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THE STATUS OF ABORIGINAL LANGUAGES
IN THE NORTHWEST TERRITORIES

OVERVIEW
One of the most common methods of assessing language shift is analyzing home-language to mother-tongue ratios. According to the Canada Censuses of 1986 and 1996, the home-language to mother-tongue ratios of the languages of the Northwest Territories (pre-division) were as follows:

  1986 1996
bulletEnglish 122% 122%
bulletInuktitut 92% 84%*
bulletDogrib 97% 72%
bulletSouth Slavey 72% 59%
bulletNorth Slavey na 59%
bulletChipewyan 71% 44%
bulletFrench 60% 45%
bulletCree 38% 18%
bulletGwich'in 57% 15%
* The Census does not distiguish between Inuvialuktun and Inuktitut. Although Inuktitut is a strong language in Nunavut, statistics regarding the use of Inuktitut and Inuvialuktun in the new Northwest Territories would likely show a much more significant decline.

These figures show clear examples of language shift. English is the only language that has continued to gain new speakers. In both 1986 and 1996, for every 100 people who learned English as a first language (their mother tongue), 122 people now use the language as the main language at home. This means that many people are switching over to English from Aboriginal (and immigrant) languages.

All of the other languages are showing a clear decline in usage – less people are using the language at home than before. The Dogrib and South Slavey languages are declining less rapidly – language transmission is still occurring in a majority of the homes. But some languages, particularly Cree and Gwich'in, show a rapid and serious decline in usage.

This decline is even more serious when one looks at the changes in the home-language to mother-tongue ratios between 1986 to 1996. Using the Dogrib language as an example, in only ten years this ratio has dropped from 97% to 72%. This means that for every 100 people who had Dogrib as a mother tongue in 1986, 97 still used the language at home. But by 1996, for every 100 people that had Dogrib as a mother tongue, only 72 still used it at home. All of the other Aboriginal languages show similar trends. Clearly, Aboriginal people are losing their languages at a significant rate.


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