Australia's cultural diversity

Overview  |  Diversity of birthplace  |  Diversity of language  |  Diversity of religion and spiritual beliefs

Diversity of language

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 77% of Australians speak only English.

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 2011 Census:

  • Collectively, Australians speak over 200 languages [10] . Of these, about 50 are Australian Indigenous languages.
  • About 18% of Australians speak a language other than English. Australian Indigenous languages are spoken by about 0.3% of the total population.
  • The most common languages other than English are: Italian, Greek, Cantonese, Arabic, Mandarin and Vietnamese. Collectively, Chinese languages (including Cantonese, Mandarin and other Chinese languages) have the greatest number of speakers after English, accounting for approximately 3% of the total population.
  • The languages other than English spoken at home vary between the states.
Languages other than English spoken 2011
Languages other than English spoken 2011 chart

 

Top 10 languages other than English spoken at home in 2011 by state/territory
NSW Victoria Queensland South Australia Western Australia Tasmania Northern Territory Australian Capital Territory Other Territories
Arabic Italian Mandarin Italian Italian Mandarin Kriol Mandarin Malay
Mandarin Greek Cantonese Greek Mandarin German Djambarrpuyngu Vietnamese Mandarin
Cantonese Mandarin Vietnamese Mandarin Cantonese Italian Greek Cantonese Cantonese
Vietnamese Vietnamese Italian Vietnamese Vietnamese Greek Warlpiri Italian Aboriginal English, so described
Greek Cantonese German Cantonese Arabic Dutch Yolngu Matha, nfd Spanish Min Nan
Italian Arabic Spanish Arabic Afrikaans Arabic Murrinh Patha Greek Thai
Spanish Turkish Hindi German Indonesian Cantonese Tiwi Arabic Tagalog
Hindi Hindi Japanese Polish German Spanish Alyawarr Croatian Arabic
Korean Punjabi Samoan Spanish Tagalog Polish Tagalog Hindi German
Tagalog Macedonian Korean Punjabi Spanish French Kunwinjku German Indonesian
Macedonian Spanish Tagalog Hindi French Nepali Anindilyakwa French Other Australian Indigenous Languages, nec

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 2011 Census:

  • About 61,000 people speak an Indigenous language. Of these, approximately 19% speak an Australian creole.
  • A significant number of people speak an Australian creole including Torres Strait Creole (5,369 speakers) and Kriol (6,781 speakers). 575 people indicated that they speak Aboriginal English.
  • Other Indigenous languages with large numbers of speakers are Arrernte cluster (5,362 speakers), Djambarrpuyngu (2,974), Pitantjatjara (3,486) and Walpiri (2,554).
  • 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. 13.5% of Indigenous people in Western Australia and 11.5% in South Australia speak an Indigenous language.
  • The Northern Territory has over half (56.1%) of Australia's Indigenous language speakers, with most of the remainder in Queensland (19.8%), Western Australia (15.6%) and South Australia (5.9%).
Australian Indigenous Languages
Arandic No. of
Speakers
Arandic, nfd 0
Alyawarr 1860
Kaytetye 171
Antekerrepenh 0
Anmatyerr, nfd 0
Central Anmatyerr 7
Eastern Anmatyerr 3
Anmatyerr, nec 933
Arrernte, nfd 232
Eastern Arrernte 526
Western Arrarnta 487
Arrernte, nec 1321
Arandic, nec 0
Total 5540
Kimberley Area Languages No. of
Speakers
Kimberley Area Languages, nfd 3
Bardi 171
Bunuba 96
Gooniyandi 106
Miriwoong 97
Ngarinyin 40
Nyikina 62
Worla 0
Worrorra 0
Wunambal 11
Yawuru 26
Gambera 0
Jawi 0
Kija 168
Kimberley Area Languages, nec 16
Total 796
Northern Desert Fringe Area Languages No. of
Speakers
Northern Desert Fringe Area Languages, nfd 0
Bilinarra 58
Gurindji 533
Gurindji Kriol 0
Jaru 567
Light Warlpiri 0
Malngin 0
Mudburra 118
Ngardi 0
Ngarinyman 309
Walmajarri 527
Wanyjirra 0
Warlmanpa 18
Warlpiri 2553
Warumungu 285
Northern Desert Fringe Area Languages, nec 0
Total 4968

 

Torres Strait Island Languages No. of
Speakers
Torres Strait Island Languages, nfd 406
Kalaw Kawaw Ya/Kalaw Lagaw Ya 986
Meriam Mir 186
Yumplatok (Torres Strait Creole) 5368
Total 6946
Western Desert Language No. of
speakers
Western Desert Language, nfd 0
Antikarinya 6
Kartujarra 119
Kukatha 27
Kukatja 522
Luritja 1506
Manyjilyjarra 347
Martu Wangka 604
Ngaanyatjarra 1041
Pintupi 140
Pitjantjatjara 3486
Wangkajunga 15
Wangkatha 299
Warnman 14
Yankunytjatjara 453
Yulparija 49
Tjupany 0
Western Desert Language, nec 16
Total 8644
Cape York Peninsula Languages No. of
Speakers
Cape York Peninsula Languages, nfd 11
Kuku Yalanji 255
Guugu Yimidhirr 978
Kuuku-Ya'u 12
Wik Mungkan 1359
Djabugay 28
Dyirbal 17
Girramay 64
Koko-Bera 32
Kuuk Thayorre 130
Lamalama 21
Yidiny 0
Wik Ngathan 5
Alngith 0
Kugu Muminh 0
Morrobalama 0
Thaynakwith 4
Yupangathi 0
Tjungundji 0
Cape York Peninsula Languages, nec 243
Total 3159

 

Yolngu Matha No. of
Speakers
Yolngu Matha, nfd 2446
Dhangu, nfd 30
Galpu 149
Golumala 3
Wangurri 26
Dhangu, nec 0
Dhay'yi, nfd 22
Dhalwangu 39
Djarrwark 0
Dhay'yi, nec 0
Dhuwal, nfd 235
Djambarrpuyngu 2975
Djapu 26
Daatiwuy 9
Marrangu 15
Liyagalawumirr 3
Liyagawumirr 0
Dhuwal, nec 21
Dhuwala, nfd 89
Gumatj 184
Gupapuyngu 157
Guyamirrilili 0
Manggalili 0
Wubulkarra 0
Dhuwala, nec 0
Djinang, nfd 103
Wurlaki 32
Djinang, nec 8
Djinba, nfd 10
Ganalbingu 32
Djinba 0
Manyjalpingu 0
Djinba, nec 0
Yakuy, nfd 0
Ritharrngu 17
Wagilak 3
Yakuy, nec 0
Nhangu 0
Yan-nhangu 0
Nhangu, nec 4
Dhuwaya 285
Djangu 0
Madarrpa 4
Warramiri 7
Rirratjingu 0
Other Yolngu Matha, nec 0
Total 6934
Arnhem Land and Daly River Region Languages No. of
Speakers
Arnhem Land and Daly River Region Languages, nfd 25
Anindilyakwa 1485
Maung 366
Ngan'gikurunggurr 97
Nunggubuyu 239
Rembarrnga 124
Tiwi 2209
Alawa 17
Dalabon 73
Gudanji 3
Iwaidja 134
Jaminjung 0
Jawoyn 28
Jingulu 29
Kunbarlang 20
Larrakiya 8
Malak Malak 10
Mangarrayi 0
Maringarr 8
Marra 9
Marrithiyel 20
Matngala 0
Murrinh Patha 2410
Na-kara 102
Ndjebbana (Gunavidji) 335
Ngalakgan 0
Ngaliwurru 0
Nungali 11
Wambaya 56
Wardaman 8
Amurdak 0
Garrwa 86
Kuwema 0
Marramaninyshi 0
Ngandi 0
Waanyi 40
Wagiman 30
Yanyuwa 77
Marridan (Maridan) 0
Kuwinjkuan, nfd 0
Gundjeihmi 29
Kune 121
Kuninjku 104
Kunwinjku 1644
Mayali 65
Kunwinjkuan, nec 0
Burarran, nfd 0
Burarra 932
Gun-nartpa 89
Gurr-goni 35
Burraran, nec 0
Arnhem Land and Daly River Region Languages, nec 11
Total 11089
Other Australian Indigenous Languages No. of
Speakers
Other Australian Indigenous Languages, nfd 3
Adnymathanha 151
Arabana 8
Bandjalang 133
Banyjima 88
Batjala 8
Bidjara 9
Dhanggatti 9
Diyari 8
Gamilaraay 87
Garuwali 0
Githabul 7
Gumbaynggir 60
Kanai 4
Karajarri 39
Kariyarra 5
Kaurna 58
Kayardild 3
Kriol 6781
Lardil 89
Mangala 58
Muruwari 11
Narungga 47
Ngarluma 44
Ngarrindjeri 271
Nyamal 32
Nyangumarta 262
Nyungar 370
Paakantyi 48
Palyku/Nyiyaparli 9
Wajarri 92
Wiradjuri 151
Yindjibarndi 296
Yinhawangka 6
Yorta Yorta 30
Baanbay 0
Badimaya 0
Barababaraba 0
Dadi Dadi 0
Dharawal 16
Djabwurrung 18
Gudjal 0
Keerray-Woorroong 0
Ladji Ladji 0
Mirning 0
Ngatjumaya 0
Waluwarra 11
Wangkangurru 0
Wargamay 0
Wergaia 14
Aboriginal English, so described 1062
Other Australian Indigenous Languages, nec 575
Total 10973

 



Indigenous languages and Australian creoles 2011
Indigenous languages and Australian creoles 2011

 

Indigenous languages by state/territory 2011
Languages NSW VIC QLD SA WA TAS NT ACT Other Territories Australia
Australian Indigenous Languages, nfd 397 196 680 423 548 17 450 27 4 2742
Arnhem Land and Daly River Region Languages 14 18 51 3 34 3 10967 0 0 11090
Cape York Peninsula Languages 7 3 3122 0 3 0 16 9 0 3160
Torres Strait Island Languages 79 20 6546 10 151 0 127 13 0 6946
Northern Desert Fringe Area Languages 18 6 22 55 1177 0 3691 0 0 4969
Arandic 11 15 48 80 5 3 5379 0 0 5541
Western Desert Language 20 22 24 2411 3455 0 2705 6 0 8643
Kimberley Area Languages 3 7 8 0 771 0 10 0 0 799
Other Australian Indigenous Languages 740 174 1631 628 3438 47 4220 52 43 10973
Yolngu Matha 10 16 16 3 7 0 6878 5 0 6935
Total 1299 477 12148 3613 9589 70 34443 112 47 61798

Australia's cultural diversity:  Overview  |  Diversity of birthplace  |  Diversity of language  |  Diversity of religion and spiritual beliefs