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Punjabi set to become Canada's 4th top language

With the latest census showing a 35 per cent increase in its speakers since 2001, Punjabi is set to become the fourth largest spoken language in the country.
By Gurmukh Singh | IANS, Vancouver
UPDATED ON FEB 12, 2008 03:33 AM IST

With the latest census showing a 35 per cent increase in its speakers since 2001, Punjabi is set to become the fourth largest spoken language in Canada.

Today, it is the sixth largest spoken language after English, French, Chinese, Italian and German, though it is already at the fourth position in the province of British Columbia.

But as India overtakes China as the largest source of immigration for Canada this year, Punjabi is projected to surpass Italian and German by 2011 to become the fourth largest spoken language in the country.

According to Balwant Sanghera, president of the Punjabi Language Education Association (PLEA) that is celebrating the sixth International Mother Language Day on February 24, "Punjabi is growing by leaps and bounds in Canada, and within the next three to four years it will become Canada's fourth largest spoken language."

Citing the latest census figures, he said 367,505 people said Punjabi was their mother tongue, showing a growth of 35 per cent since 2001.

"This places Punjabi as the sixth most spoken language (after English, French, Chinese, Italian and German). The difference between the number of Punjabi speakers and those of German and Italian is very small. By the next census of 2011, Punjabi will overtake both to occupy the fourth place," he added.

Sanghera, who retired as a school psychologist in British Columbia, said Punjabi is one among ten most spoken languages out of a total of 6,000 in the world.

"More than 150 million people in 150 countries speak this language. Mini Punjabs in Canada, the US, the UK, Australia and Singapore are testaments to it. Here in Surrey and Abbotsford cities, Punjabi is the second most spoken language after English," he said.

In British Columbia province, Punjabi is taught in the University of British Columbia (UBC), Simon Fraser University, University College of the Fraser Valley, Kwantlen University College and many schools.

Hospitals, city halls, airports and markets carry Punjabi signs. And it is common see the Punjabi sign of "Aseen Punjabi Bolde Haan" (We speak Punjabi) at banks.

Guidelines on provincial issues - elections, health, old age and education - come out in Punjabi, as do government bills and notices.

Interestingly, Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan is a Punjabi speaker who surprised everyone last year by delivering his speech in Punjabi at a Sikh function.

"As India booms, I see there is an upsurge in interest in Punjabi among business people here. We have many non-Punjabi students enrolled in our classes. In fact, one university class in Punjabi has all non-Punjabi students," said Sadhu Binning, professor of Punjabi at the University of British Columbia.

Both Binning and Sanghera have pioneered the Punjabi movement in British Columbia province, which has the largest concentration of Punjabis outside Punjab.

"International Mother Language Day is part of our efforts to get official recognition for Punjabi at the federal level. Punjabi has been in Canada for over a hundred years, yet it is not recognized by the Canadian government because of its two-language policy," said Binning.

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