Montreal is Canada’s most trilingual city: Bonjour-Hi-Hola

The skyline of Montréal Saturday, Oct. 16, 1999. (CP PHOTO/Paul Chiasson)

New data from the 2016 census reveal the city is truly Canada’s trilingual metropolis.

Quebec made international headlines when its legislature voted 111-0 in November in favour of a motion calling on store clerks to greet customers with a “Bonjour” instead of the English-French mix, “Bonjour/Hi.”

The reality on the ground in Montreal, however, is that customers to the city’s stores and restaurants would likely be just as comfortable with an Hola, Ciao, Namaste, Salaam or Marhaba.

The data were specially ordered by Montreal International, a business association, and provided Friday to The Canadian Press.

Statistics Canada’s figures indicate more than 21% of Montrealers can speak at least three languages, compared with 11% of Torontonians and 10% of people in Vancouver.

Nearly 850,000 Montrealers know at least three languages and more than 40 % of the city’s immigrants are trilingual.

Jack Jedwab, head of the Association for Canadian Studies, who helped obtain the data said that ironically, it’s Quebec’s language law and immigration policies that encourage trilingualism.

Quebec favours francophone immigrants but many of them also speak English, Jedwab said.

Politicians point to the fact a majority of immigrants to Quebec know some French, but he said they casually leave out the fact almost half also know some English, along with their mother tongues.

The data reveal 42 % of immigrants who arrived in Montreal between 2011 and 2016 were bilingual and more than one-third of all immigrants were trilingual.

Jedwab said leaders in Quebec use what he called a “double discourse.”

“When they want to address the domestic constituency that thinks the use of “Hi” is an existential threat to the use of French, they say we need to restrict English words in the commercial sphere,” he said.

“But in talking to people outside Quebec that’s not the message they are giving at all,” he said regarding the government’s immigration policies and the business community’s attempts to attract foreign talent and investment.