be toward French, on account of the recent increase in immigration.

One of the consequences of these trends is that the number of language transfers made by the non-official-mother-tongue population in Quebec should continue to be mainly toward French between 2011 and 2036. As we have seen, in 2011, 54% of these transfers were toward French and 46% were toward English. The projection suggests that the gap between the two directions could grow in the coming years (Chart 4.10). In 2036, the share of transfers toward French could rise to between 61% (low-immigration scenario) and 64% (high-immigration scenario), while transfers toward English should drop by the same extent to between 36% and 39%, under the high and low immigration scenarios, respectively.

In short, the projections show that language transfer rates could change relatively quickly over time. Moreover, Quebec is expected to see the fastest change, in the form of a progressive direction shift in the non-official-mother-tongue population from transfers to English to transfers toward French, in the immigrant and non-immigrant populations alike.

Despite this significant change in the direction of language transfers, the results clearly show that linguistic mobility could play a rather negligible role in the evolution of Quebec’s French-speaking population and a significant positive role in the province’s English-speaking population.

4.5 Overview

Similar to trends in recent years, the increase in diversity in Canada’s language groups in coming years should mainly stem from net international immigration. Natural increase, internal migration and linguistic mobility should also play a role in language groups’ replacing themselves, but these effects are expected to vary from one region to another. The English- and French-mother-tongue populations should replace themselves mainly through natural increase, whereas growth in the non-official-mother-tongue population should be mainly attributable to international immigration. Owing to the incomplete transmission of non-official languages (Harrison 1997; Turcotte 2006; Houle 2011), the number of births by non-official-mother-tongue mothers do not translate into the same number of children having a non-official language as a mother tongue.

In addition, international immigration should play a predominant role in the growth of official language populations (defined by FOLS) in Canada. In fact, these populations are expected to comprise a larger proportion of immigrants and second-generation individuals in 2036 than was observed in 2011, under all projection scenarios. The French FOLS population should see the largest increase in immigrant and second-generation population share, compared with other groups.

Language transfers (and linguistic mobility, more generally) as well as internal migration should mainly impact the growth of minority language groups. In Canada outside Quebec, the French-speaking population should see its overall growth slow (without necessarily becoming negative) owing to language transfers that would essentially benefit the English-speaking population (by home language and FOLS). The same growth component could cause an increase in the English-speaking population in Quebec.


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