Languages of Australia

Although Australia has no official languages, English has been entrenched as the de facto national language since European settlement.[1] Australian English is a major variety of the language with a distinctive accent and lexicon,[2] and differs slightly from other varieties of English in grammar and spelling.[3] General Australian serves as the standard dialect.

According to the 2016 census, English is the only language spoken in the home for close to 73% of the population. The next most common languages spoken at home are:[4] Mandarin (2.5%), Arabic (1.4%), Cantonese (1.2%), Vietnamese (1.2%) and Italian (1.2%).

A considerable proportion of first- and second-generation migrants are bilingual.

Over 250 Indigenous Australian languages are thought to have existed at the time of first European contact, of which less than 20 are still in daily use by all age groups.[5][6] About 110 others are spoken exclusively by older people.[6] At the time of the 2006 census, 52,000 Indigenous Australians, representing 12% of the Indigenous population, reported that they spoke an Indigenous language at home.[7] Australia has a sign language known as Auslan, which is the main language of about 5,500 deaf people.[8]

Languages of Australia
MainAustralian English
IndigenousAustralian Aboriginal languages, Tasmanian languages, Torres Strait Island languages
ImmigrantMandarin (2.5%), Arabic (1.4%), Cantonese (1.2%), Vietnamese (1.2%), Italian (1.2%)
Yolŋu Sign Language and others

Australian Aboriginal languages

It is believed that there were almost 400 Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait languages at the time of first European contact. Most of these are now either extinct or moribund, with only about fifteen languages still being spoken among all age groups of the relevant tribes.[9]

An indigenous language remains the main language for about 50,000 (0.25%) people. Australia has a sign language known as Auslan, which is the main language that approximately 10,000 deaf people use. Chinese is by far the most spoken foreign language, with 715,000 speakers as of 2016, and has even been considered to be put on signs across Australia, to encourage tourists to explore and interact with other people.

Australian Census 2011 demographic map - Australia by SLA - BCP field 2571 Speaks other language Australian Indigenous Languages Persons
People who speak Australian indigenous languages as a percentage of the population in Australia divided geographically by statistical local area, as of the 2011 census

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island languages with the most speakers today are Upper Arrernte, Kalaw Lagaw Ya, Tiwi, Walmajarri, Warlpiri, and the Western Desert language.

Torres Strait languages

Two languages are spoken on the islands of the Torres Strait, within Australian territory, by the Melanesian inhabitants of the area: Kalaw Lagaw Ya and Meriam. Meriam Mir is a Papuan language, while Kalaw Lagaw Ya is an Australian language

Pidgins and creoles

Two English-based creoles have arisen in Australia after European contact: Kriol and Torres Strait Creole. Kriol is spoken in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, and Torres Strait Creole in Queensland and south-west Papua.

Broome Pearling Lugger Pidgin was a pidgin used as a lingua franca between Malays, Japanese, Vietnamese, Torres Strait Islanders and Aborigines on pearling boats.

Immigrant languages

There has been a steady decline in the percentage of Australians who speak only English at home since at least 2001. According to the 2001 census, English was the only language spoken in the home for around 80% of the population. By the 2006 census it had fallen to close to 79%, while in the 2011 census, that number had fallen to 76.8%. According to the 2016 census, English is the only language spoken in the home for close to 72.7% of the population. The next most common languages spoken at home are:[10]

A considerable proportion of first- and second-generation migrants are bilingual.

Sydney language groups
Sydney areas where significant population of Chinese (red), Vietnamese (yellow), Arabic (dark green), Greek (light blue), Turkish (brown), Serbian (light green) and Korean (pink) speakers lived in 2006
Melbourne language groups
Melbourne areas where Chinese (red), Vietnamese (yellow), Arabic (dark green), Macedonian (orange), Turkish (brown), Italian (light green) and Maltese (pink) were predominantly spoken in 2006

See also



  1. ^ "Pluralist Nations: Pluralist Language Policies?". 1995 Global Cultural Diversity Conference Proceedings, Sydney. Department of Social Services. Archived from the original on 20 December 2008. Retrieved 10 July 2017. "English has no de jure status but it is so entrenched as the common language that it is de facto the official language as well as the national language."
  2. ^ Moore, Bruce. "The Vocabulary Of Australian English" (PDF). National Museum of Australia. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 March 2011. Retrieved 5 April 2010.
  3. ^ "The Macquarie Dictionary", Fourth Edition. The Macquarie Library Pty Ltd, 2005.
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 9 July 2017. Retrieved 11 July 2017.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ "A mission to save indigenous languages". Australian Geographic. Archived from the original on 24 December 2013. Retrieved 18 March 2016.
  6. ^ a b "National Indigenous Languages Survey Report 2005". Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 July 2009. Retrieved 5 September 2009.
  7. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics (4 May 2010). "4713.0 – Population Characteristics, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2006". Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 7 December 2010.
  8. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics (27 June 2007). "20680-Language Spoken at Home (full classification list) by Sex – Australia". 2006 Census Tables : Australia. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 7 December 2010.
  9. ^ McConvell, P. & N.Thieberger. 2001. State of Indigenous Language Report.
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 9 July 2017. Retrieved 11 July 2017.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)


External links


Auslan is the sign language of the Australian Deaf community. The term Auslan is a portmanteau of "Australian Sign Language", coined by Trevor Johnston in the early 1980s, although the language itself is much older. Auslan is related to British Sign Language (BSL) and New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL); the three have descended from the same parent language, and together comprise the BANZSL language family. Auslan has also been influenced by Irish Sign Language (ISL) and more recently has borrowed signs from American Sign Language (ASL).

As with other sign languages, Auslan's grammar and vocabulary is quite different from English. Its development cannot be attributed to any individual; rather, it is a natural language that developed organically over time.The number of people for whom Auslan is their primary or preferred language is difficult to determine. According to the 2001, 2006 and 2011 Censuses published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the population of Auslan users in Australia has increased by 54.57% over the same time period thus debunking the speculation that Auslan is an endangered language. As of 2011, the Census population of Auslan users in Australia is 9723 - an increase of 4417 new users from the 2001 Census. Based on this statistical trajectory, it is expected that the number of people for whom Auslan is their primary or preferred language could exceed 12000 in the 2016 Census. Although the number is increasing, approximately 5% of all Auslan users are acquiring the language from their parents with the rest learning the language from other peers such as friends or colleagues later in life.

Australian Aboriginal languages

The Australian Aboriginal languages consist of around 290–363 languages belonging to an estimated 28 language families and isolates, spoken by Aboriginal Australians of mainland Australia and a few nearby islands. The relationships between these languages are not clear at present. Despite this uncertainty, the Indigenous Australian languages are collectively covered by the technical term "Australian languages", or the "Australian family".The term can include both Tasmanian languages and the Western Torres Strait language, but the genetic relationship to the mainland Australian languages of the former is unknown, while that of the latter is Pama-Nyungan, though it shares features with the neighbouring Papuan Eastern Trans-Fly, in particular Meriam Mir as well as the Papuan Tip languages. Most Australian Aboriginal languages belong to the Pama–Nyungan family, while the remainder are classified as "non-Pama–Nyungan", which is a term of convenience that does not imply a genealogical relationship.

In the late 18th century, there were more than 250 distinct Aboriginal social groupings and a similar number of languages or varieties. At the start of the 21st century, fewer than 150 Aboriginal languages remain in daily use, and all except only 13, which are still being transmitted to children, are highly endangered. The surviving languages are located in the most isolated areas. Of the five least endangered Western Australian Aboriginal languages, four belong to the Ngaanyatjarra grouping of the Central and Great Victoria Desert.

Yolŋu languages from north-east Arnhem Land are also currently learned by children. Bilingual education is being used successfully in some communities. Seven of the most widely spoken Australian languages, such as Warlpiri, Murrinh-patha and Tiwi, retain between 1,000 and 3,000 speakers. Some Aboriginal communities and linguists show support for learning programmes either for language revival proper or for only "post-vernacular maintenance" (teaching Indigenous Australians some words and concepts related to the lost language).

Australian Kriol

Kriol is an English-based creole language that developed from a pidgin used initially in the region of Sydney and Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia in the early days of European colonisation. Later, it moved west and north. The pidgin died out in most parts of the country, except in the Northern Territory, where the contact between European settlers, Chinese and other Asians and the Indigenous Australians in the northern regions has maintained a vibrant use of the language, spoken by about 30,000 people. Despite its similarities to English in vocabulary, it has a distinct syntactic structure and grammar and is a language in its own right.

Barossa German

Barossa German (German: Barossadeutsch or Barossa-Deutsch) is a dialect of German, predominately spoken in the Barossa Valley region of South Australia. The prominent South Australian writer, Colin Thiele (1920–2006), whose grandparents were German immigrants, referred to "Barossa-Deutsch" as: "that quaintly inbred and hybrid language evolved from a century of linguistic isolation". It takes its name from the Barossa Valley, where many German people settled during the 19th century. Some words from Barossa German have entered South Australian English.

Gippsland languages

The Gippsland languages are a family of Pama–Nyungan languages of Australia. They are spoken in the Gippsland region, the southernmost part of mainland Australia, on the Bass Strait. There are three rather distant branches; these often considered single languages, though the dialects of Gaanay are sometimes counted separately:

Gaanay (Kurnai): Muk-thang, Nulit, Thangquai, Bidhawal


PallanganmiddangAll are now extinct.

The Gippsland languages, especially Gaanay, have phonotactics that are unusual for mainland Australian languages, but characteristic of Tasmanian languages.

Gujarati language

Gujarati (; ગુજરાતી gujarātī [ɡudʒəˈɾɑtiː]) is an Indo-Aryan language native to the Indian state of Gujarat and spoken predominantly by the Gujarati people. Gujarati is part of the greater Indo-European language family. Gujarati is descended from Old Gujarati (circa 1100–1500 AD). In India, it is the official language in the state of Gujarat, as well as an official language in the union territories of Daman and Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli. As of 2011, Gujarati is the 6th most widely spoken language in India by number of native speakers, spoken by 55.5 million speakers which amounts to about 4.5% of the total Indian population. It is the 26th most widely spoken language in the world by number of native speakers as of 2007.The Gujarati language is more than 700 years old and is spoken by more than 55 million people worldwide. Outside of Gujarat, Gujarati is spoken in many other parts of South Asia by Gujarati migrants, especially in Mumbai and Pakistan (mainly in Karachi). Gujarati is also widely spoken in many countries outside South Asia by the Gujarati diaspora. In North America, Gujarati is one of the fastest growing and most widely-spoken Indian languages in the United States and Canada. In Europe, Gujaratis form the second largest of the British South Asian speech communities, and Gujarati is the fourth most commonly spoken language in the U.K.'s capital London. Gujarati is also spoken in Southeast Africa, particularly in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, and South Africa. Elsewhere, Gujarati is spoken to a lesser extent in China (particularly Hong Kong), Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, and Middle Eastern countries such as Bahrain. Gujarati was the mother tongue of Mahatma Gandhi and Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

Languages of Norfolk Island

There are two official languages of Norfolk Island, English and Norfuk. English, due to the influence of Great Britain and Australia, the two colonial powers who administered Norfolk Island, is the dominant language of the pair. Norfuk, a creole language based on English and Tahitian and brought to the island by the descendants of the Bounty mutineers from Pitcairn Island was spoken by 580 persons according to the 1989 census. It is closely related to Pitkern spoken on Pitcairn Island.

Lateral consonant

A lateral is consonant in which the airstream proceeds along the sides of the tongue, but it is blocked by the tongue from going through the middle of the mouth. An example of a lateral consonant is the English l, as in Larry.

For the most common laterals, the tip of the tongue makes contact with the upper teeth (see dental consonant) or the upper gum (see alveolar consonant), but there are many other possible places for laterals to be made. The most common laterals are approximants and belong to the class of liquids, but lateral fricatives and affricates are also common in some parts of the world. Some languages, such as the Iwaidja and Ilgar languages of Australia, have lateral flaps, and others, such as the Xhosa and Zulu languages of Africa, have lateral clicks.

When pronouncing the labiodental fricatives [f] and [v], the lip blocks the airflow in the centre of the vocal tract, so the airstream proceeds along the sides instead. Nevertheless, they are not considered lateral consonants because the airflow never goes over the tongue. No known language makes a distinction between lateral and non-lateral labiodentals. Plosives are never lateral, but they may have lateral release. Nasals are never lateral either, but some languages have lateral nasal clicks. For consonants articulated in the throat (laryngeals), the lateral distinction is not made by any language, although pharyngeal and epiglottal laterals are reportedly possible.


Maltralian (in Maltese: Il-Maltraljan), is the Maltese language of Australia, spoken by Maltese emigrants in the continent.

The development of the Maltese language in a country far removed from Malta continued, in an environment that maintained a sense of origin and culture. It is essential to look to the history of this development in order to appreciate the Maltese dialect spoken in Australia.

Meriam language

Meriam (in the language itself Meriam Mìr; also Miriam, Meryam, Mer, Mir, Miriam-Mir, etc. and Eastern, Isten, Esten, , and Able Able) or the Eastern Torres Strait language is the language of the people of the small islands of Mer (Murray Island), Waier and Dauar, Erub (Darnley Island), and Ugar (Stephens Island) in the eastern Torres Strait, Queensland, Australia. In the Western Torres Strait language, Kalaw Lagaw Ya, it is called Mœyam or Mœyamau Ya. It is the only Papuan language in Australian territory.

Ndrangith language

Ndrangith (Ndrrangith) is an Australian language once spoken in the Cape York Peninsula of Queensland. It is undocumented, without even word lists to record it.Sutton (2001) says the name is distinct from the similar-sounding Ndra'ngith language and Ndwa'ngith language.

Norfuk language

Norfuk (increasingly spelt Norfolk) or Norf'k is the language spoken on Norfolk Island (in the Pacific Ocean) by the local residents. It is a blend of 18th-century English and Tahitian, originally introduced by Pitkern-speaking settlers from the Pitcairn Islands. Along with English, it is the co-official language of Norfolk Island.As travel to and from Norfolk Island becomes more common, Norfuk is falling into disuse. Efforts are being made to restore the language to more common usage, such as the education of children, the publication of English–Norfuk dictionaries, the use of the language in signage, and the renaming of some tourist attractions – most notably the rainforest walk "A Trip Ina Stik" – to their Norfuk equivalents. In 2007, the United Nations added Norfuk to its list of endangered languages.

Pitjantjatjara dialect

Pitjantjatjara (English: ; Aboriginal pronunciation: [ˈpɪɟanɟaɟaɾa] or [ˈpɪɟanɟaɾa]) is a dialect of the Western Desert language traditionally spoken by the Pitjantjatjara people of Central Australia. It is mutually intelligible with other varieties of the Western Desert language, and is particularly closely related to the Yankunytjatjara dialect. The names for the two groups are based on their respective words for 'come/go.'Pitjantjatjara is a relatively healthy Aboriginal language, with children learning it. It is taught in some Aboriginal schools. The literacy rate for first language speakers is 50–70%; and is 10–15% for second-language learners. There is a Pitjantjatjara dictionary and translated portions of the New Testament of the Bible, from 2002.

Torres Strait Island languages

There are three languages spoken in the Torres Strait Islands, two indigenous languages and an English-based creole. The indigenous language spoken mainly in the western and central islands is Kalaw Lagaw Ya: a language related to the Pama–Nyungan languages of the Australian mainland. The other indigenous language spoken mainly in the eastern islands is Meriam Mir: a member of the Trans-Fly languages spoken on the nearby south coast of New Guinea and the only Papuan language native to Australia. Both languages are agglutinative, however Kalaw Lagaw Ya appears to be undergoing a transition into a declensional language while Meriam Mìr is more clearly agglutinative. Yumplatok, the third language, is a non-typical Pacific English Creole and is the main language of communication on the islands.

Waka–Kabic languages

The Waka–Kabic (Waka-Gabi) languages form an extinct family of Pama–Nyungan languages of Australia. The languages were:

Than: Gureng Gureng, Gabi (Kabikabi), Dappil (Tulua?)

Miyan: Wuliwuli, Waga (Wakawaka), Barunggam (Muringam)Miyan may be a single language, Wakawaka. Gureng Gureng still has some L2 speakers.

The Kingkel languages, Darumbal and Bayali, are sometimes believed to be Waka-Kabic. Bowern (2011) moved Darumbal to the Maric languages, but did not address Bayali. The two languages are not close.

Warlpiri language

The Warlpiri ( or ) language is spoken by about 3,000 of the Warlpiri people in Australia's Northern Territory. It is one of the Ngarrkic languages of the large Pama–Nyungan family, and is one of the largest aboriginal languages in Australia in terms of number of speakers.

Warumungu language

The Warumungu (or Warramunga) language is spoken by the Warumungu people in Australia's Northern Territory. In addition to spoken language, the Warumungu have a highly developed sign language.

Wiradhuric languages

The Wiradhuric languages or Central (Inland) New South Wales, are a family of Pama–Nyungan languages of Australia. There are three languages:

Gamilaraay (northeast)


Wiradhuri (south)

Ngiyambaa (west)All are now moribund.

Wiradhuri and Ngiyambaa appear to be more closely related to each other than to Gamilaraay, as they show some common features that Gamilaraay lacks. The languages are close enough to be accepted as related in the conservative classification of Dixon (2002). Bowern (2011) lists the Yuwaaliyaay and Yuwaalaraay varieties of Gamilaraay as separate languages. Bigambal may have been another, if it wasn't one of the Banjalung languages. The Gujambal language has been listed as Wiradhuric, but is undocumented.

Yugul language

Yugul or Yukul (Yukul) is an extinct Australian Aboriginal language of the Marran family. The name "Yugul" has been used in various ways by people of Ngukurr, where this language may have been spoken, including as a cover term for languages of the area. A summary of the available information on Yugul is presented in Baker (2010). However, on the basis of place names, Harvey (2008) notes that Yugul appears to be closely related to Marra.

Languages of Australia
English varieties
Major indigenous
Pidgins, creoles and
mixed languages
Sign languages
Sovereign states
Associated states
of New Zealand
and other territories

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