News / Vancouver

More Mandarin than Cantonese speakers in Metro Vancouver: census

Cantonese is no longer the predominant non-English language spoken in Metro Vancouver homes, according to 2016 census data

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Cantonese was once upon a time the predominant language spoken in Chinese-Canadian households. That time is over, according to new census data.
 
The number of Mandarin-speakers in Canada has surpassed the number of Cantonese speakers for the first time in the country’s history, according to 2016 census data released Wednesday. That's also true in the Lower Mainland, where there is a distinct difference in where the two linguistic communities live.
 
People who report Mandarin as their mother tongue mostly live in Richmond, the west side of Vancouver, as well as some pockets in South Surrey and Burnaby, according to census data.

The results surprised analyst Andy Yan, director of The City Program at SFU.

 “It is fascinating watching the Mandarin speakers really locate in some of the most expensive parts of the region," said Yan, referring to the city where more than 50 per cent of residents identify as Chinese.

Meanwhile, their Cantonese counterparts are heavily concentrated in East Vancouver and Richmond.

"Richmond, I kind of anticipated,” 

“But the east side of Vancouver was surprising. One thinks about the history of Vancouver and how the south-east side in particular were for the blue-collar working class professions looking for a stable space to own a home.”
 
The concentrations of Cantonese-speaking people are the direct result of where Hong Kong immigrants settled in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, said UBC professor Henry Yu.
 
Canadian immigration from the Cantonese stronghold of Hong Kong used to outnumber immigration from Mainland China three to one. But in the decade following the 1997 handover, that flipped to eight to one in Mainland China’s favour, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
 
This dramatic switch in migration patterns, and the Chinese government’s insistence that Mandarin be the schooling language in Hong Kong, has been the source of fears that Cantonese will fade away.

While Mandarin is now the most common non-English language spoken in Metro Vancouver homes, Cantonese remains the most reported mother tongue (the language people were taught as children), according to the census data.

But Yu says that will soon change. Only 10,000 more Metro Vancouver residents reported Cantonese as their mother tongue compared to those who reported Mandarin in the 2016 census.

And nationwide, Mandarin has already overtaken Cantonese as the most common non-English mother tongue, according to 2016 census data.

The slightly higher Cantonese numbers in the mother-tongue category represents a transition period for the Chinese community, said Yu.
 
In some families, Cantonese remains the language people speak to their parents but Mandarin is now the language of business, school, and even marriage, he said.
 
“To be clear, what you speak at home is not necessarily the same language that your mother taught you.”
 
It appears that those hoping to save Cantonese are fighting a losing battle, as the language’s dominance in both immigrant communities and Hong Kong continues to erode.
 
“Cantonese is a language that is ultimately under threat,” said Yu.

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