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.

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