Australian languages

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AUSTRALIAN LANGUAGES. Some 200 Aboriginal languages were spoken in Australia when British settlers arrived in the later 18c. About 50 are now extinct, 100 are dying, and some 50 are in active first-language use, especially along the north coast of western and central Australia, on Cape York, and in the western and central interior: that is, in places remote from major population centres. There are several thousand speakers of dialects of the Western Desert Language (the best-known of which is Pitjantjatjara) and of Aranda, around Alice Springs. There are many more speakers of Kriol and Torres Strait Creole. English is the first and only language of some 83 per cent of Australia's 16 m people. Minority languages during the 19c included Chinese in goldfield communities, German in a Lutheran settlement in South Australia, and Gaelic and Welsh in rural families. Non-British immigration increased greatly after the Second World War and multilingualism has been encouraged since the 1970s. Immigrant languages spoken by more than 100,000 people are (in decreasing order) Italian, Greek, Chinese. Arabic, and German. See AUSTRALIAN ENGLISH

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Australian languages, aboriginal languages spoken on the continent of Australia. The Australian languages do not appear to be related to any other linguistic family. The exact number of these languages and their dialects is not known, but has been estimated at about 200. Probably less than 100,000 persons still speak them. Many of the Australian languages have already died out. The Australian languages fall into two groups: the large Pama-Nyungan group, and the much smaller non-Pama-Nyungan group. Although their respective grammars exhibit a great degree of variation, the Australian languages still show many similarities. All of them inflect the noun, some having as many as nine cases. The verb lacks a passive voice. Postpositions are used instead of the prepositions typical of Indo-European languages. Most of the Australian languages have three markings for number: singular, dual, and plural. Word order tends to follow a similar pattern in the different tongues. They also show considerable similarity phonetically and have a small common vocabulary. Because of so many shared phonetic and grammatical characteristics some scholars believe that the Australian languages have all evolved from a single ancestor language and therefore belong to the same linguistic family. Others, however, feel that the term "Australian languages" constitutes a geographical rather than a linguistic classification. To date, few of these languages have been studied intensively; classification and other matters remain uncertain.

See S. A. Wurm, Languages of Australia and Tasmania (1972); R. M. W. Dixon, The Languages of Australia (1980).

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AUSTRALIAN LANGUAGE, The. The title of a book on Australian English by Sidney James Baker (1912–76), a New-Zealand-born journalist working in Sydney (1945, Angus & Robertson; 1966, revised, Currawong). Baker attempted to do what H. L. Mencken had done for AmE: establish the independence of the variety and find in it the fullness of an Australian cultural identity. Always tendentious, often idiosyncratic, frequently exasperating because assertive and undocumented, the work has none the less been popular and influential. Baker was interested primarily in the colloquial and in slang. Drawing on written and oral sources, he compiled lists of words from all walks of life, many subsequently shown not to be exclusively Australian. However, his division of local vocabulary into such subject areas as the bush, the road, and the city was influential in shaping the perception of AusE.