Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and languages are strong, supported and flourishing.
By 2031, there is a sustained increase in number and strength of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages being spoken.
At the time of colonisation, it is estimated that around 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages were spoken in Australia. Since 2004, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) has conducted a nationwide survey every five to six years to capture the state of First Nations languages, called the National Indigenous Languages Survey (NILS). To date, three NILS have been completed. Each survey has had a slightly different objective and methodology, and while they reveal a comprehensive view of Australia’s Indigenous languages, they are not comparable over time. In general, it is likely that First Nations languages in Australia are in decline, or at best, have plateaued. The most recent survey found that:
Language strength is defined by the number of speakers, and transmission of language. However, even the languages classified as ‘strong’ require purposeful and ongoing maintenance.
All Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages need to be maintained and revitalised. The focus of this target is to recognise the importance of language and culture in the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Baseline data for the target measure is presented below at the national level; data by state and territory was not available.
|NILS1 2004-5b||NILS2 2014-15c||NILS3d|
|Total languages spoken currently (including those being reawakened)||145||Around 120||123|
|Total new languages spoken currently||2|
|Strong languages||18||13 traditional||12 traditional|
|2 creole||2 creole|
|Critically endangered languages||110||100||29|
|Severely endangered languages||22|
|Languages gaining speakers||30f||31e|
National Indigenous Languages Surveys, AIATSIS.
The charts below present the data on the number of languages spoken according to the NILS, and the number of languages which were classified as ‘strong’ in the NILS over time. Caveats to the data are also noted. Since this is not a numeric target, possible pathways to the agreed target are presented in terms of total number of languages spoken as well as for the number of strong languages.
NIAA analysis of NILS data.
The NILS data aims to be detailed and comprehensive. However, historical differences in the way languages have been defined and classified make it difficult to capture and present data on the languages target in the same way as other targets. Although best available data has been used to produce the baseline, there are several factors need to be considered when interpreting the baseline: