British Columbia Language and Languages

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Background[edit | edit source]

Most British Columbia government records will be in English. Private and organizational records may be in a variety of languages.

According to the 2011 census, English, Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), Punjabi, German, Tagalog, French, Korean, Spanish, and Farsi were then the top 10 languages spoken in BC.1

Over 30 Indigenous languages are spoken in British Columbia.2

Historically since European contact, along with indigenous languages, during the fur trading period French, Scots, Chinook3 (a trade language) and Michif4(the Métis language), and Hawaiian were spoken.

In some cases, early missionaries learned and used Chinook and indignous languages, as well as French and/or English and Latin.

From the 1850s Gold Rush period and later, new immigrants brought the Chinese, Japanese and Scandinavian and South Asian languages.

British Columbia's strong resource economies, particularly in fishing5 and logging6, have their own terms and slang often found in letters and newspaper articles, even in government reports. Some of these have been commonly used even by those not in these occupations.7

Historical British Columbia place and geographic names reflect these languages. Please note that some historical terms may now be thought of as derogatory.

Language Tools[edit | edit source]

The FamilySearch wiki includes a number of genealogical word lists with English words and the same or similar terms in other languages. These include commonly used genealogical words, as for instance, on the Latin Genealogical Word List. Search for your Country or Language AND Word List in the wiki.

First People's Language Map of British Columbia, First People's Cultural Council.

Dictionary of the Chinook Jargon, or Indian Trade Language of the North Pacific Coast(T. N. Hibben Co., Publishers, Victoria, 1889), online at Project Gutenburg.

Chinook first reading book: including Chinook hymns, syllabary and vocabulary / by Jean Marie Raphaël Le Jeune (Kamloops, 1893), online at the Internet Archive.


1 B.C. Quick Facts, Government of Province of British Columbia.

2 Indigenous Foundations, University of British Columbia.

3 "A Skookum Language" [Chinook] by Frances Backhouse (British Columbia Magazine, Summer 2008).

4 Learn Mechif, Metis Youth British Columbia (MYBC) and the Métis Nation BC (MNBC).

5 Logging Terms, Pacific Forest Foundation.

6 Glossary, Mosaic of Fishing Memories.

7Wet Coast Words by Tom Parkin (Orca Book Publishers, 1989).