Aboriginal people were able to speak up to 5 languages fluently, but now many languages are critically endangered.
Lack of knowledge already have cost lives.
Aboriginal language is yet to be formally included in schools despite students being “hungry” to learn them.
- Number of Aboriginal languages spoken in Australia before invasion .
- Number of dialects spoken in Australia before invasion .
- Number of Aboriginal languages considered 'alive' and in use as a first tongue today .
- Percentage of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people mainly speaking an Aboriginal language at home in 2008, unchanged from 2002 . 75% of these can also speak English .
- Percentage of Indigenous people in some remote areas of Australia whose speak an Aboriginal language at home .
- Percentage of Aboriginal adults who identified with a clan, language or tribal group in 2008. Same figure in 2002: 54% .
- Number of people in NSW who identified as speaking an Aboriginal language in the 2006 census. Same figure in 2002: 2,682 .
- Percentage of surveyed West Australians who support the inclusion of Indigenous languages as part of the school curriculum .
- Number of Aboriginal languages spoken in Australia today. 110 of them are "critically endangered" .
- Number of Aboriginal languages and dialects spoken in New South Wales before the arrival of Europeans .
- Number of Aboriginal languages spoken in New South Wales today .
- Number of Aboriginal languages in NSW considered healthy enough to be included in school curriculums .
- Number of Aboriginal people whose mother tongue is an Aboriginal language. People who speak Yolngu: 6,000, Arrernte: 3,000, Warlpiri: 3,000 .
Too little Aboriginal bilingual education
English-only schools do not account for Aboriginal language speakers. Bilingual education is “most effective” yet often at the mercy of government policies.
Aboriginal words in Australian English
Australia’s language is interspersed with words that come from Aboriginal languages.
Aboriginal words are still added to the Australian vocabulary, and meanings are not what you expected.
Aboriginal place names
European invasion brought along new names for places in Australia. More and more are get their original names back as Australians become aware of their history.
Some meanings, however, have been lost forever.
When I speak language, it makes me feel [at] home.—Roger Hart, Aboriginal elder 
I think that Australia holds one of the world's records for linguicide, for the killing of language.—Prof Ghil'ad Zuckermann, linguist, Adelaide University 
Language and Aboriginal people
Aboriginal languages are critically endangered. Of the 250 Aboriginal languages which existed before colonisation, 145 were still spoken in 2005, but 110 of these are critically endangered (shown in red).
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Aboriginal people are experts when it comes to language. Before the invasion many were able to speak at least two or three and up to five languages or dialects fluently. Because they had an oral culture they were masters in remembering, contrary to the dominant western culture today who relies on the written word.
In my community, it was common to speak 10 languages. Speaking three wasn't that impressive.—Lorraine Injie, Aboriginal woman, Pilbara, WA 
“[Aboriginal] language is an important embodiment of cultural heritage, knowledge, tradition and identity unique to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” says Russell Taylor, Principal of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) .
For Aboriginal Senior Australian of the Year and Yolngu Elder Laurie Baymarrwangga language carries the essence of Aboriginal culture. “The important thing about language and what it means is that language contains the essence of the ancestors, every word comes from place, and identifies people and links to land, country, the dreaming; they are all inherent in language, therefore it means the people, the land, everything.” 
Even if language is acquired later in life it can instil a sense of well-being and belonging for many Indigenous people who have lost ties to their culture .
Aboriginal people “often don’t even know that [their mother] language is still strong and people speak it. When we show that to them it just blows their mind,” says Ken Walker, NSW North Coast Gumbaynggirr Aboriginal language teacher .
Yolngu [north-Australian] language is our power, our foundation, our root and everything that holds us together. [It] gives us strength; language is our identity, who we are. Yolngu language gives us pride. Language is our law and justice.—Yalmay Yunupingu, Aboriginal teacher 
In the language are our ideas and we need them, the world needs them.—Bruce Pascoe, Aboriginal teacher 
Why are Aboriginal languages lost?
Many Aboriginal languages are lost because up until the 1970s government policies banned and discouraged Aboriginal people from speaking their languages. Members of the Stolen Generations were one such group.
In many cases, children were barred from speaking their mother tongue at school or in Christian missions.
“Sometimes Aboriginal parents also thought that their language would hold their kids back, so they wouldn’t use it,” Professor Michael Walsh, an expert on Aboriginal languages, says .
Early attempts to document Aboriginal languages usually focused on simple word lists for novel items such as weapons and animals.
First Fleet officer William Dawes is a notable exception. He recorded conversational snippets of the Dharug language spoken around Sydney that tell of the social and cultural contexts, personalities, actions and feelings of the Aboriginal people he interacted with . Dawes was taught by a 15-year-old Aboriginal girl named Patyegarang.
What happens if a language is lost?
Languages carry cultural knowledge, so the loss of a language means the loss of culture, of Aboriginal people’s connection to their ancestors.
This in turn has the potential to impact on Aboriginal people’s health and well-being. Research shows that strong culture and identity helps develop resilience .
Professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann, a linguist from the Adelaide University, agrees: “Without a language, you do not have cultural autonomy, you do not have intellectual sovereignty, you do not have culture, you do not have heritage,” he says .
The loss of languages is also associated with economic and social costs.
What is Kriol?
Many older Aboriginal people do not speak English as their first or second language.
They speak traditional languages as well as Kriol. Kriol is a spelling variation of ‘creole’ which denotes a stable natural language developed from the mixing of parent languages.
Despite the language’s similarities to English in vocabulary, it has a distinct syntactic structure and grammar, and is, therefore, a language in its own right.
The Kriol spoken across the north of Australia varies from east to west, and there are several dialects, even within the Kimberley region.
Many young Aboriginal people in the Kimberley grow up speaking Kriol, only learning English when they attend school.
Teaching Aboriginal languages at school
At schools in Western Australia, for example, the school curriculum includes up to three Asian languages, but there is no formal inclusion of any Aboriginal language. If such a language is taught it is by agreement between individual schools and Aboriginal language teachers or speakers .
But student numbers are encouraging with 6,400 WA students studying an Aboriginal language compared to 4,000 students learning Mandarin .
They were just so hungry for the Nyoongar language we taught in school. We taught them the whole program and they just loved it.—Janet Hayden, Nyoongar Elder and language teacher 
Ms Hayden continues: “They wanted more and more, and when we left the teachers all said ‘please come back, don’t forget us’, and that was in a white community. One very distinguished gentleman came up to me and he had tears in his eyes and said I had opened his eyes to Aboriginal culture and what Aboriginal people were all about.” 
Teaching Aboriginal languages increases the esteem and pride of Aboriginal students, and it has a positive impact on their attendance and participation in school . Some research indicates that it improves their physical and mental health. People who have lost their identity are quite conflicted.
We see the teaching of languages in schools as being critical to the maintenance of Indigenous languages and to the maintenance of our overall cultural identity as Australians.—Andrew Thompson, spokesman Western Australian Education Department 
Have you ever listened to Aboriginal language?
Many people, even many Australians, have never listened to Aboriginal language.
View the following video Language Stories - Mijil Mil Mia and listen to the Aboriginal elder’s story from the Kimberley (subtitles provided).
The antidote to intolerance
At Vincentia High School, about 190 kms south of Sydney in NSW, students are taught Dhurga, the language of the Yuin Nation .
Classes are compulsory for every student in Year Eight, Indigenous or non-Indigenous. By the time students receive their School Certificate they have undergone 100 hours of Dhurga instruction.
In those 100 hours they will have learnt that Dhurga is one language amongst hundreds of Aboriginal languages and given a different perspective through which to view Australia.
Jonathan Hill, a Dhurga teacher at Vincentia High School, reckons that “this type of education is the antidote to the tide of intolerance that infects the modern mind. By sharing this ancient knowledge with our youth, we are giving them the chance to empathise and engage with our Aboriginal heritage.” 
Aboriginal language: When yes means no
Sometimes women say ‘no’ but mean ‘yes’. But it might surprise that many Aboriginal people say ‘yes’ and mean ‘no’.
Research uncovered that Aboriginal people often answer ‘yes’ to advances by salespeople to appease the salesperson and politely end the conversation . Salespeople however took their ‘yes’ as agreement and sealed the contract with dire consequences.
Hundreds of Aboriginal people entered unintentionally into exploitative, unfair contracts to buy, lease or lay-by products and services they can’t afford and don’t understand. The North Queensland-based Indigenous Consumer Assistance Network (ICAN) cancelled more than 800 contracts, preventing an estimated $2 million of financial detriment , which they consider the “tip of the iceberg”.
Similarly, Aboriginal people “agree” in everyday conversations with non-Indigenous people. They try to politely tell the person that they do not want or can’t answer their questions or request because they haven’t built enough trust yet or it is not their call to reveal the answers.
Lack of Aboriginal language interpreters
A lack of Aboriginal language interpreters literally costs lives.
As English for many Aboriginal people is a second, third, sometimes even fifth, language, many struggle to understand medical advice, court orders and other vital information. In the Kimberley region in northern Australia there are 26 language groups alone.
A report released in June 2010 by the Equal Opportunity Commission on Indigenous interpreting services found a lack of qualified interpreters severely affected the ability of Aboriginal people to access crucial government services such as justice and health. It found 20% of remote Aboriginal people had difficulty understanding or being understood by service providers .
Court jargon and medical terminology can be difficult, and we need to explain it to people. It's very, very complicated.—Annette Kogolo, Walmajarri woman and co-chair of the Kimberley Interpreting Service 
For staff in most city hospitals it is easier to get an interpreter for almost any language on the face of the Earth than for local Aboriginal languages.—Judith Dwyer, professor of health care management, Flinders University 
When misunderstandings cost lives
An Aboriginal baby died because the mother did not understand the doctor’s instructions to apply a medicine only on the body. Instead the mother made the baby take it orally .
Perpetual parole breaker
An Aboriginal person constantly broke parole until an interpreter was engaged to explain the reporting conditions properly .
Court decision voided
A South Australian Supreme Court judge upheld an appeal of an Aboriginal man because he was not given a fair hearing due to the lack of qualified translators .
Eight times the trial required a language interpreter but only once did one arrive. The lawyer had to ask a sentenced prisoner with little knowledge of the English language to step in, while another prisoner assisted the psychiatrist during his assessment of the man.
The judge ruled that the accused man was “deprived of his rights”.
Read what happens to Aboriginal people who don’t understand the white law system: “I plead guilty!”
If you are interested in researching Aboriginal languages check out the following websites.
Dharug Dalang is a site launched in October 2010. It features hundreds of words, some of which are read out to you so you can learn their pronunciation.
The site has also background information and video interviews about language of Aboriginal people.
Check it out: www.dharug.dalang.com.au.
Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (IATSIS)
IATSIS’ Australian Indigenous languages database AUSTLANG allows you to search for Aboriginal languages by name, place name or by navigating Australia through Google Maps.
AUSTLANG website. The site is fast to navigate and offers many ways to explore Aboriginal languages.
Indigenous communities are as diverse as Indigenous languages.—Jimmy Pascoe, traditional owner, Maningrida, West Arnhemland, Northern Territory 
Known languages before invasion & genocide
Abodja, Adinda, Adnyamathanha, Adyinuri, Aghu-Tharngala, Agwamin, Aji, Alawa, Algan(Wig-), Alngith, Alura, Alyawarre, Amangu, Ami, Amurrag, Anaiwan, Andajin, Andigiribinha, Angkamuthi, Anguthimri, Anindilyakwa, Anjingid, Antikirinya, Arabana, Aragawal, Arawari, Aridinngidhigh, Arngam, Arrernte, Awabakala, Ayabadhu, Ayerrerenge, Ba rangu, Ba:na, Ba:nggala, Baanbay-Ahnbi, Badimaya, Badjalang, Badjiri, Bagandji, Baganu, Balardung, Balgalu, Balmawi, Banambila, Bandjagali, Bandjin, Banjgaranj, Banyjimad, Baraban, Baradaybahrad, Baramangga, Baranbinja, Baraparapa, Bardi, Bardrdala, Barunggama, Batjala, Bayali, Bedaruwidj, Bemba, Berrkali, Biangil, Bibbulmann, Bidawal, Bidia, Bididji(Gugu-), Bidjara, Bigambul, Bilamandji, BilinBilin, Bin-gonginad, Binbinga, Bindal, Binggu, Binjarub, Birbai, Birdingal, Biri, Birladapa, Birniridjara, Bolali, Bouliboul, Brabirawilung, Brabralung, Braiakaulung, Bratauolung, Buan, Bugongidja, Bugula, Bujibada, Bujundji(Gugu-), Buluguda, Buluwandji, Bun wurrung, Bunara, Bundhamara Punthamara, Buneidja, Bungandidjk (=Buandig ), Bunggura, Bunuba, Bural-bural, Buranadjinid, Burarra, Cabbee, Coastal Lamalama, Da:rdiwuy, Da:wa(Gugu-), Dadi-dadi, Dagoman, Daguda, Dainiguid, Dajoror, Damala, Dambu-gawumirr, Danganegald, Dangbon, Darambal, Dargudi, Daribelum, Darkinyung, Darmarmiri, Daungwurrung, Debidigh, Dhaapuyngu, Dhalla, Dhalwangu, Dhanggagali, Dhanggatti, Dharug, Dharumba, Dhawa, Dhayyi, Dhiyakuy, Dhuduroa, Dhurga, Ding-Ding, Diraila, Dirari, Diyari, Djabadja, Djabwurrung, Djadja wurrung, Djadjala, Djagaraga, Djagunda, Djalarguru, Djalgandi, Djamandja, Djambarrpuyngu, Djambarrpuyngu, Djandjandji, Djangun, Djapu, Djarawala, Djargudi, Djarn, Djarrwark, Djerag, Djeraridjal, Djerimanga, Djial, Djidjijamba, Djinang, Djinba, Djirin, Djiru, Djuban, Djulngai, Djungurdja, Do:dj, Dolpuyngu, Dudu, Dulua, Dungidjau, Dyeraid, Dyirbal, Dyirringany, Dyowei, Eastern Torres Strait, Eora, Gabalbaral, Gabin, Gadang, Gadyarawang, Gagadju, Galali, Galawlwan, Galibamu, Galpu, Galwa, Galwangug, Gamberra, Gambuwal, Gamilaraay, Ganalpuynguh, Ganganda, Ganggalida, Gangulul, Garama, Garandi, Garanggaba, Garanguru, Garanya, Garawa, Garendala, Garingba, Garmalanggad, Garuwali, Gawambaray, Gay-Gay, Gayiri, Geawegal, Geinyan, Giabal, Gidabal, Gidjingali, Gigi, Gilibal, Gingana, Giraiwurung, Girramay, Giya, Go:la, Gobadeindamirr, Goinbal, Going, Golpa, Gonani:n, Gonggandji, Gonin, Gonjmal, Gooniyandi, Goreng, Goreng goreng, Grawadungalung, Gudabal, Gudjala, Gudjalavia, Gudjandju, Gugada, Gugu Warra, Gugu Yalanji, Gugu-Badhun, Gugu-Dhayban, Gujambal, Gujangal, Gulin, Gulngay, Gulumali, Gulunggor-Gulungo, Guluwarin, Gumatj, Gumbainggirr, Gun-djeihmi, Gunardba, Gunavidji, Gundara, Gundidy, Gundudj, Gundungura, Gungabula, Gungadidji, Gungaragan, Gunggalenjad, Gunggarbara, Gunggari, Gunggariganhgg, Gunindiri, Gunjbarai, Gunya, Gupapuyngu, Guragone, Gurdu(-wanga), Gureendyi, Gurindji, Gurnuornu, Gurung, Gurungada, Guugu Yimithirr, Guurindyi, Guwa, Guwamu, Guwij, Guyangal, Gwandera, Gwijamil, Ia:d, Ibarga, Indjilinji, Inggarda, Iningai, Jaabugay, Jabirr jabirr, Jagalangu, Jalugal, Jalung (Gugu-), Jalunju(Gugu-), Jambina, Jaminjung, Jan(Gugu-), Janari, Janggondju, Janjango, Janju(Gugu-), Jardwadjali, Jaru, Jawa(Gugu-), Jawaraworgad, Jawi, Jawoyn, Ji:randali, Jiduwa, Jingilu, Jirgandji, Jiwarli, Jugaiwadha, Jukun, Jurruru, Juwula, Kala, Kalaku, Kalamaya, Kalkatungu, Kamu, Kanai, Kaniyang, Karajarri, Kariyarra, Kaurna, Kayardild, Kaytetye, Kija, Kiyajarra, Kokatha, Koko bera, Kolakngat, Ku-ring-gai, Kugu-Muminh, Kukatj, Kukatja, Kulin, Kunbarlang, Kune, Kunjen, Kunwinjku, Kurrama, Kurtantji, Kurtjar, Kuthant, Kuuku-Ya u, Kuwarra, Kuyani, Kwini, Ladamngid, Ladji-Ladji, Lama-Lamai, Lamami, Laragiya, Lardil, Lewurung, Linngithigh, Liyagalawumirr, Luritja, Luthigh, Mabuyag, Madarrpa, Madhi-madhi, Madngele, Madoidja, Magalranalmiri, Maia, Maidjara, Majuli, Malak Malak, Malara, Malarbardjuradj, Malardordo, Malkana, Malngin-Maialnga, Malyangapa, Mamangidigh, Mamu, Mamwura, Manatja, Mandandanji, Mandelpi, Mandjigai, Mangarayi, Mangarla, Mangeri, Manggalili, Mangu, Mangula, Manjiljarra, Manu, Manunguy, Mara, Maradanggimiri, Maramanindji, Marangu, Maranunggu, Mararba, Marawara, Maraway, Mardidjali, Margany, Margu, Marrakulu, Marrithiyel, Martuthunira, Martuwangka, Marulda, Marungun, Maung, Mawula, Mayali, Mayi-Kulan, Mayi-Kutuna, Mayi-Thakurti, Mayi-Yapi, Mbabaram, Mbambylmu, Mbara, Mbiywonn, Mbo aru, Meindangg, Meriam, Mian, Midhaga, Midjamba, Milamada, Miliwuru, Min-kin, Minang, Mini(Gugu-), Minjangbal, Miriwoong, Mirning, Miwa, Moil, Mpalityanh, Mudalga, Mudumui, Muluridji(Gugu-), Mulyara, Mun-narngo, Munumburru, Muralag, Murngin, Murrinh, Murumidja, Muruwari, Mutpurra, Nabarlgu, Nada (-jara) (-wanga), Nakkara, Nalawgiynhahlhaw, Nambuguja, Nangadadjara, Nanggumiri, Nangiblerbid, Nangorg, Narangga, Nargala, Nargalundju, Nari-nari, Narrinyari, Natanya, Nawo, Ndorndorin, Ndra ngidh, Ngaanyatjarra, Ngaatjatjara, Ngadhugudi, Ngadjuri, Ngagu, Ngajan, Ngaladu, Ngalakan, Ngalgbon, Ngalia, Ngaliwuru, Ngambaa, Ngamini, Ngandangarad, Ngandi, Ngandjar (Wig-), Ngangurugu, Ngarduk, Ngarigu, Ngarinyin, Ngarinyman, Ngarkat, Ngarla, Ngarluma, Ngaro, Ngatjumaya, Ngawait, Ngawun, Ngayawung, Ngayimil, Ngengenwurung, Ngewin, Nggerigudi, Ngindadj, Ngiyampaa, Ngkoth, Ngoera, Ngorbur, Ngu rand, Nguburindi, Ngugi, Ngumbarl, Ngunawal, Nguramola, Nguri, Ngurlu, Ngurlu, Nhanta, Nhuwala, Nimanburru, Njegudi, Njirma, Njunggal(Gugu-), Njuwadhai, Nordanimin, NorweilimilLemil, Ntrangith, Nuguna, Nundjulbi, Nungali, Nungara, Nunggubuyu, Nungulrulbuy, Nunugal, Nyagi-Nyagi, Nyamal, Nyangga, Nyangumarta, Nyawaygi, Nyikina, Nyininy, Nyiyaparli, Nyulnyul, Ogerliga, Oidbi, Olgol, Palyku, Payungu, Pinikura, Pintupi, Pitjantjatjara, Pitta-pitta, Portawulun, Pulinara, Purduna, Putijarra, Raggaja, Raijang, Ralwia, Ramindjari, Rarmul(Gugu-), Rembarrnga, Rereri, Ribh, Ringu-ringu, Rirratjingu, Ritharrngu, Takalak, Thaayorre, Thalanyji, Tharrkari, Thiin, Tiwi, Tjungundji, Ulaolinja, Ulwawadjana, Umbindhamu, Umbuigamu, Umpila, Ungawangadi, Unggumi, Unjadi, Urningangg, Waanyi, Wad:a, Wada wurrung, Wadi-Wadi, Wadi-wadi, Wadi(-wanga), Wadigali, Wadja, Wadjabangaid, Wadjingi:n, Wadyalang, Wagaman, Wagara (Gugu-), Wagelag, Wageman, Waiangara, Waidjinga, Wailywan, Wajarri, Wajuk, Wakaya, Wakirti, Wakka-wakka, Walajangarri, Walamangu-Walamangu, Walandja(Gugu-), Walangama, Walbanga, Walboram, Waldja(Gugu-), Walgal, Walgi, Walmajarri, Walmbaria, Walu, Walyan, Wampaya, Wandandian, Wangaypuwan, Wanggamala, Wanggamanha, Wangganguru, Wanggadyara, Wanggara, Wanggatha/Wangkatja, WanggumaraWangkumara, Wangurri, Wankan, Wanudjara, Wanyiwarlku, Wanyjirra, Wanyurr, Wardal, Wardaman, Wardandi, Wardibara, Wareidbug, Wargi, Warlmanpa, Warlpiri, Warndarang, Warnman, Warramiri, Warray, Warrgamay, Warriyangka, Warrumungu, Warrungu, Warrwa, Watjanti, Wawula, Waygur, Wemba, Wembria, Wengej, Widi, Widjabal, Widjandja, Widjilg, Wiilmana, Wik-Epa, Wik-Me anha, Wik-Mungkan, Wik-Ngathana, Wik-Ngathara, Wik-ompona, Wilawila, Wilingura, Wilyagali, Wilyali, Wilyara, Wimarangga, Wiradjuri, Wirangu, Wirdinya, Wiri, Wiriyaraay, Witukari, Wogait, Woljamidi, Wonganja, Wonggadjara, Wonnarua, Woralul-Uronlurl, Worgabunga, Worla(ja), Worrorra, Wotjobaluk, Wubulkarra, Wudhadhi, Wudjaari, Wulagi, Wulbudyibur, Wulguru, Wulwulam, Wunambal, Wunumarad, Wurangu, Wurangung, Wurungugu, Wuy wurrung, Yabula-Yabula, Yadymadhang, Yakara, Yalanga, Yanda, Yandruwantha, Yanga, Yangga, Yangkaal, Yangman, Yanhangu, Yankunytjatjara, Yanyuwa, Yaraldi, Yaraytyana, Yardliyawara, Yari-Yarit, Yarluyandi, Yawuru, Yaygirr, Yidiny, Yiiji, Yilba, Yilngali, Yiman, Yindjibarndi, Yinhawangka, Yinwan, Yir Yoron, Yirawirung, Yitha Yitha, Yiwayja, Yorta yorta, Yu-yu, Yu:ngai, Yuat, Yubumbee, Yugambal, Yugul, Yuin, Yukulta, Yulparija, Yumu, Yunggor, Yuru, Yuwaalaraay, Yuwibara
Last updated: 24 May 2013 | Out of respect for Aboriginal culture I use Indigenous sources as much as possible.
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