Socioeconomic outcome area 16

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and languages are strong, supported and flourishing

TARGET 16

By 2031, there is a sustained increase in number and strength of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages being spoken.

Nationally in 2018-19, there were 123 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages being spoken (with 14 considered strong) (figure CtG16.1).

There are no new data since the baseline year of 2018-19.

Target data specifications

Target 16: A sustained increase in number and strength of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages being spoken

Outcome:

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and languages are strong, supported and flourishing.

Target:

By 2031, there is a sustained increase in number and strength of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages being spoken.

Indicator:

The number and strength of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages being spoken.

Measure:

This measure is defined as:

a: The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages being spoken.

b: The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages categorised as strong.

Target established:

National Agreement on Closing the Gap July 2020

Latest dashboard update:

23 June 2021

Indicator type:

Target

Interpretation of change:

A high or increasing number is desirable. An increase from the baseline year is an improvement.

Data source(s):

Name: National Indigenous Languages Surveys (NILS)

Frequency: Periodic. National Indigenous Languages Surveys are conducted at irregular intervals: NILS1 in 2004-05, NILS2 in 2014-15 and NILS3 in 2018-19. There is currently no date set for future iterations of the NILS.

Documentation (links): https://aiatsis.gov.au/research/current-projects/third-national-indigenous-languages-survey

Data provider:

Provider name: Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS)

Provider area: Languages

Baseline year:

2018-19

Target year:

2030-31

Disaggregations:

Australia, by number of languages spoken currently

Australia, by number of new languages spoken currently

Australia, by number of strong languages

Australia, by number of endangered languages (critically and severely endangered)

Australia, by number of languages gaining speakers.

Computation:

The NILS3 uses the following definitions:

Strong language: the language is used by all age groups, including all children, and people in all age groups are fluent speakers.

New language: Australian languages that have formed since 1788 from language contact between speakers of traditional languages with speakers of English and/or other languages.

Critically endangered: the language is used mostly by the great-grandparental generation and older. Only people in the great-grandparental generation and older may remember some of the language and may not use it very often.

Severely endangered: the language is mostly used by the grandparental generation and older. Only people in the grandparental generation and older may still understand the language.

There is no overlap between 'Endangered languages' categories. In the 2018-19 AIATSIS, each language has been assigned to only one endangerment category based on two indicators: absolute numbers of speakers, and intergenerational transmission.

Traditional languages: the term used to refer to languages spoken by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people prior to colonisation, or the directly descended varieties spoken today. Individual traditional languages have individual names.

Data quality considerations:

Although best available data have been used to produce the baseline, there are several factors needed to be considered when interpreting the baseline:

  • Each NILS has had slightly different objectives and therefore methodologies have differed. The methodology for future NILS may change, making it difficult to provide time series data.
  • The term ‘languages’ usually refers to distinct systems of communication that are not mutually intelligible. Some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages may be mutually intelligible but speakers prefer to describe them as different languages. For example, Western Desert Language includes Ngaayatjarra and Pitjantjatjarra, which are mutually intelligible, but speakers tend to refer to them as separate languages.
  • Assessing and comparing proficiency of languages across the NILS series is difficult because of the use of different measures of proficiency.
  • It can be difficult to grade the vitality of a language.
  • There are complexities in arriving at precise numbers. NILS respondents self-report, and various respondents for an individual language variety may have differing interpretations of survey questions, or may be considering differing criterion or measures in their response.
  • NILS data may be affected by poor geographical and demographic coverage due to an inability to reach remote and rural areas, and an undercounting of children.
  • State and territory data are not available as in many instances, languages are not contained wholly in one state or territory.

Future reporting:

Additional disaggregations required for future reporting:

Languages by:

  • Traditional languages and Creole languages (Kriol and Yumplatok/Torres Strait Creole)
  • Geographic area (jurisdiction, remoteness where possible)
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Strength of languages (according to AIATSIS measures) including languages in the process of retrieval/revival.

Supporting indicators

Driver

  • Proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages categorised as strong
  • Number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages being spoken
  • Number and age profile of the speakers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages
    Including children
  • Proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who speak an Indigenous language

Contextual information

  • Number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people accessing Commonwealth funded language centres to maintain and preserve languages

Material for download

The Productivity Commission acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, waters and community. We pay our respects to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures, Country and Elders past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, voices or names of people who have passed away.