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Tagalog and Punjabi are Nelson’s fastest growing languages

New data from Statistics Canada shows how residents are communicating
The Filipino language Tagalog is the mother tongue of a growing population of residents in Nelson. Those include (L-R) Arcel Mapa, his children Symon and Sydelle and wife Juliet Mapa, along with Themis Silva and Jecelyn Calvo. The Mapas and Silva co-own KC Restaurant in Nelson. Photo: Tyler Harper

Nagsasalita ba kayo ng Tagalog? ਕੀ ਤੁਸੀਂ ਪੰਜਾਬੀ ਬੋਲਦੇ ਹੋ?

If you understand one of those sentences, you are among the two fastest growing groups of Nelson residents whose mother tongue is a language other than English or French.

Statistics Canada’s latest 2021 census data released Wednesday shows the population of native Tagalog and Punjabi speakers as the city’s two largest growing demographics.

There are 90 residents whose mother tongue is the Filipino language Tagalog, which grew from 40 speakers recorded during the 2016 census. There are also five speakers each for the Philippine languages of Cebuano and Ilocano.

Indo-Iranian language speakers also jumped over five years from 60 to 125. Of those, the group of Punjabi speakers in Nelson grew from 35 to 75. Hindi speakers also rose from 10 to 30.

English, unsurprisingly, remains the language of choice for the majority of residents. Among Nelson’s population of 11,106 people, 9,455 residents only speak English.

But Canada’s other official language grew in use as well. There are 305 residents who listed French as their mother tongue, up from 275 in 2016. That is in contrast to a national decline in French speakers in Canada, including Quebec, according to census data.

Nelson also features 1,400 residents who speak both English and French. Just 20 people said they speak neither language.

The major decreases — linguistically speaking, that is — were among the city’s residents who listed Russian and German as their mother tongues.

Russian speakers, notable in the West Kootenay for its Doukhobor population, fell from 110 in 2016 down to 70 in 2021. There were also 110 German speakers in Nelson, down from 140 in 2016.

Other highlights from the report include:

• There are 40 speakers of Malayalam, a language native to India. That increased by 30 people over five years. Other Indian languages include Telugu (10) and Tamil (five).

• Japanese speakers doubled to 40, while Korean speakers also rose by 15 to 25. The number of people who speak Mandarin and Cantonese, however, dropped from 75 to 50.

• Among other European countries, Italian speakers dropped by 10 to 75, as did Dutch to 40. There are 45 residents who list Spanish as their mother tongue, followed by 40 Portuguese speakers.

• Only five residents said an Indigenous language was their mother tongue. All five speak Nihithawiwin, or Woods Cree, which is unchanged since 2016.

• Last year there were 20 Ukrainian speakers in Nelson, which remained the same as it was in 2016. That number is likely changed due to the arrival of refugees from the Russia-Ukraine war.

With files from Black Press reporter Sobia Moman.


Census data shows linguistic diversity on the rise in Canada

Young, childless and with money to spend: Census shows changing population of Nelson

2021 Census: Age of West Kootenay residents older than provincial, national averages

2021 Census: Nelson’s population now more than 11,000

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Tyler Harper

About the Author: Tyler Harper

I’m editor-reporter at the Nelson Star, where I’ve worked since 2015.
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