Dictionary, Census of Population, 2021
Mother tongue

Release date: November 17, 2021Updated on: August 17, 2022

Definition

Mother tongue refers to the first language learned at home in childhood and still understood by the person at the time the data was collected. If the person no longer understands the first language learned, the mother tongue is the second language learned. For a person who learned more than one language at the same time in early childhood, the mother tongue is the language this person spoke most often at home before starting school. The person has more than one mother tongue only if they learned these languages at the same time, and still understands them. For a child who has not yet learned to speak, the mother tongue is the language spoken most often to this child at home. A child who has not yet learned to speak has more than one mother tongue only if these languages are spoken to them equally often so that the child learns these languages at the same time.

Statistical unit(s)

Classification(s)

Reported in

2021, 2016, 2011, 2006, 2001, 1996, 1991, 1986 and 1981 (100% data). For availability prior to 1981, please refer to Appendix 2.1.

Reported for

Total population

Question number(s)

Direct variable: Question 10

Responses

Refer to figures 2.4, 2.4A, 2.4B, 2.4C2.4D2.4E, 2.4F, 2.4G, 2.4H, 2.4I, 2.4J and 2.4K for the detailed list of languages disseminated in the 2021 Census. A comparison of languages disseminated in the 2021, 2016 and 2011 censuses is available in Appendix 2.2.

Remarks

In the 2021 Census of Population, the question about mother tongue asked "What is the language that this person first learned at home in childhood and still understands?"

A note accompanying the mother tongue question on both the paper and the electronic questionnaires stated that "If the person no longer understands the first language learned, indicate the second language learned."

The following additional instructions on how to complete the 2021 mother tongue question were provided to respondents via a help button accessed in the electronic questionnaire:

For more information on language variables, including information on their classifications, the questions from which they are derived, data quality and their comparability with other sources of data, please refer to the Languages Reference Guide, Census of Population, 2021.

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