- 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 .
- Number of Noongar people who speak Noongar. Total number of Noogar people: 40,000 .
List of linked articles
How many Aboriginal language speakers are left?
An overview of the number of speakers for selected Aboriginal languages.
Lack of Aboriginal language interpreters can cost lives
English is still a foreign language for many Aboriginal people. If they don’t understand they are disadvantaged at best, dead at worst.
Teaching Aboriginal languages at school
Students are hungry to learn an Aboriginal language, but teachers are few and far between. Aboriginal languages are mostly taught by agreement.
Kriol & Yumplatok: Mixed languages
Languages mix just like people do. Kriol and Yumplatok are two languages from such a union.
Loss of Aboriginal languages
Before invasion more than 250 Aboriginal languages existed in Australia. Only 60 of them are still considered healthy.
Why are so many lost?
Why translating English to Aboriginal languages is so hard
There is no single ‘Aboriginal word’ for an English one. Cultural differences make translating between Aboriginal and other languages very difficult. ‘Informed consent’ is a long way away.
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
Australians use many words from Aboriginal languages. Aboriginal words are still added to the Australian vocabulary, and meanings are not what you expect.
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.
Aboriginal language preservation & revival
Language initiatives emerge aiming to protect and revive Aboriginal languages, including online projects.
They are urgently required: many languages are under threat of dying with their last speaker.
List of short articles
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 
Multilingual memory masters
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) .
Languages don’t just carry information. They also link to land, stories, Dreaming tracks, botanical, medicinal and navigational techniques, and historical experiences of colonialism, racism and prejudice .
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 
Aboriginal language groups
Language groups such as Yolnu Matha (“the people’s tongue”) are not languages. Under the Yolŋu Matha family of languages, there are between 48 and 60 languages. 
When considering Aboriginal language groups, note that Aboriginal people have moved inter-state, voluntarily or not. An Aboriginal person living in a particular state may not be from that state originally.
For example, if an Aboriginal person originally from Western Australia is now living in NSW, they would still consider themselves to be a Nyungar/Nyoongar rather than a Koori.
|State or territory||Aboriginal language group(s)|
|New South Wales||Koori, Goorie, Koorie, Coorie, Murri|
|Northern Territory||Yolngu (top end), Anangu (central)|
|South Australia||Nunga, Nyungar, Nyoongah|
|Western Australia||Nyungar, Nyoongar|
Traditional hand signs & sign language
You’ll be quick to agree that when Aboriginal people were out hunting they couldn’t just call out to each other—it would have scared away their game. So they developed an intricate sign language to signal to each other.
But hand signs were not only used for hunting. Uses of sign language were very varied :
- Mourning. During extended periods of mourning women (but not men) of the Warumungu and Warlpiri used signs instead of speech, sometimes for longer than a year.
- Long-distance communication.Sign language is used when communicating over a large distance as talking out loud is considered inappropriate. Using sign language during hunting would also fall into this category.
- Confidential information. When trying to avoid being overheard sign language is also used. I’ve experienced this first-hand when I was travelling with a backpack with an Aboriginal flag on it. In a restaurant, I could see a young couple gesticulating with each other while looking at the backpack.
- Sacred information. When referring to ceremonial issues Aboriginal people use sign language to codify or obscure the restricted information.
- Adding emphasis. Sign language is also used to add emphasis to verbal speech (which many non-Aboriginal people do as well).
In the Western Desert areas men use sign language more than women, mainly ceremonially in initiation rituals or during hunting.
Sign languages have been used throughout the dry inner Australian areas as well as in northeast Arnhem Land and western Cape York. Most sign languages studied were found to be closely related to the spoken language, thus foreign to other Aboriginal nations.
Adam Kendon is considered an expert in this area with his stellar work Sign Languages of Aboriginal Australia.
Clifton Bieundurry explains more about the many uses of sign language in the following video.
Hand signs are considered one of two competing ideas about how early humans developed language . In an experiment with university students, who were not allowed to use language, they became fluent very quickly in a sign language they developed, rather than the use of vocalisations.
Have you ever listened to Aboriginal language?
Many people, even many Australians, have never listened to Aboriginal language.
Here’s a video where Taliah King sings the Australian anthem in Dharawal language (recorded at the Reconciliation ceremony in Shellharbour City in 2013):
Aboriginal language: When yes means no
Sometimes people say ‘no’ when they 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.
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.
Indigenous communities are as diverse as Indigenous languages.—Jimmy Pascoe, traditional owner, Maningrida, West Arnhemland, Northern Territory