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Diversity of language

Australia’s cultural diversityDiversity of birthplaceDiversity of languageDiversity of religion and spiritual beliefs

Language is a key marker of membership of an ethnic group. Language allows communication of values and beliefs of a particular culture and allows participation in family and community life. The majority of Australians speak English as a first or other language, however a significant number of people also speak languages other than English. About 73% of Australians speak only English at home.

Languages other than English

While English is the dominant language in Australia, many people speak a language other than English within their families and communities. This linguistic diversity is an asset for Australia and makes us more competitive in trade as well as fostering international ties and cultural exchange.

The following data is derived from the 2016 Census:

  • Collectively, Australians speak over 200 languages [10] . Of these, over 50 are actively spoken Australian Indigenous languages.
  • About 21% of Australians reported speaking a language other than English at home. Australian Indigenous languages are spoken by less than 1% of the total population.
  • The most common languages other than English are: Mandarin, Arabic, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Italian and Greek. Collectively, Chinese languages (including Cantonese, Mandarin and other Chinese languages) have the greatest number of speakers after English, accounting for approximately 4% of the total population.
  • The languages other than English spoken at home vary between the states.
Figure 5: Languages other than English spoken at home 2016
Graph: Languages other than English spoken at home

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, Customised tables

Top 10 languages other than English spoken at home in 2016 by state/territory
NSW Victoria Queensland South Australia Western Australia Tasmania Northern Territory Australian Capital Territory Other Territories
Mandarin Mandarin Mandarin Italian Mandarin Mandarin Australian Indigenous Languages Mandarin Norf’k-Pitcairn
Arabic Italian Vietnamese Mandarin Italian Nepali Greek Vietnamese Malay
Cantonese Greek Cantonese Greek Vietnamese German Tagalog Cantonese Mandarin
Vietnamese Vietnamese Spanish Vietnamese Cantonese Greek Mandarin Hindi Cantonese
Greek Arabic Italian Cantonese Tagalog Italian Filipino Spanish Tagalog
Italian Cantonese Korean Punjabi Afrikaans Cantonese Malayalam Italian Australian Indigenous Languages
Hindi Punjabi Hindi Arabic Arabic Spanish Nepali Arabic Fijian
Spanish Hindi Punjabi Hindi Punjabi Dutch Vietnamese Greek Min Nan
Korean Sinhalese Tagalog German Indonesian Arabic Indonesian Korean Afrikaans
Tagalog Spanish Japanese Polish Hindi French Thai Urdu Vietnamese

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, Customised tables

Australian Indigenous languages

At the time of European settlement, there were an estimated 250 languages spoken by the Indigenous people of Australia. These languages were made up collectively of a total of about 500 different dialects. Since European settlement many Indigenous languages and dialects were lost as speakers died or instead learned to speak other Indigenous languages, English or creoles. Creoles are pidgin languages which develop as the primary language of a community. Australian creoles combine English, Indigenous languages and other languages.

Today, over 100 Australian Indigenous languages including creoles are spoken. Some of these languages have very few speakers. About 50 of these languages are actively spoken with 150 speakers or more for each language group.

The following data is derived from the 2016 Census:

  • Almost 64,800 people speak an Indigenous language.
  • A significant number of people speak an Australian creole including Yumplatok (Torres Strait Creole) (6,200 speakers) and Kriol (Australian Creole) (7,200 speakers). Around 650 people indicated that they speak Aboriginal English.
  • Other Indigenous languages with large numbers of speakers are Djambarrpuyngu (4,300 speakers), Pitantjatjara (3,100 speakers) Walpiri (2,300 speakers) and Tiwi (2,000 speakers).
  • The most common Indigenous languages differ between states and territories reflecting the origins of particular Aboriginal groups and their continuity with their traditional lands.
  • Over half (60%) of the Northern Territory’s Indigenous population speak an Indigenous language, by far the greatest proportion of any state or territory. Around 13% of Indigenous people in Western Australia and 10% in South Australia speak an Indigenous language.
  • The Northern Territory has over half (54%) of Australia’s Indigenous language speakers, with most of the remainder in Queensland (21%), Western Australia (16%) and South Australia (5%).

Table 7: Australian Indigenous Languages 2016

Kimberley Area Languages No. of Speakers
Kimberley Area Languages, nfd 0
Bardi 321
Bunuba 41
Gooniyandi 134
Miriwoong 156
Ngarinyin 38
Nyikina 61
Worla 0
Worrorra 7
Wunambal 9
Yawuru 61
Gambera 0
Jawi 0
Kija 169
Kimberley Area Languages, nec 26
Total 1,019
Northern Desert Fringe Area Languages No. of Speakers
Northern Desert Fringe Area Languages, nfd 0
Bilinarra 46
Gurindji 405
Gurindji Kriol 3
Jaru 217
Light Warlpiri 0
Malngin 4
Mudburra 92
Ngardi 3
Ngarinyman 234
Walmajarri 283
Wanyjirra 0
Warlmanpa 26
Warlpiri 2,304
Warumungu 321
Northern Desert Fringe Area Languages, nec 0
Total 3,928
Western Desert Language No. of speakers
Western Desert Language, nfd 0
Antikarinya 0
Kartujarra 21
Kukatha 16
Kukatja 130
Luritja 955
Manyjilyjarra 311
Martu Wangka 724
Ngaanyatjarra 1,112
Pintupi 147
Pitjantjatjara 3,125
Wangkajunga 10
Wangkatha 225
Warnman 3
Yankunytjatjara 420
Yulparija 16
Tjupany 8
Western Desert Language, nec 0
Total 7,233
Cape York Peninsula Languages No. of Speakers
Cape York Peninsula Languages, nfd 19
Kuku Yalanji 323
Guugu Yimidhirr 775
Kuuku-Ya’u 10
Wik Mungkan 450
Djabugay 46
Dyirbal 8
Girramay 44
Koko-Bera 10
Kuuk Thayorre 205
Lamalama 3
Yidiny 19
Wik Ngathan 3
Alngith 0
Kugu Muminh 0
Morrobalama 0
Thaynakwith 0
Yupangathi 0
Tjungundji 0
Cape York Peninsula Languages, nec 875
Total 2789
Arnhem Land and Daly River Region Languages No. of Speakers
Arnhem Land and Daly River Region Languages, nfd 0
Anindilyakwa 1,484
Maung 371
Ngan’gikurunggurr 26
Nunggubuyu 276
Rembarrnga 43
Tiwi 2,040
Alawa 4
Dalabon 0
Gudanji 91
Iwaidja 123
Jaminjung 0
Jawoyn 16
Jingulu 23
Kunbarlang 0
Larrakiya 14
Malak Malak 10
Mangarrayi 0
Maringarr 5
Marra 8
Marrithiyel 15
Matngala 0
Murrinh Patha 1,973
Na-kara 58
Ndjebbana (Gunavidji) 177
Ngalakgan 0
Ngaliwurru 29
Nungali 0
Wambaya 61
Wardaman 50
Amurdak 0
Garrwa 129
Kuwema 0
Marramaninyshi 0
Ngandi 0
Waanyi 19
Wagiman 18
Yanyuwa 39
Marridan (Maridan) 0
Kuwinjkuan, nfd 0
Gundjeihmi 46
Kune 180
Kuninjku 51
Kunwinjku 1,710
Mayali 145
Kunwinjkuan, nec 0
Burarran, nfd 0
Burarra 995
Gun-nartpa 49
Gurr-goni 46
Burraran, nec 0
Arnhem Land and Daly River Region Languages, nec 18
Total 10,350
Other Australian Indigenous Languages No. of Speakers
Other Australian Indigenous Languages, nfd 102
Adnymathanha 140
Arabana 15
Bandjalang 113
Banyjima 104
Batjala 24
Bidjara 22
Dhanggatti 34
Diyari 5
Gamilaraay 105
Garuwali 0
Githabul 4
Gumbaynggir 90
Kanai 4
Karajarri 41
Kariyarra 19
Kaurna 53
Kayardild 8
Kriol 7,155
Lardil 65
Mangala 68
Muruwari 12
Narungga 25
Ngarluma 42
Ngarrindjeri 312
Nyamal 25
Nyangumarta 211
Nyungar 475
Paakantyi 42
Palyku/Nyiyaparli 5
Wajarri 145
Wiradjuri 457
Yindjibarndi 377
Yinhawangka 39
Yorta Yorta 62
Baanbay 0
Badimaya 3
Barababaraba 0
Dadi Dadi 0
Dharawal 27
Djabwurrung 0
Gudjal 3
Keerray-Woorroong 4
Ladji Ladji 0
Mirning 0
Ngatjumaya 0
Waluwarra 0
Wangkangurru 3
Wargamay 0
Wergaia 14
Yugambeh 18
Aboriginal English, so described 651
Other Australian Indigenous Languages, nec 362
Total 11,484
Yolngu Matha No. of Speakers
Yolngu Matha, nfd 724
Dhangu, nfd 45
Galpu 89
Golumala 0
Wangurri 58
Dhangu, nec 4
Dhay’yi, nfd 18
Dhalwangu 62
Djarrwark 0
Dhay’yi, nec 0
Dhuwal, nfd 266
Djambarrpuyngu 4,282
Djapu 90
Daatiwuy 29
Marrangu 7
Liyagalawumirr 51
Liyagawumirr 16
Dhuwal, nec 28
Dhuwala, nfd 125
Gumatj 116
Gupapuyngu 146
Guyamirrilili 0
Manggalili 0
Wubulkarra 15
Dhuwala, nec 0
Djinang, nfd 107
Wurlaki 10
Djinang, nec 8
Djinba, nfd 14
Ganalbingu 54
Djinba 0
Manyjalpingu 3
Djinba, nec 0
Yakuy, nfd 0
Ritharrngu 22
Wagilak 18
Yakuy, nec 0
Nhangu 0
Yan-nhangu 0
Nhangu, nec 3
Dhuwaya 334
Djangu 0
Madarrpa 8
Warramiri 17
Rirratjingu 17
Other Yolngu Matha, nec 0
Total 6,809
Arandic No. of Speakers
Arandic, nfd 0
Alyawarr 1,548
Kaytetye 122
Antekerrepenh 0
Anmatyerr, nfd 105
Central Anmatyerr 0
Eastern Anmatyerr 4
Anmatyerr, nec 531
Arrernte, nfd 688
Eastern Arrernte 385
Western Arrarnta 440
Arrernte, nec 840
Arandic, nec 0
Total 4,662
Torres Strait Island Languages No. of Speakers
Torres Strait Island Languages, nfd 335
Kalaw Kawaw Ya/Kalaw Lagaw Ya 957
Meriam Mir 217
Yumplatok (Torres Strait Creole) 6,171
Total 7,684

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, Customised tables

Figure 8: Indigenous languages and Australian creoles 2016
Graph: Indigenous languages and Australian creoles 2016


Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, Customised tables

Table 9: Indigenous languages by State/Territory 2016
Languages New South Wales Victoria Queensland South Australia Western Australia Tasmania Northern Territory Australian Capital Territory Other Territories Australia
Arnhem Land and Daly River Region Languages 21 30 88 19 10 3 10,180 0 0 10,350
Yolngu Matha 27 17 50 0 52 0 6,663 0 0 6,809
Cape York Peninsula Languages 15 11 2,732 3 3 0 20 5 0 2,789
Torres Strait Island Languages 103 34 7,312 7 127 0 99 6 0 7,684
Northern Desert Fringe Area Languages 11 19 28 57 547 0 3,261 4 0 3,928
Arandic 12 10 40 58 15 0 4,529 0 0 4,662
Western Desert Languages 22 30 29 1,988 2,988 3 2,163 5 0 7,233
Kimberley Area Languages 3 4 7 3 975 0 30 0 0 1,019
Other Australian Indigenous Languages 1,106 220 888 638 3,992 42 4,531 60 12 11,484
Australian Indigenous Languages, nfd 610 159 2,299 618 1,545 21 3,482 44 24 8,803
Total 1,922 526 13,474 3,392 10,251 70 34,956 132 38 64,762

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, Customised tables

Population statistics –  Australia’s cultural diversityDiversity of birthplaceDiversity of languageDiversity of religion and spiritual beliefs