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The Linguistic Continuity of Ontario's Minority Francophone Population: Examining the Relationship between Culture and Linguistic Practices.

WITH THE IMPLEMENTATION OF the Canadian Official Languages Act in 1969, the federal government sought to "support the development of English and French Linguistic minority communities and generally advance the equality of status and use of the English and French languages within the Canadian society" (Government of Canada 1988). Since then, and despite various efforts to ensure the development, promotion, and maintenance of Ontario's minority Francophone community, the proportion of individuals in the province with French as a mother tongue or who speak French most often at home has been in steady decline (Lachapelle and Lepage 2010).

From prior research, we know that two of the main factors associated with linguistic practices in minority settings are structural context--that is the proportion or concentration of Francophones within a community (Langlois and Gilbert 2006)--and endogamous versus exogamous couple composition--that is whether a respondent has a French or non-French-speaking spouse (Bernard 1997). These trends are likely to persist, especially as the demographic weight of Francophones in the province continues to decline. The question is therefore how to address the issue of linguistic shifts among Francophones when the main factors we know are important are unlikely to change. Drawing on research from cultural sociology, in this paper, I focus on the role of cultural factors in understanding linguistic continuity practices. I examine how cultural factors associate with linguistic continuity among official-language minorities in Ontario, and whether these factors can mitigate some of the effects of sociodemographic and structural factors.

Results from logistic regression models based on data from Statistics Canada's Survey on the Vitality of Official-Language Minorities (SVOLM) provide strong evidence of the relationship between linguistic continuity and cultural factors such as French-language cultural consumption, values, and identity. I show that cultural factors have the potential to mitigate much of the effects of demographic and structural factors on language shifts and discuss implications of the research both for policy in the minority Franco-Ontarian context and for broader research in cultural sociology on the relationship between culture and action.



In 2009, the Government of Ontario adopted a new inclusive definition of "Francophones" that includes all individuals reporting French as a mother tongue, those speaking French at home, and those who indicated "French" as a response to the census question on knowledge of official languages. Based on this definition, at the time of the 2016 census, there were 622,415 Francophones living in Ontario, representing 4.7 percent of the province's total population (Ministry of Francophone Affairs 2019). (1) The linguistic rights of Francophones within the province are guaranteed by various federal and provincial laws including the Canadian Official Languages Act (1969), the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982), the Courts of Justice Act of Ontario (1984), and the French Language Services Act of Ontario (1986). Ontario's Francophones are present in all regions of the province with 43.1 percent residing in the eastern region, 30.7 percent in the central region, 5.4 percent in the southwestern region, 19.7 percent in the northeastern region, and 1.1 percent in the northwestern region. The demographic weight of Francophones is highest in the eastern and northeastern regions, where they represent 15.4 and 22.6 percent of the population, respectively, and lowest in the central and southwestern regions where they make up only 2.1 percent of the population (Ministry of Francophone Affairs 2019).

While the absolute number of Francophones living in the province has steadily increased over the last decades, over the same period, the demographic weight or proportion of Francophones has steadily declined. A focus on demographic weight is crucial to our understanding of the vitality of minority communities because as the proportion of minority language speakers decreases within a given context, the group's minority status increases. Lower proportions are likely to result in a decrease in the concentration of minority language speakers and, in turn, opportunities for interactions with other minority group members, ability to sustain institutions, feelings of group solidarity, and so on.

One of the principal factors contributing to the declining weight of Francophones within Ontario is the issue of linguistic transfer. As high-lighted by Castonguay (2005a), outside Quebec and New Brunswick--Canada's only officially French and bilingual provinces, respectively--Francophone minorities' bilingual linguistic practices have generally been of a subtractive nature. Subtractive bilingualism (Lambert 1975; Landry and Allard 1984) reflects the process by which the acquisition of a new language has a negative impact on individuals' first language identity and practices, leading to the minorization of ethnolinguistic communities, notably through a shift in the language spoken at home and therefore transmitted to the next generation.

One way to study subtractive bilingualism in minority Francophone settings is by examining individuals' linguistic continuity practices, that is the alignment between the language respondents spoke at home during childhood and still understand (2)--their mother tongue--and the language that they currently speak most often at home (Corbeil and Lafreniere 2010). Figure 1 shows the downward trend of both French mother tongue and French as the language currently spoken most often at home in Ontario between 1951 and 2011--along with Statistics Canada's projections for 2036. As depicted in this figure, despite decades of interventions from the federal and provincial governments, the proportion of Ontarians with French as a mother tongue or who speak French most often at home has continued to drop. Demographic factors such as low fertility rates and Anglo/Allophone immigration have certainly contributed to this drop (Lachapelle and Lepage 2010). To counter the negative effects of Anglo/Allophone immigration on the demographic weight of Francophones, the Franco-Ontarian community has called for an increase in French-Language immigration (Landry, Allard, and Deveau 2007) that is seen as "a key element in maintaining or even increasing the demographic weight of Francophones and in ensuring the vitality of the Francophone population" (Assemble de la francophonie de l'Ontario [AFO] 2017:17). However, in order to ensure the maintenance of the Francophone community, any increase in the number of Francophones must also be accompanied by practices that lead to linguistic continuity.

As highlighted in Figure 1, at any time the proportion of Ontarians who speak French at home is considerably lower than the proportion of Francophones who spoke French at home during their childhood. Respondents who have experienced a language shift--that is, those who spoke French at home during their childhood but no longer do--are much less likely to transmit the French language to their children (Corbeil, Grenier, and Lafreniere 2007), leading to a continued decline of the French-as-a-mother-tongue population across each generation. In fact, at the time of the 2016 census, only slightly more than half of Francophones in Ontario (56.4 percent) spoke French most often at home (Statistics Canada 2017).

Lessons from Research on Language Retention and Minority Community Vitality

Research on language retention and minority community vitality tells us a lot about what is likely to influence Franco-Ontarians' linguistic continuity practices. In terms of sociodemographics, couple composition--often discussed in terms of exogamous or endogamous unions--is seen as an important factor (Bernard 1997). Couple composition is associated both with individuals' linguistic practices at home (Castonguay 1979; Dalley 2006; Mougeon and Beniak 1994; O'Keefe 2001), (3) and with the intergenerational transmission of minority languages (Stevens 1985). When individuals have children, the presence of a non-French speaking parent in the household influences the transmission of the minority language to the next generation through the predominant use of the majority language at home (Corbeil et al. 2007).

Prior research also puts a lot of weight on structural context, which is closely tied to the question of the proportion or concentration of minority language speakers within a community (Castonguay 2005b; Haarmann 1986; Langlois and Gilbert 2006). This association is explained in several closely related ways, including the community's ability to develop and support its own institutions and services (Breton 1964; Landry 2012), the groups' proximity to and level of contact with the dominant Anglophone group (Landry and Bourhis 1997; Mougeon and Beniak 1991), and the community's status (Gilbert and Lefebvre 2008; Giles, Bourhis, and Taylor 1977; Harmann 1986)--all factors that are influenced by the proportion of Francophones within this community. Notably, according to Giles et al. (1977), a group's ethnolinguistic vitality depends on three types of factors that can be assessed as low, medium, or high: status (economic, social, sociohistorical, and linguistic), demographic (population size, concentration, structure, etc.), and institutional support (media, education, religion, services, etc.).

The importance of ethnic groups' "institutional completeness," emphasized by Breton (1964), has become central in the study of minority Francophone communities in Canada. For Breton, the more a minority community is able to develop and support its own institutions, the better chance it has to integrate its members and withstand the pressures of assimilation or acculturation. Institutions provide community spaces that are vital to the integration and cohesion of members of the minority Francophone community (Gilbert and Lefebvre 2008). However, in settings with lower concentrations of francophones, establishing and sustaining institutions can be a challenge. As highlighted by renewed debates surrounding the creation of a French-language university within the province (Regroupement etudiant franco-ontarien [REFO], Assemblee de la francophonie de l'Ontario [AFO] and Federation de la jeunesse francoontarienne [FESFO] 2015), outside of the eastern and northern regions (where it nonetheless remains limited), access to French-language post-secondary programs is often nonexistent (Commissariat aux services en francais [CSF] 2012; Dupuis, Jutras-Stewart, and Stutt 2015). Because distance is a critical factor in the selection of a postsecondary institution (Labrie and Lamoureux 2016), limited access to Francophone institutions leads some who would otherwise prefer to study in French to enroll in English-language programs (CSF 2012; Jean-Pierre 2017).

Also closely tied to the issue of structural context, research on language retention has highlighted the importance of the diverse use of the minority language on linguistic continuity, be it through work, leisure activities, or contact with friends outside of the home (Gibbons and Ramirez 2004; O'Keefe 2001; Schmid 2007). However, as shown by prior research, in minority Francophone settings, the use of the French language is often most prevalent in the private sphere and does not easily penetrate the public sphere (Gilbert and Lefebvre 2008). In professional and institutional settings in minority Francophone contexts, French speakers face a double minorization, finding themselves in an anglodominant setting where "standard" French (which, in the Canadian context, refers to Quebecois French) is valued over regional styles of speaking (Benoit, Bell, and Lavoie 2018). The lack of recognition of various styles of spoken French can not only pose issues for the integration of newly arrived Francophone immigrants (Farmer, Chambon, and Labrie 2003) but also can lead to feelings of linguistic insecurity for all members of the community (Lozon 2002), which can discourage the use of the French language outside of the private sphere (FESFO 2014; Leblanc 2010). Research has shown that even in bilingual educational institutions and workplaces, social conditions and dynamics surrounding the French language can lead to the feelings of linguistic insecurity that influence linguistic practices (Jean-Pierre 2017; Leblanc 2010).

Bringing in Culture

Beyond what this field of research offers in terms of direction, cultural sociology offers several avenues that contribute to our understanding of the relationship between culture and action. For instance, we know that childhood socialization at home and in school shapes individuals' sense of group belonging and is strongly related to individuals' practices and dispositions later in life (Bourdieu 1984; DiMaggio 1982; Weber 1946). Primary French-language education is therefore likely to be associated with linguistic continuity both independently and through its role in identity formation. In Ontario's minority Francophone context where, in certain settings, Francophones' public use of the French language is limited to the context of schooling (Gerin-Lajoie, Gosse, and Roy 2002; Lozon 2002), primary and secondary schools play a crucial role as socializing institutions that allow for the development, maintenance, and reproduction of the French language and identity (Duquette 2004; Gerin-Lajoie 2006; Landry, Deveau, and Allard 2006; Pilote, Magnan, and Vieux-Fort 2010).

Research on linguistic retention has highlighted the positive association between individuals' linguistic identity and language behaviors (Prescher 2007). In Canada's minority Francophone setting, processes of identity formation, which are themselves related to a community's structural context, have been shown to influence Francophones' linguistic practices (Dallaire 2008). Research on ethnolinguistic vitality has also examined the issue of growing rates of bilingual (as opposed to Francophone) identification--particularly among adolescents--and the subtractive effect of this transformation on minority language use (Landry and Allard 1996; Landry et al. 2006). Building on the ethnolinguistic vitality framework, prior research has also highlighted that a group's subjective ethnolinguistic vitality--that is, the group's own perception of its vitality--may be as important as objective and structural factors in understanding a minority group's vitality (Bourhis, Giles, and Rosenthal 1981; Yagmur and Ehala 2011).

Cultural sociologists have also recently renewed debate as to the association between values and human behavior. In the mid-1980s, cultural sociology took a turn away from Parsonian systems of values and for over two decades, values were generally viewed as having no real relationship to human action (Swidler 1986). Individuals may claim to have specific beliefs about the world and hold different preferences, but these tell us little about how they actually behave. However, work in the last decade has reopened the debate on the relationship between individuals' values and action (Jerolmack and Khan 2014; Swidler 2008; Vaisey 2008), especially in the study of morality (Miles 2015; Miles and Vaisey 2015; Vaisey 2009). Given this renewed debate, it is possible that values relating to the importance of the French language--such as believing that it is important to use the minority language in daily life--have a direct relationship to individuals' linguistic practices.

Finally, practice theory highlights the alignment between action and broader cultural tastes, preferences, and consumption patterns (Bourdieu 1984; Reckwitz 2002; Warde 2014). By consuming cultural objects that reinforce identities, individuals strengthen their affinity with their culture and structural location. While prior research has highlighted that Francophones in Ontario continue to consume culture predominantly in English (Bernier, Laflamme, and Lafreniere 2014a), the consumption of Francophone culture, media, and arts is likely to influence linguistic continuity.

Following a practice theory approach, the analysis in this paper is predicated on the principle of relationality of practices, rather than on a causal framework. This principle is exemplified in Bourdieu's (1984) analysis of the spaces of social positions and lifestyles where relationships between variables take their significance from their co-occurrence with and relative proximity to other practices and social locations. In this perspective, a practice is "a routinized type of behaviour which consists of several elements, interconnected to one other" and which form "a 'block' whose existence necessarily depends on the existence and specific interconnectedness of these elements" (Reckwitz 2002:249). In this paper, the language respondents speak at home is viewed as one constitutive element of a broader practice made up of mutually reinforcing packages of cultural values, identities, practices, and so on, rather than being examined in a caused, predictive framework.


Data and Sample

This paper draws on data from Statistics Canada's 2006 Survey on the Vitality of Official-Language Minorities (SVOLM) adult Public Use Micro-data File. The SVOLM was specifically designed to obtain a portrait of the situation of Canada's Francophone and Anglophone minorities (Statistics Canada 2014:4). Considering the importance of this survey, these data are relatively untapped in terms of comprehensive analyses of linguistic continuity. Studies on linguistic practices using these data have relied mainly on descriptive analyses and have called for multivariate analysis of the data (Landry 2014). Of the 15,697 respondents in the survey, 3,634 are Ontarians who report French as their mother tongue. For this paper, the sample is composed of "single-response" mother-tongue Francophones from Ontario. In recent years, Statistics Canada has allowed for an increasing number of response possibilities for individuals' first language and language spoken most often at home (i.e., French only; French and English; French and other; and French, English, and other). In order to fully capture linguistic continuity and shift between childhood (mother tongue) and the time of the survey (language spoken most often at home), only individuals from Ontario having selected "French only" as their mother tongue (N = 3,339) are included in the analysis.

Choice and Measure of the Dependent Variable

Linguistic continuity is defined as alignment between respondents' mother tongue and their language spoken most often at home at the time of the survey (Corbeil and Lafreniere 2010). The outcome variable is a constructed dichotomous variable distinguishing between (1) language shift, and (2) continuity. In the case of Ontario's mother-tongue Francophones, continuity reflects individuals whose response to the question of language spoken most often at home was "French only." Restricting responses for mother tongue and language spoken most often at home to "French only" is a conservative operationalization. However, as robustness checks, all analyses were also conducted with a broader operationalization of linguistic continuity--which included all response options containing French for both mother tongue and language spoken most often at home--and the results did not meaningfully vary. (4)

While various dependent variables can be used to measure language retention or vitality (Langlois and Turner 2014), the use of language spoken most often at home is widely recognized as central not only to respondents' linguistic practices, but also to the intergenerational transmission of language and to minority community vitality (Corbeil et al. 2007). Furthermore, the linguistic continuity measure employed in this paper has the benefit of allowing the examination of the evolution of respondents' language practices--from childhood to the time of the survey--using cross-sectional data.

Independent Variables

As guided by the literature, independent variables include four types of factors: sociodemographics, structural context, other use of the French language, and culture. The focal independent variables for the analysis include five types of cultural factors, with the hypothesis being that, controlling for established sociodemographic and structural factors, cultural variables have an independent association with linguistic continuity.

To examine French cultural consumption, I rely on a variable measuring whether respondents attend live performances or cultural events in French, as well as a scale that captures the language in which respondents consume media including television, radio, newspapers, books, and the Internet. This scale ranges from 1 to 5 with 1 representing in English only, 3 representing in English and French equally, and 5 representing in French only. Second, values regarding the importance of the French language and of French-language services are measured through a scale ranging from 1 (not important at all) to 5 (very important) and that captures respondents' average on questions relating to the importance: (1) that individuals and organizations work at the development of the minority community; (2) of being able to use the minority language in daily life; (3) that linguistic rights be respected in the province; and (4) that provincial and federal services be provided in the minority language. (5) Next, to capture the role of childhood socialization on respondents' linguistic practices, I include a measure of whether respondents completed more or less than half of their primary education in French. The relationship between identity and linguistic continuity is estimated using a variable that measures whether respondents identify mainly or solely with the dominant Anglophone group, with the minority Francophone group, or with both groups equally, which I label as bilingual. Finally, in line with developments in the ethnolinguistic vitality literature, a measure of respondents' subjective ethnolinguistic vitality (i.e., respondents' perception of the vitality of the French language in their community) was included in the analysis.

Sociodemographic variables include factors associated to linguistic continuity in the literature--place of birth (either born abroad, born in Quebec, or born in the rest of Canada), couple composition (single, exogamous, or endogamous), and the presence of children in the household--as well as standard sociodemographic controls including gender, age, income, education, and an urban/rural indicator. (6) To control for structural context, I include a variable measuring the proportion of Francophones in the respondents' municipality (<10, 10-49, or [greater than or equal to] 50 percent). Finally, to control for other use of the French language, I include a variable measuring whether a respondent speaks French most often with friends outside the home. The SVOLM includes various measures of language use outside the home, but these relate to specific contexts, such as at work, in participation in leisure activities, or when accessing services. Because of the specific nature of these activities, their inclusion substantially increased the number of missing cases. Therefore, the language used with friends outside the home was the best option to control for other use of the French language. Including this variable as a control in the models is useful to allow for the examination of the association between independent variables and respondents' linguistic continuity independently of respondents' other use of the French language.


For the analysis, I use logistic regression to estimate the association between independent variables and linguistic continuity among Francophones in Ontario. My analytical strategy was as follows: first, I ran models with the main factors related to linguistic retention highlighted in the literature, controlling for key sociodemographic variables; next, I estimated a full model that included a series of cultural factors to see the independent effects of these variables; and finally, I examined how cultural factors can help mitigate some of the negative associations between sociodemographic or structural factors and linguistic continuity.


Table 1 presents the logistic regression results for the linguistic continuity models, presented in odds ratio. The models were estimated additively, beginning with sociodemographic factors in Model 1, adding structural context in Model 2, other use of the French language in Model 3, and cultural factors in Model 4. Analysis of the results centers on the full model (Model 4).

First, based on the analysis, gender, age, and income did not significantly associate with linguistic continuity in any of the models, including when controlling only for sociodemographic factors in Model 1. (7) Education did not significantly associate with linguistic continuity until controlling for cultural factors in Model 4, where it became negative and significant. While additional work is needed to understand this finding, this could possibly be attributed to the fact that, once controlling out the effects of many of the cultural factors associated with higher levels of education (Bourdieu 1984), the relationship between education and linguistic continuity becomes negative because of issues relating to the limited access to postsecondary programs offered in French (CSF 2012; Dupuis et al. 2015; Jean-Pierre 2017; REFO et al. 2015). (8) While the urban/rural indicator was significantly and positively associated with linguistic continuity in Model 1, this relationship disappears once controlling for the proportion of Francophones in Model 2. This is not surprising given that in Ontario, regions with a high proportion of Francophones are generally in rural areas.

In terms of sociodemographic variables, the analysis did uncover some interesting null-findings. First, place of birth was not significantly associated with linguistic continuity in the models. This means that there are no significant differences in the odds of linguistic continuity between respondents born abroad and those born in Canada--either in Quebec or in the rest of Canada. Despite the Franco-Ontarian community's optimism that Francophone immigration could offset the declining demographic weight of Francophones within the province (Landry et al. 2007), as highlighted in Model 4, Francophone immigrants are not more likely to speak French most often at home than Francophones born in Canada. Next, the presence of children in the household did not significantly influence the likelihood that respondents speak French at home. This suggests that respondents with and without children in the household do not significantly vary in their linguistic practices at home. Again, this in an important finding given the importance given in the literature to the language spoken at home during childhood in determining children's future language practices and the vitality of minority language communities more broadly (Corbeil et al. 2007; Corbeil and Lafreniere 2010; O'Keefe 2001).

Results from Model 4 provide strong support for the importance given in the literature to couple composition, structural context, and other use of the French language in understanding Franco-Ontarians' linguistic continuity practices. In comparison to the reference category of single, having a French-speaking spouse increases the odds of linguistic continuity by a factor of 1.66 (or 66 percent), while having a non-French-speaking spouse significantly reduces the odds of linguistic continuity by a factor of .04 (or 25.6 times)--the strongest effect of all variables in the analysis. In terms of structural context, in comparison to living in a municipality with less than 10 percent Francophones, respondents living in areas with a medium proportion of Francophones have 1.70 times the odds of linguistic continuity, while those living in a majority Francophone setting have 3.94 times the odds--or 294 percent higher odds--of speaking French at home. Finally, controlling for other variables in the model, respondents who speak French with friends most often outside of the home have 4.4 times higher odds of speaking French at home as compared to those who do not, lending support to the importance of other use of the French language for linguistic continuity.

Turning to cultural factors that are of prime interest in this paper, first, it should be noted that when controlling for other cultural factors in Model 4, subjective ethnolinguistic vitality did not significantly associate with differences in linguistic continuity. While this factor has gained attention in the literature (Allard and Landry 1986; Bourhis et al. 1981), my analysis suggests that much of the association between linguistic continuity and respondents' perception of their community's vitality is explained by the proportion of Francophones within respondents' municipality and their broader engagement with Francophone culture. However, the analysis did reveal important associations between other cultural factors and linguistic continuity. First, respondents' French-language cultural consumption--measured through the language of media use scale--is significantly and positively associated with linguistic continuity. As shown under Model 4 of Table 1, on average, each unit increase in the scale-for instance going from "equally in English and in French" to "in French more than in English"--increases respondents' odds of linguistic continuity by nearly two times, or 97.5 percent. Considering that this scale ranges from 1 to 5, this is an important association. However, as noted in previous descriptive studies (Bernier et al. 2014a) and confirmed in this sample, Franco-Ontarians' media consumption practices are still highly skewed toward English media. Therefore, while French-language cultural consumption has a very strong association with linguistic continuity, its reach is quite limited among Francophones in Ontario. Continuing with cultural consumption, attending performances and arts events in French also positively associates with linguistic continuity in Model 4. Respondents who attend French-language cultural events have 1.52 times higher odds of speaking French at home than those who do not. Taken together with the use of French-language media, these findings lend strong support to theories in cultural sociology that posit that cultural consumption aligns with and reinforces broader patterns of action.

Turning to values, the scale measuring the importance given by respondents to the French language and to French-language services significantly and positively associates with linguistic continuity. For each unit increase on this 5-point scale, respondents' odds of linguistic continuity increase by 1.53 times, or 53 percent. These findings lend support to renewed debates in the literature as to the relationship between values and action and suggest that linguistic practices present a promising avenue for future examination of this question.

In terms of cultural factors, the strongest association uncovered in the analysis is the relationship between linguistic identity--notably Francophone identity--and linguistic continuity. As shown under Model 4, as compared to respondents who identify mainly or solely with the majority Anglophone group (the reference category), those who identify as bilingual--that is, equally with the Anglophone and Francophone groups--have 2.66 times higher odds of speaking French at home. However, respondents who identify with the Francophone group have 5.58 times the odds or 458 percent higher odds of speaking French most often at home than mother-tongue Francophones who identify mainly or solely with the majority group. While respondents identifying with the dominant Anglophone group have the lowest odds of linguistic continuity, these results nonetheless highlight important differences in the odds of linguistic continuity between respondents identifying as bilingual and those identifying as Francophone. As previously noted, there has been much discussion in the literature on minority Francophone communities about the increasing importance of bilingual identity, particularly among adolescents (Duquette 2004). When examining the distribution of reported identity among Ontario's French-as-a-mother-tongue respondents in the SVOLM, we see that the majority of these respondents (51.9 percent) identify equally with the majority Anglophone group and the minority Francophone group, while only 13.4 percent identify only, and 22.2 percent mainly with the Francophone group.

Finally, in terms of culture, as shown under Model 4, whether a respondent completed the majority of their primary education in French did not significantly associate with linguistic continuity when controlling for other variables in the model. This is surprising given the literature on culture and childhood socialization, notably regarding the role of minority-language schools in ensuring the reproduction of the French language (Gerin-Lajoie 2006). However, it should be noted that when the models were constructed additively, adding one cultural factor at a time, French-language primary education remained significant until identity was included in the model. This suggests that in the Franco-Ontarian context, for linguistic continuity, much of the importance of primary French-language education may be related to identity formation. A postestimation test (9) was conducted to confirm that the inclusion of the identity variable significantly changes the association between childhood education and linguistic continuity, which it did. Going back to theories of culture and action, this does align with the idea that in understanding action education matters not so much for its intrinsic value, but as an institution for the transmission and development of specific forms of culture and group identity (Bourdieu and Passeron 1979). This also aligns with research on the identity formation role of minority language schools in Canada (Pilote et al. 2010).

Having examined the association between cultural factors and linguistic continuity, it is possible to turn to the question of how these factors can contribute to mitigating some of the negative associations between sociodemographic or structural factors and Franco-Ontarians' linguistic practices. Figure 2 highlights the strong relationship between culture and linguistic continuity by plotting predicted probabilities of linguistic continuity for different categories of couple composition and proportion of Francophones at different levels of engagement with Francophone culture (low, medium, or high). These levels were constructed by setting respondents' scores at the lowest, highest, and midpoint on variables relating to language of media use, attendance of French cultural events, Francophone values, and identity. As shown in the couple composition graph on the left panel of Figure 2, holding noncultural variables at their mean, a respondent with a non-French-speaking spouse but a high engagement with Francophone culture has a 57.2 percent probability of linguistic continuity that is much higher than a respondent with a Francophone spouse but a low engagement with Francophone culture who only has a 7.5 percent probability of linguistic continuity. Similarly, the proportion of Francophones graph on the right of Figure 2 highlights how cultural factors can mitigate some of the effects of a low concentration of Francophones on linguistic continuity. (10) Looking at the three lines, it is possible to see how different levels of engagement with Francophone culture change the predicted probability of linguistic continuity across low, medium, and high proportion contexts.

For instance, even in areas with 50 percent or more French-speakers, respondents who do not engage with Francophone culture have a very low probability of linguistic continuity (6.6 percent). In contrast, a respondent living in a low-concentration area but who has a high engagement with Francophone culture has a 92.7 percent probability of speaking French most often at home. While these categories of engagement with Francophone culture represent extremes, they provide a clear illustration that cultural factors have a strong association with linguistic practices, and that measures and policies aiming at the promotion of Francophone culture could mitigate structural and sociodemographic factors contributing to language shifts among Francophones in Ontario. Of importance for cultural sociology more broadly, this lends support to an understanding of linguistic practices as operating within a broader, mutually reinforcing block of closely related cultural values, identities, and practices.


The analysis in this paper does support findings in the literature regarding the importance of couple composition and structural context in understanding linguistic retention. However, just as, if not more important to Francophone's linguistic continuity in Ontario is a variety of cultural factors that positively associate with linguistic continuity, notably respondents' identity, French-language cultural consumption, and Francophone values. These findings have important implications for policy in minority language communities. While leaders in the Franco-Ontarian community continue to call for an increase in Francophone immigration to reverse the declining demographic weight of Francophones in the province, the results from this study show that it is necessary to take a closer look at the linguistic practices of French-speaking immigrants. Since Francophones born abroad do not have a higher likelihood of speaking French at home than those born in Canada, reversing the current downward trend in linguistic continuity may involve policies that encourage broader engagement with Francophone culture for all members of the Francophone community. For instance, the Franco-Ontarian community could aim to increase support and promotion of French-language media and arts. While French-language cultural consumption has a strong association with linguistic continuity, Francophones in Ontario overwhelmingly consume culture in the majority language. Increasing French cultural consumption may require initiatives to increase both the production and promotion of Francophone cultural products. Institutions can play a crucial role in this regard (Breton 1964; Gilbert and Lefebvre 2008; Giles et al. 1977). Finally, the results of this study suggest that a large part of the relationship between childhood French-language education and linguistic continuity may be related to identity formation. Prior research has shown the importance of Francophone education--including co-curricular activities that link students to the community through festivals and associations--on the development of Francophone identity in Ontario (Dallaire 2008; Dallaire and Roma 2003; Pilote et al. 2010). However, in the current moment when reforms in the provincial government could threaten the support of cultural programs in French-language schools, this is an issue that the community must be particularly attentive to. Similarly, given the negative association between education and linguistic continuity, future research should further unpack this relationship to understand the implications of these findings for the language of instruction in higher education institutions in the province, notably in regards to access to French-language institutions and programs (CSF 2012; Dupuis et al. 2015; Jean-Pierre 2017; Labrie and Lamoureux 2016; REFO et al. 2015).

The findings presented in this paper also have implications for research in cultural sociology more broadly. First, the patterns of association uncovered in the analysis align with those that would be expected in a practice theory framework where respondents' linguistic practices constitute one element of a broader package of mutually reinforcing cultural elements and practices (linguistic practices, values, identity, cultural consumption). Second, as previously stated, there is a renewed debate in cultural sociology as to the relationship between values and action. Many studies that have called for a renewed focus on the importance of values have used data relating to religion or morality to support these claims (Miles 2015; Miles and Vaisey 2015; Vaisey 2009), which could lead to an assumption that the relationship of values to action may be limited to these spheres. However, the findings presented in this paper lend support to the importance of values in understanding linguistic continuity and open a door to linguistic practices as a new avenue to explore these questions. Rather than being limited to issues relating to religion or morality, the relationship between values and action might simply be most salient in domains where identity and practices are tightly coupled.


This paper began with a puzzle: the proportion of Francophones in the province of Ontario is in steady decline despite decades of policy interventions that have been ultimately unsuccessful in addressing the problem of declining linguistic retention. The findings from this paper suggest that this is not an unsolvable problem and that the solution may lie in the promotion of, and increased engagement with Francophone culture. Future research in the field of language retention should examine the transposability of these findings to other minority-language communities. For instance, do these findings extend to language practices among Canada's Indigenous population, and if so, how can this research serve these communities?

One limitation of the analysis presented in this paper is that while the logistic modeling employed allows for the examination of associations between cultural factors and linguistic continuity, it cannot speak to the causal order of the association between these variables--notably because culture, identity, and action reinforce each other. Future research should work at unpacking the interrelated development of identity, values, cultural consumption, and linguistic practices, either by relying on longitudinal data or by drawing on other methods that can better capture respondents' linguistic trajectories and practices throughout the life-course (see, e.g., Corbeil 2005; Corbeil and Houle 2014). Furthermore, given the increase of bilingual identity in minority Francophone communities in Canada (Duquette 2004), and the difference in linguistic continuity rates between those identifying as bilingual and those identifying as Francophone, both the relationship between identity and linguistic continuity and the broader question of linguistic identity in Ontario warrant further study. Similarly, future research should continue to examine the link between the language spoken most often at home and children's linguistic practices to provide a better understanding of intergenerational linguistic transmission. Finally, future research should further explore the question of other use of the French language by examining the relative weight of different uses of the French language in understanding linguistic continuity (Benoit et al. 2018; Jean-Pierre 2017; LeBlanc 2010). This research will also further contribute to our understanding of how the social conditions surrounding public use of the French language in minority contexts and issues relating to linguistic security and the recognition of different styles of speaking influence overall linguistic practices (FESFO 2014; Lozon 2002). While past research in the field has been crucial in shaping our understanding of linguistic practices in minority settings, additional broad-scale quantitative analyses focusing on the relationship between culture and linguistic practices will be crucial in furthering our understanding of the ways in which current trends may be reversed or tempered, thus having important policy implications for the continuity of Ontario's minority Francophone community.


University of Toronto

The author would like to thank Clayton Childress, Jeffrey Reitz, Anna Slavina, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful feedback on earlier drafts of this paper.

Jean-Francois Nault, Department of Sociology, University of Toronto, 725 Spadina Avenue, Toronto, ON, Canada M5S 2J4. E-mail:


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Table A1 Descriptive Statistics for Logistic Models

                               N     Percent      Mean (SD)     Range

Linguistic continuity        3,339               .507 (.500)     0-1
  Shift                                49.31
  Continuity                           50.69
Gender                       3,339               .571 (.495)     0-1
  Male                                 42.91
  Female                               57.09
Age                          3,339              7.137 (2.953)   1-11
  <20                                   2.85
  20-24                                 5.80
  25-29                                 5.83
  30-34                                 6.82
  35-39                                 8.48
  40-4                                 10.24
  45-49                                12.13
  50-54                                11.23
  55-59                                 9.09
  60-64                                 8.63
  65+                                  18.89
Income                       3,338              4.052 (3.437)   0-10
  No income                            30.94
  <10K                                  2.67
  10-19.9K                              4.61
  20-29.9K                              6.85
  30-39.9K                              8.38
  40-49.9K                              9.58
  50-59.9K                              7.76
  60-79.99K                             8.47
  80-89.9K                              7.48
  90-99.9K                              6.95
  100,000+                              6.31
Education                    3,339              5.285 (2.320)    1-9
  No schooling                           .30
  Primary completed                     7.72
  Partial high school                  18.28
  High school completed                24.25
  Partial non-university                3.57
  Non-university                       20.31
  Partial university                    3.78
  University completed                  1.38
  University completed                 20.42
Place of birth               3,338              2.612 (.585)     1-3
  Born outside Canada                   5.26
  Born in Quebec                       28.33
  Born in rest of Canada               66.41
Urban-Rural                  3,287               .321 (.467)     0-1
  Urban                                67.91
  Rural                                32.09
Spouse                       3,339              2.115 (.871)     1-3
  Single                               32.85
  Non-Francophone                      22.78
  Francophone spouse                   44.37
Child in household           3,327               .378 (.485)     0-1
  No                                   62.17
  Yes                                  37.83
Proportion of                3,339              1.804 (.673)     1-3
  Low (<10 percent)                    34.38
  Medium (10-49.9                      50.85
  High (>50 percent)                   14.77
French language primary      3,330               .844 (.363)     0-1
  50 percent or less                   15.57
  More than                            84.43
    50 percent
French media scale           3,339              2.099 (1.018)    1-5
Attend French art events     3,301               .257 (.437)     0-1
  No                                   74.29
  Yes                                  25.71
Speak French with            3,336               .330 (.470)     0-1
  No                                   67.03
  Yes                                  32.97
Identity                     3,328              2.232 (.654)     1-3
  Anglophone/neither                   12.48
  Bilingual                            51.88
  Francophone                          35.64
Importance of French         3,338              4.296 (.765)     1-5
Subjective vitality          3,227              3.090 (1.107)    1-5

(1.) Based strictly on mother tongue, the number of Francophones in Ontario at the time of the 2016 census was 568,340, roughly 4.3 percent of the total population (Statistics Canada 2017).

(2.) Throughout the paper, I use Statistics Canada's (2018) definition of mother tongue which "refers to the first language learned at home in childhood and still understood by the person at the time the data was collected" (p. 258).

(3.) It should be noted that prior research has highlighted the complex relationship between exogamous unions and language practices. As stated by Corbeil and Lafreniere (2010), in minority settings, "the relationship between exogamy and home language definitely operates in both directions " (p. 33).

(4.) These results are not presented in the paper but are available upon request.

(5.) The media scale has a Cronbach's alpha of .877 while the values scale has an alpha of .817. Both scores indicate a high level of internal consistency. All independent variables in the models were tested for multicollinearity using the variation inflation factor. All scores were below the acceptable threshold of 2.5 (Allison 2012) with the exception of sets of dummy variables constructed from three-category variables with fewer cases in the reference category.

(6.) Descriptive statistics for all variables are available in Table A1.

(7.) Nonlinear effects of age and income were tested but revealed no significant results. As shown in the descriptive statistics, responses for the income variable are skewed toward the "no income" category. Models were also run with these cases removed, but this did not change the results for income.

(8.) Bernier, Laflamme, and Lafreniere's (2014b) study on language of media use also highlights the complicated relationship between education and linguistic practices in minority Francophone communities in Canada. Although studying in the minority language did positively influence the use of French-language media, language of media use varied considerably among similarly educated individuals and there was no straightforward association between level of education and French-media use.

(9.) Using Stata's suest command and testing the null hypothesis that the effect of French childhood education is the same when identity is included or excluded from Model 4 ([chi square] = 10.99, Prob > [chi square] = 0.001).

(10.) Access to French-language media and cultural events may be less available in areas with a lower proportion of Francophones. However, the modeling strategy employed controls for the effects of proportion of Francophones allowing for the examination of the effects of engagement with culture net of respondents' setting.

Caption: Figure 1 Percentage of Ontarians with French as a Mother Tongue and Language Spoken Most Often at Home, from 1951 to 2011 and Projections for 2036

Caption: Figure 2 Predicted Probability of Linguistic Continuity by Couple Composition (Left) and Proportion of Francophones (Right) at Different Levels of Engagement with Francophone Culture
Table 1
Logistic Regression Results for Linguistic
Continuity Models (Odds Ratio)

                                  Model 1             Model 2

Female                          1.041 (.127)        1.109 (.145)
Age                             .993 (.019)         1.007 (.020)
Income                          1.001 (.018)        .998 (.019)
Education                       .988 (.027)         1.006 (.029)
Born in QC (a)                  1.095 (.295)        .842 (.239)
Born in rest of Canada (a)      1.031 (.256)       .522 * (.145)
Non-Francophone spouse (b)    .024 *** (.006)     .027 *** (.007)
Francophone spouse (b)        2.024 *** (.279)    1.783 *** (.269)
Child in household              1.113 (.159)        1.153 (.176)
Rural (c)                      1.388 * (.184)       .965 (.136)
Medium Prop. Franco.                              3.499 *** (.589)
  (10-49 percent) (d)
High Prop. Franco.                               19.333 *** (4.355)
  ([greater than or
  equal to] 50 percent) (d)
Speak French with friends
French media scale
French cultural events
Importance of French
French language
education ([greater than
  or equal to] 50 percent)
Bilingual identity (e)
Francophone identity (e)
Subjective vitality
Constant                        1.103 (.410)        .601 (.229)
N                                  3,273               3,273
AIC                              408,308.4           364,889.9
BIC                              408,375.4           364,969.2

                                   Model 3              Model 4

Female                           .930 (.146)          .850 (.146)
Age                              .971 (.022)          .972 (.025)
Income                           1.010 (.021)        1.019 (.023)
Education                        .982 (.032)        .875 *** (.034)
Born in QC (a)                   .961 (.289)         1.028 (.355)
Born in rest of Canada (a)       .640 (.184)          .927 (.324)
Non-Francophone spouse (b)     .031 *** (.009)      .039 *** (.012)
Francophone spouse (b)         1.730 ** (.307)      1.657 * (.344)
Child in household               1.148 (.202)        1.050 (.212)
Rural (c)                        .893 (.151)          .925 (.165)
Medium Prop. Franco.           2.153 *** (.414)     1.703 * (.369)
  (10-49 percent) (d)
High Prop. Franco.            6.451 *** (1.675)    3.941 *** (1.118)
  ([greater than or
  equal to] 50 percent) (d)
Speak French with friends     11.847 *** (2.289)   4.399 *** (.918)
French media scale                                 1.975 *** (.259)
French cultural events                              1.517 * (.262)
Importance of French                               1.531 *** (.204)
French language                                      1.564 (.411)
education ([greater than
  or equal to] 50 percent)
Bilingual identity (e)                             2.662 *** (.685)
Francophone identity (e)                           5.581 *** (1.582)
Subjective vitality                                   .980 (.075)
Constant                         .602 (.256)        .012 *** (.008)
N                                   3,270                3,142
AIC                               308,745.7             258,939
BIC                                308,831              259,066

Notes: Reference categories: (a) born abroad; (b) single;
(c) urban; (d) low prop. (<10 percent); (e) identify with
majority group or neither. Robust standard errors in
parentheses; two-tailed test. Prop. Franco.,
proportion of Francophone.

* p [less than or equal to] .05;

** p [less than or equal to] .01;

*** p [less than or equal to] .001.
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Date:Nov 1, 2019
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