Glottophobia: Let’s talk about language discrimination in Canada (part 2)

Posted in : Blog
Posted on : April 2, 2024

by Iván Barradas, M.A. 

As discussed in the first part of this article, two particular features of Canada's linguistic distribution need to be taken into account. As agents of change in our communities, these features force us to see glottophobia as a serious challenge ahead of us: 

  • First, according to the latest census conducted in 2021, the majority of the Canadian population was Anglophone (75.5%), except in Quebec, where it was predominantly Francophone (77.5% in the province). 
  • Second, the demographic weight of the Canadian population shows a multilingual distribution in major urban centres such as Toronto, Vancouver, Montréal, Calgary, Ottawa and Halifax, but remains unilingual in the vast rural areas. 

According to the same source, 474 languages were spoken in Canada in 2021. After English and French, the most widely spoken languages in the country were Mandarin, Punjabi, Cantonese, Spanish, Arabic, Tagalog, Farsi and Urdu. This data offers an example of the significant number of accents we could be listening to in our daily lives. Unfortunately, when there is a diversity of accents, there is also likely to be glottophobia. 

Also worth mentioning is the fact that there are still 72 Indigenous languages in Canada spoken by an estimated 189,000 people. The speakers of these languages have faced, and continue to face, linguistic discrimination since the massive arrival of European colonizers towards the end of the 15th century. They have suffered an atrocious cultural genocide that has decimated many communities, wiping several ancestral languages off the map. 

At the same time, glottophobia is emerging as a major challenge for recruiters and managers in the workplace. According to a study conducted in 2022 by several researchers from Concordia University and the University of Calgary, speaking with a foreign accent can be a source of unfair or biased treatment in many work contexts, constituting a significant disadvantage for non-native speakers. Similarly, a Canada-wide survey led by professors Antoine Bilodeau and Jean-Philippe Gauvin (Concordia University), published in 2023, showed that experts with foreign accents are considered less credible than those with accents that are considered "neutral" or "local". It also mentions an essential term for better understanding glottophobia when it talks about "audible minorities”. 

So, with the aim of guiding human resources professionals, managers and organizations, we can suggest several actions that can be taken, for example: 

  • For governance, management and executive positions:

Training on glottophobia and linguistic prejudice could be offered, with the aim of making it clear that successful communication is not necessarily linked to the extent to which an employee's speech is influenced by previously learned languages. 

  • For operations positions:

A session or activity on the subject of glottophobia in the workplace facilitated by a DEI practitioner could be organized; various teams could participate. 

  • Talent management and human resources managers could:

Share and publish resources on the implications of accent-based stereotyping, as well as publicize the regulations on workplace harassment and violence prevention. 

It's not always easy to react when we hear a joke or hurtful comment about our accent, and it's quite understandable that remaining silent makes us feel powerless. Nevertheless, it is increasingly necessary to raise our voices and assert the right to show all the dimensions that shape our identities. 

References (click here to review the sources)

While English and French are still the main languages spoken in Canada, the country's linguistic diversity continues to grow, Statistics Canada, 2023. 

À qui faire confiance? L’accent et la couleur de la peau comme source de discrimination envers les experts. Jean-Philippe Gauvin and Antoine Bilodeau, Congrès de l’ACFAS, Concordia University. 2023. 

Langues autochtones: quand le modèle canadien inspire à l’étranger, Julien Sahuquillo for ICI Toronto, 2023.  

Les experts avec un accent sont jugés moins crédibles. Sarah R. Champagne, Le devoir, 2023.  

Projet de loi no 96 : les faits. Government of Quebec, 2023. 

Work Place Harassment and Violence Prevention Regulations. Government of Canada, 2024. 

Language Statistics. Statistics Canada, 2024.  

What Do Students in Human Resource Management Know About Accent Bias? Pavel Trofimovich on Language Awareness, 2023.

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