The languages of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are recognised as the cornerstone of indigenous cultural heritage, but suffer under pressures felt by many other threatened linguistic groups around the world.
- At the time of white settlement there were an estimated 250 distinct indigenous languages in Australia. Over half of these are no longer used. Many of those remaining are known to only a handful of elders and face obvious extinction without urgent steps being taken to record them.
- In remote areas of Australia, relative isolation from white influences has resulted in the continued use of the local languages.
- Even though the languages are quite different from each other, many Indigenous speakers are fluent in more than one, reflecting the interaction between different language groups and fluid boundaries.
For Australia’s Indigenous people, languages are inextricably linked to cultural and spiritual identity. Recognition of languages is helping to retain and restore pride in an ancient culture, and boost determination to preserve what can be saved for the enrichment of future generations.
Language holds the key to our people’s history, through songs, legends, poetry and lore. It opens the way to cultural and spiritual understanding.