Toronto’s Language Quilt

by Joey deVilla on December 31, 2007

Map: “The Language Quilt”, a map of Toronto and area, colour-coded by mother tongue
“Language Quilt” map taken from the Toronto Star.
Click here to download the full article (20 MB PDF — you’ve been warned!)

Yesterday, the Toronto Star published a map titled The Language Quilt, a map of Accordion City and surrounding areas colour-coded by prevalent mother tongue based on 2006 census data. If you’re willing to download a 20-megabyte PDF file, you can get the map plus the accompanying article here.

Here’s a list of observations taken from the article:

  • English is the second language in 47 of the GTA’s (Greater Toronto Area’s) 1,076 census tracts
  • English is in third place in 7 tracts in Agincourt, on Toronto’s northern edge [often referred to in jest as "Asiancourt" -- Joey]
  • In 57 tracts, 70% or more of the population has a non-English mother tongue
  • The preponderance of English as a mother tongue is 90% or more in 42 census tracts
  • In 200 tracts, more than 30 distinct mother tongues are spoken by 15 or more people, the minimum number of speakers required for a language to count in the census
  • In 13 tracts, there are more than 40 mother tongues

When the article refers to “mother tongue”, it’s referring to the first language learned in childhood and still understood. In the case of Yours Truly, that’s English — I started speaking when my family lived in the States. My parents’ mother tongue is Tagalog, the 7th most popular mother tongue in Toronto.

(Note that there wasn’t a language barrier when we came here in 1975, as English is one of the Philippines’ official languages and if you ranked countries by English-speaking population, the Philippines would rank 5th, right after the United Kingdom.)

Here’s a chart based on the data showing the popularity of English as a mother tongue alongside the top 10 non-English mother tongues:

Bar graph showing top 11 mother tongues in Toronto

Here’s how the most popular mother tongues break down among the 5.4 million residents in the Greater Toronto Area:

  1. English: 56%
  2. Italian: 3.5%
  3. “Chinese” (no language specified): 3.2%
  4. Cantonese: 3.1%
  5. Punjabi: 2.5%
  6. Portuguese: 2%
  7. Spanish: 2%
  8. Tagalog: 1.9%
  9. Urdu: 1.8%
  10. Tamil: 1.7%
  11. Polish: 1.6%

Note that the third-place mother tongue, “Chinese”, is a bit vague. It could refer to any one of several spoken forms — Mandarin, Shanghainese, Cantonese or Taiwanese, to name the most popular. Part of the problem is that there’s still some disagreement over whether “Chinese” is a language with several dialects or a group of different languages (and some of this disagreement is based in politics, to boot). Further confusing the issue for census takers is that although the spoken versions are different, the written version is the same: a person who spoke only Mandarin wouldn’t be able to have an oral conversation with someone who spoke only Cantonese, but they could be fluent pen pals.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Zvi December 31, 2007 at 5:20 pm

Good discussion on the language/dialect issue here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Identification_of_the_varieties_of_Chinese

Marcus December 31, 2007 at 11:57 pm

I’m impressed to see a Torontonian reference data so thoroughly. That’s a really, really good start. Bonus points for not injecting too much passive-aggresive commentary. Here’s hoping 2008 brings more factually accurate documentable discussion.

Ontario passed its first anti-discrimination legislation in 1946. It’s now 2008. If, after 60 years of “fighting” “racism”, brown guys are still spectacularly hostile towards white people, anglo-saxons in particular, then it’s time to shut ‘er down and call it a failure. And yes, brown guys posting twenty consecutive “funny” photos of white people acting goofy is in fact hostile, considering you’d go running to the human rights commission if we reciprocated in kind.

Generations of white guys in Canada have done stuff to make your life less of a hassle, Joey, and it would be nice if we got something other than a slap in the face for our efforts. You may now commence rebutting with a fifth consecutive attack on my sanity which, coming from a Ruby “programmer”, really, really hurts.

Joey deVilla January 1, 2008 at 2:51 pm

@Marcus: Well, a mostly civil comment! I think we might be able to converse now.

Dig through the archives of this blog — I usually point to some kind of data or provide some kind of citation to back up my statements.

I like Ontario — and Canada — and don’t have any problem with white people in general — to use to hackneyed line, some of my best friends are white. I think you’ve interpreted this posting — which is one photo, not twenty — as a symptom of some kind of Malcolm X syndrome I have.

All I want is the same opportunity to live well, have meaningful work, make my own contribution to the mix and enjoy a fine single malt every now and again (and it’s worked out pretty well for me). “Revenge against whitey” isn’t on my list.

As for Ruby, that’s a matter of personal preference. To each his own.

Chris Taylor January 2, 2008 at 11:38 am

Sad that Japanese has not even made a point-something demographic dent in the GTA, anywhere.

This explains my ongoing inability to have Japanese cuisine ordered and delivered on-demand, to all points of the GTA compass, with the ease of a pizza or Chinese food.

colin roald January 10, 2008 at 8:09 pm

French ranks 12th or 13th among languages natively spoken in Toronto! Incredible.

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