Population of speakers of Australian indigenous languages, marked by territories on the Tindale map.

Produced by Nicholas Thieberger, AIATSIS, 1994, revised 1996.

This map shows the number of speakers of Australian languages as per the Tindale map (1974). According to this work 25 named varieties have over 1000 speakers, 11 between 500 and 1000, 43 between 100 and 500, and 526 below 100, many of these having no speakers at all.

This map is produced in MapInfo and maps tabulated data on a vector-based geographic representation of Tindale's map of tribal distribution.

This representation has a number of problems. First is the Tindale map itself, which lists many languages (there are 605 named varieties on this map), some of which are unknown in any other literature.

Another problem is the identification of people with a language who may not speak it. There are good discussions of links between land and language and group identity by Sutton, Merlan and Rumsey. The need to reidentify with particular areas of land has led to the reidentification with particular languages. As Rumsey (1993) points out, this need not imply a communicative use of a language.

To avoid problems of missing out languages with a few speakers, this map lists all languages with under 100 speakers in the same category.

It should be made clear that having a small number of speakers does not necessarily mean that a language will not be passed on. It is the degree of intergenerational contact or, more importantly, how much the younger generation is learning a language that ensures its continued use into the future.

Some language names given by Tindale have either not been recorded since, or are known to be dialects of other languages. When this situation occurs, the area marked on this map uses data from the known variety. For example some Western Desert named varieties have been included into a Western Desert bloc and assigned a value of 1000 speakers, on the basis of information about the whole bloc having over 3000 speakers.

Wenamba according to Black & Walsh 1982 is similar to Jumu and both are here conflated under the general Western Desert label and assigned over 1000 speakers as part of that group. No claim is made about numbers of speakers of either variety as little is known.

Similarly, groups from eastern Arnhem Land have been assigned a group population of over 1000, as the Tindale map only provides for 8 named varieties (and groups four of them together in this map).

In both the Western Desert and the Yolngu cases there are varieties that have fewer speakers, some that have none left, but the high degree of multilingualism within the area and the complexity of establishing differences between groups puts a more detailed analysis outside the scope of this mapping project.

Sources of information used in the map:

Black, P. (1983) Aboriginal languages of the Northern Territory, SAL, Batchelor.

Black, P. and M.Walsh (1982) Guide to the languages of the Aboriginal Australians (ms).

McGregor,W. (1988) Handbook of Kimberley Languages, Pacific Linguistics, C-105, Canberra.

Menning, K. and D.Nash (1981) Sourcebook for Central Australian languages, IAD, Alice Springs.

Oates, L.F. (1975) The 1973 supplement to a revised linguistic survey of Australia, Christian Book Centre, Armidale.

Thieberger, N. (1993)Handbook of WA Aboriginal Languages south of the Kimberley Region Pacific Linguistics, Series C-124, Canberra.