National Indigenous Languages Survey Report 2005
The Minister for the Arts and Sport, Senator Rod Kemp, today released the National Indigenous Languages Survey Report 2005 which provides an overview of the condition of Australia’s Indigenous languages.
“Indigenous languages are a rich and important part of Australia’s Indigenous cultural heritage and the National Indigenous Languages Survey Report 2005 provides a valuable update on their status,” Senator Kemp said.
The report analyses a national survey on the state of Australia’s Indigenous languages that was commissioned by the Australian Government in 2004. The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) conducted the survey, in conjunction with the Federation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages (FATSIL), and prepared the report.
Senator Kemp said the report documents both the vitality and the vulnerability of Australia’s Indigenous languages.
“It highlights areas that need assistance, recommends future directions for languages policy and highlights how the Australian Government's new whole-of-government approach can assist Indigenous communities protect and strengthen their languages,” Senator Kemp said.
The National Indigenous Languages Survey Report 2005 highlights that:
- Of an original estimated 250 known Australian Indigenous languages, only 18 languages are now considered ‘strong’ and have speakers in all age groups.
- About 110 Indigenous languages are still spoken by older people but are endangered.
- Words and phrases are still in use and there is community support in many parts of the country for reclamation and learning programs for many other languages which are no longer fully spoken.
- Communities around Australia possess many of the elements required to keep Indigenous languages strong or to reclaim them. They have skilled and devoted language workers and teachers, excellent teaching materials, good documentation of languages and active community language centres.
The National Indigenous Languages Survey Report 2005 is available online at: www.dcita.gov.au/indigenous_programs/funding_programs_and_support/Maintenance_of_Indigenous_Languages_and_Records/publications.
The Australian Government’s Maintenance of Indigenous Languages and Records program funds activities to retain and revive Australia’s Indigenous languages. It supports activities that help to maintain the strength of languages that are widely spoken and that preserve and revive endangered languages, where there a limited number of elderly speakers. For more information visit: www.dcita.gov.au/indigenous_programs/funding_programs_and_support/Maintenance_of_Indigenous_Languages_and_Records
31 January 2006
Media contact: Michael Christo 03 9650 7274 or 0409 040276
National Indigenous Languages Survey (NILS) Report 2005
The National Indigenous Languages Survey (NILS) Report 2005 provides a summary and analysis of the results from a survey of Indigenous languages vitality status and resources that was carried out in 2004.
Databases of NILS responses are available from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), subject to NILS confidentiality provisions. AIATSIS contact details are provided at the end of this Executive Summary.
Chapter 5 and the Appendices of this report contain some detailed results, methodology and information from the survey, and detailed recommendations arising from NILS.
The survey itself was innovative in that it was an Internet survey with respondents providing online answers to a questionnaire, with assessments able to be processed as numbers or free text commentary. Telephone interviews and meetings supplemented the information gained from the questionnaire. A separate survey questionnaire was circulated to collecting institutions, and assessment of the AIATSIS audio-visual collection was also conducted.
The analysis of NILS was carried out using ten indicators of the vitality of languages, resources, attitudes and practice. The indicators were based on a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Expert Group’s proposals on assessment of language vitality (UNESCO 2003). In developing the NILS Report language endangerment indicators, which are detailed in Appendix A, reference was also made to work on the State of Indigenous Languages (SOIL) report for Australia (McConvell & Thieberger 2001).
The NILS questionnaire provides a more detailed picture of language proficiency and use for a sample of languages than the Australian census. It is recommended that detailed surveys be carried out on a rolling basis in Australian regions in the future.
One of the main findings of the report was that the situation of Australia’s languages is very grave and requires urgent action. Of an original number of over 250 known Australian Indigenous languages, only about 145 Indigenous languages are still spoken and the vast majority of these, about 110, are in the severely and critically endangered categories. This critically endangered category indicates languages that are spoken only by small groups of people mostly, over 40 years old.
Eighteen languages are strong in the sense of being spoken by all age groups, but three or four of these are showing some signs of moving into endangerment.
Many other languages are not fully spoken by anybody, but words and phrases are used, and there is great community support in many parts of the country for reclamation and heritage learning programs for such languages.
Other detailed recommendations for standards and processes for measuring language endangerment are to be found throughout this report.
Evaluation is an important part of these proposed initiatives and the language endangerment indicators used in NILS are recommended as a basis for the criteria to be used to measure progress in language maintenance and revival programs.
Collaboration between different departments, governments and different programs, particularly between language and education programs, is seen as important. The current Australian Government emphasis on a ‘whole–of-government’ approach is conducive to such initiatives. This report’s recommendations are in line with current policy frameworks attempting to address Indigenous disadvantage.
Contacts for more information on NILS
For more information on the NILS Report or for enquiries on accessing additional NILS results raw data contact:
Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS)
Address: Lawson Cres, Acton, ACT
Postal address: AIATSIS GPO Box 553 Canberra ACT 2601 Australia
Telephone: 02 6246 1111
(International +61 2 6246 1111)
Facsimile: 02 6261 4285
(International +61 2 6261 4285)
Subject to the availability of funding, it is envisaged that some of the data collected in the NILS will be incorporated into AUSTLANG, a web-based Indigenous database, which is under development at AIATSIS. To find this database go to: http://austlang.aiatsis.gov.au
This database is yet to be launched publicly and at the time of publication it was undergoing upgrading to make it more user-friendly.
This report is also available on the Department of Communications, Information
Technology and the Arts website at: www.dcita.gov.au/indigenous_programs/funding_programs_and_support/Maintenance_of_Indigenous_Languages_and_Records/publications
You can also find information on the Australian Government’s Indigenous languages and culture programs at www.dcita.gov.au/indigenous_programs