Note: for more detail, go to the article
about Aboriginal languages by R W Dixon located
on our Web site.
Australian Aboriginal languages are highly diverse. There are nearly
100 Aboriginal languages in everyday use, but only 20 of these are
strong in the sense that they have large communities of speakers and
children are learning them as their first language. About 50 000 people
speak an Australian indigenous language as their first language. Examples
of "strong" languages are: Yolngu (north eastern Arnhem
Land) with around 6000 speakers; the Arrernte group southern and central
Northern Territory (around 3000); and Warlpiri also in the centre
(also around 3000 speakers).
Most Aboriginal people speak English as their first or second language.
After English, Kriol is the most widely spoken language - it is spoken
from the Kimberley across to northwest Queensland.
Across southern Australia, where perhaps 150 languages have been
virtually destroyed by colonisation, most people speak Standard English
and Aboriginal English (a unique variety of English used widely by
Many of Australia's Aboriginal languages face a bleak future, although
there are vigorous efforts by communities to retain their language
heritage wherever possible. However, all Aboriginal languages are
in danger because of the decline in number of speakers and with many
it is only older people who still speak the language.
There is a tremendous loss of cultural pride and sense of identity
for communities that lose their language - one of the saddest and
most moving experiences is to talk to an old person who is the last
surviving speaker of their language.