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

AUSTRALIAN LANGUAGE, The

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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.

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Australian languages

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Australian languages