In 21st Century Australia, only 150 indigenous languages have survived, and only 10 of which are viable. In NSW alone, only 20 Aboriginal languages are spoken today. Very little evidence has been found to provide decent information on Australian indigenous languages spoken at home or in our chosen domain; family. This is due to the lack of Aboriginals and/or Torres Strait Islanders in most common areas. In order to find more about whether Indigenous languages are still spoken at home, we can take a look at our Australian Census of Population and Housing. Unfortunately, the results of the 2016 Census for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders does not come out until June of this year (2017), I cannot find any information that is very recent. However, we can take a look at the results of the 2011 Census, which is still fairly recent.

Before looking into the results of Indigenous languages, first I’d like to discuss the findings of why there is little evidence to prove a broad presence in our chosen domain. As I previously mentioned, there seems to be a lack of Aboriginals and/or Torres Strait Islanders in most common areas. For example, the 2011 Census displays that only 2.9% of the population in NSW alone are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, which is why it was difficult to find evidence in my surroundings. The largest population are found in the Northern Territory at 30%, whilst in all of Australia, including other territories, they only make up 3% of Australian population.

According to the results of the 2011 Census, it indicated that only 11% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders spoke an Australian Indigenous language at home, which can be expressed as 1 in 10 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Of these Indigenous languages, the most spoken, at 18%, were in the Arnhem Land and Daly River Region Languages. This census also found that since the last census in 2006, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who spoke English at home increased by 1% and most likely if we had the 2016 results, we would see another increase, and unfortunately likely a decline or maybe even a stable state of Indigenous languages spoken at home.[1]


Screen Shot 2017-04-11 at 7.09.56 pm.pngFigure 1: 
Australian Indigenous Language Speakers by Language Group(a), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people(b), taken from the 2011 Census.[1a]

I believe that not only the fact that the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander population is a minority, but also the lack of education leads to this loss of and “invisible” Indigenous languages. These Indigenous languages are a part of our Australian history and should be taught in order to enhance the use of these languages in the future. A great example of this, is when I was in primary school we would sing one verse of the national anthem in Dharawal, where in my area, the Sutherland Shire is known as Dharawal county.

Screen Shot 2017-04-11 at 9.51.43 pm.pngFigure 2: Dharawal Verse of the Australian National Anthem

Another primary school I went to in year 3, Darlington Public School; located in Chippendale, prided itself in its cultural enrichment, and you could see it. The school was covered with Aboriginal artworks and a lot of students were also Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders. We were actually taught an Indigenous language, however, only being at the school for a year most of my memory of it has diminished, which is rather unfortunate.

But if all public schools around Australia were more like this in that they taught more Indigenous languages, Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders would benefit learning their culture, and have the opportunity to speak these at home and create their own sense of belonging in their cultures, but also it would raise awareness to the non-Indigenous, such as myself, about our Australian history and keep the use of these intriguing languages alive.

However, there is also another issue, and this is the issue of language preservation and the role of linguists. After reading Michael Walsh’s article, ‘Will Indigenous Languages Survive?’ I came to agree in that the preservation of these languages should be up to these language speakers and their community rather than linguists decide what’s more important. I do not want to necessarily see a language die, but it isn’t always up to us. These languages could be sacred, they could be a sense of pride, feeling like a belonging to a community, and to have just about anyone knowing it, might make that community feel a little less special in a way. It is up to them if they want their language to be preserved. Some will love the idea that their language will be passed on through the generations, others, however, will like the exclusiveness. But this is not our call to make.

Alessandra Scortis
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With references to:
[1][1a]2011 Census of Population and Housing: Characteristics of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders

[2] Walsh, M. (2005). Will Indigenous languages survive?. Annu. Rev. Anthropol., 34, 293-315.

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