Diversity of language

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
NSWVictoriaQueenslandSouth AustraliaWestern AustraliaTasmaniaNorthern TerritoryAustralian Capital TerritoryOther Territories
MandarinMandarinMandarinItalianMandarinMandarinAustralian Indigenous LanguagesMandarinNorf’k-Pitcairn
ArabicItalianVietnameseMandarinItalianNepaliGreekVietnameseMalay
CantoneseGreekCantoneseGreekVietnameseGermanTagalogCantoneseMandarin
VietnameseVietnameseSpanishVietnameseCantoneseGreekMandarinHindiCantonese
GreekArabicItalianCantoneseTagalogItalianFilipinoSpanishTagalog
ItalianCantoneseKoreanPunjabiAfrikaansCantoneseMalayalamItalianAustralian Indigenous Languages
HindiPunjabiHindiArabicArabicSpanishNepaliArabicFijian
SpanishHindiPunjabiHindiPunjabiDutchVietnameseGreekMin Nan
KoreanSinhaleseTagalogGermanIndonesianArabicIndonesianKoreanAfrikaans
TagalogSpanishJapanesePolishHindiFrenchThaiUrduVietnamese

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, Customised tables

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 LanguagesNo. of Speakers
Kimberley Area Languages, nfd0
Bardi321
Bunuba41
Gooniyandi134
Miriwoong156
Ngarinyin38
Nyikina61
Worla0
Worrorra7
Wunambal9
Yawuru61
Gambera0
Jawi0
Kija169
Kimberley Area Languages, nec26
Total1,019
Northern Desert Fringe Area LanguagesNo. of Speakers
Northern Desert Fringe Area Languages, nfd0
Bilinarra46
Gurindji405
Gurindji Kriol3
Jaru217
Light Warlpiri0
Malngin4
Mudburra92
Ngardi3
Ngarinyman234
Walmajarri283
Wanyjirra0
Warlmanpa26
Warlpiri2,304
Warumungu321
Northern Desert Fringe Area Languages, nec0
Total3,928
Western Desert LanguageNo. of speakers
Western Desert Language, nfd0
Antikarinya0
Kartujarra21
Kukatha16
Kukatja130
Luritja955
Manyjilyjarra311
Martu Wangka724
Ngaanyatjarra1,112
Pintupi147
Pitjantjatjara3,125
Wangkajunga10
Wangkatha225
Warnman3
Yankunytjatjara420
Yulparija16
Tjupany8
Western Desert Language, nec0
Total7,233
Cape York Peninsula LanguagesNo. of Speakers
Cape York Peninsula Languages, nfd19
Kuku Yalanji323
Guugu Yimidhirr775
Kuuku-Ya’u10
Wik Mungkan450
Djabugay46
Dyirbal8
Girramay44
Koko-Bera10
Kuuk Thayorre205
Lamalama3
Yidiny19
Wik Ngathan3
Alngith0
Kugu Muminh0
Morrobalama0
Thaynakwith0
Yupangathi0
Tjungundji0
Cape York Peninsula Languages, nec875
Total2789
Arnhem Land and Daly River Region LanguagesNo. of Speakers
Arnhem Land and Daly River Region Languages, nfd0
Anindilyakwa1,484
Maung371
Ngan’gikurunggurr26
Nunggubuyu276
Rembarrnga43
Tiwi2,040
Alawa4
Dalabon0
Gudanji91
Iwaidja123
Jaminjung0
Jawoyn16
Jingulu23
Kunbarlang0
Larrakiya14
Malak Malak10
Mangarrayi0
Maringarr5
Marra8
Marrithiyel15
Matngala0
Murrinh Patha1,973
Na-kara58
Ndjebbana (Gunavidji)177
Ngalakgan0
Ngaliwurru29
Nungali0
Wambaya61
Wardaman50
Amurdak0
Garrwa129
Kuwema0
Marramaninyshi0
Ngandi0
Waanyi19
Wagiman18
Yanyuwa39
Marridan (Maridan)0
Kuwinjkuan, nfd0
Gundjeihmi46
Kune180
Kuninjku51
Kunwinjku1,710
Mayali145
Kunwinjkuan, nec0
Burarran, nfd0
Burarra995
Gun-nartpa49
Gurr-goni46
Burraran, nec0
Arnhem Land and Daly River Region Languages, nec18
Total10,350
Other Australian Indigenous LanguagesNo. of Speakers
Other Australian Indigenous Languages, nfd102
Adnymathanha140
Arabana15
Bandjalang113
Banyjima104
Batjala24
Bidjara22
Dhanggatti34
Diyari5
Gamilaraay105
Garuwali0
Githabul4
Gumbaynggir90
Kanai4
Karajarri41
Kariyarra19
Kaurna53
Kayardild8
Kriol7,155
Lardil65
Mangala68
Muruwari12
Narungga25
Ngarluma42
Ngarrindjeri312
Nyamal25
Nyangumarta211
Nyungar475
Paakantyi42
Palyku/Nyiyaparli5
Wajarri145
Wiradjuri457
Yindjibarndi377
Yinhawangka39
Yorta Yorta62
Baanbay0
Badimaya3
Barababaraba0
Dadi Dadi0
Dharawal27
Djabwurrung0
Gudjal3
Keerray-Woorroong4
Ladji Ladji0
Mirning0
Ngatjumaya0
Waluwarra0
Wangkangurru3
Wargamay0
Wergaia14
Yugambeh18
Aboriginal English, so described651
Other Australian Indigenous Languages, nec362
Total11,484
Yolngu MathaNo. of Speakers
Yolngu Matha, nfd724
Dhangu, nfd45
Galpu89
Golumala0
Wangurri58
Dhangu, nec4
Dhay’yi, nfd18
Dhalwangu62
Djarrwark0
Dhay’yi, nec0
Dhuwal, nfd266
Djambarrpuyngu4,282
Djapu90
Daatiwuy29
Marrangu7
Liyagalawumirr51
Liyagawumirr16
Dhuwal, nec28
Dhuwala, nfd125
Gumatj116
Gupapuyngu146
Guyamirrilili0
Manggalili0
Wubulkarra15
Dhuwala, nec0
Djinang, nfd107
Wurlaki10
Djinang, nec8
Djinba, nfd14
Ganalbingu54
Djinba0
Manyjalpingu3
Djinba, nec0
Yakuy, nfd0
Ritharrngu22
Wagilak18
Yakuy, nec0
Nhangu0
Yan-nhangu0
Nhangu, nec3
Dhuwaya334
Djangu0
Madarrpa8
Warramiri17
Rirratjingu17
Other Yolngu Matha, nec0
Total6,809
ArandicNo. of Speakers
Arandic, nfd0
Alyawarr1,548
Kaytetye122
Antekerrepenh0
Anmatyerr, nfd105
Central Anmatyerr0
Eastern Anmatyerr4
Anmatyerr, nec531
Arrernte, nfd688
Eastern Arrernte385
Western Arrarnta440
Arrernte, nec840
Arandic, nec0
Total4,662
Torres Strait Island LanguagesNo. of Speakers
Torres Strait Island Languages, nfd335
Kalaw Kawaw Ya/Kalaw Lagaw Ya957
Meriam Mir217
Yumplatok (Torres Strait Creole)6,171
Total7,684

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
LanguagesNew South WalesVictoriaQueenslandSouth AustraliaWestern AustraliaTasmaniaNorthern TerritoryAustralian Capital TerritoryOther TerritoriesAustralia
Arnhem Land and Daly River Region Languages2130881910310,1800010,350
Yolngu Matha27175005206,663006,809
Cape York Peninsula Languages15112,73233020502,789
Torres Strait Island Languages103347,3127127099607,684
Northern Desert Fringe Area Languages1119285754703,261403,928
Arandic121040581504,529004,662
Western Desert Languages2230291,9882,98832,163507,233
Kimberley Area Languages3473975030001,019
Other Australian Indigenous Languages1,1062208886383,992424,531601211,484
Australian Indigenous Languages, nfd6101592,2996181,545213,48244248,803
Total1,92252613,4743,39210,2517034,9561323864,762

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, Customised tables