Language ecologies explained

Inside Stories From Different Language Ecologies

First Nations peoples across Australia live and work in different language contexts


The Indigenous presenters here are speaking about their personal language experiences.

Presenters reflect on the roles different types of languages play for them or their community: 

  • Traditional Indigenous languages  
  • New Indigenous contact languages
  • Englishes  

The presenters’ experiences represent some of the common language situations (ecologies) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people around Australia, and illustrate the findings of the National Indigenous Languages Report.

Where Englishes are spoken as the main everyday language…

Englishes are the main medium of communication between Indigenous community members

This is the most common contemporary Indigenous language situation

Traditional languages are being reawakened by community activists and their allies through archival and linguistic research and older rememberers, language programs, teaching and learning resources

Aboriginal Englishes may express speakers’ identity, broadly as Indigenous people, and may reflect speakers’ connections to local areas through particular words and expressions

First Nations Presenters 

Craig Duncan Gamilaraay from Moree, NSW

Craig Duncan is a Gamilaraay man who works hard for his language, both in his role as an educator as well as by undertaking further university studies. In this video he shares his pride and passion for his language, Gamilaraay from northwestern NSW, and its importance for cultural identity. He also explains how Aboriginal Englishes mark identity by indicating which area an Aboriginal person comes from. Plus, as an educator, he gives his views of the role of a standard form of English in schools. 

Corina Norman: Dharug and other languages in my life, Sydney NSW

Corina Norman is a committed language teacher who delivers Dharug language and culture programs across the Sydney basin. Corina is an experienced educator who has a passion for her languages, which also include te reo (Māori) on her mother's side, and working to revive them. To assist in this complex endeavour, she has undertaken university studies to increase her skills and knowledge. In this video, Corina shares her thoughts about why Indigenous languages are important for cultural identity. She explains how Aboriginal Englishes are another layer to Aboriginal identity as well as how Standard Australian English has provided opportunities in her life.


Where new Indigenous contact languages are spoken as the main everyday language… 

A creole (e.g. Kriol, Yumplatok, each with over 20,000 speakers) or a mixed language (e.g. Light Warlpiri, New Tiwi, which are more localised) is the main form of communication between Indigenous community members

Traditional languages are also learned, often with assistance from a generation of older fluent speakers, possibly supplemented with language teaching and learning materials, language programs and linguistic research

English is learned as an additional language. Its use locally is restricted to a small number of domains like the classroom and some workplaces (often described as a classroom-only or “foreign language” setting). It requires intentional teaching in school

New Indigenous languages are full and complex languages, but progress towards recognising, naming and accepting them  varies from place to place

Only some speakers of new Indigenous languages have experience of learning literacy or accessing the curriculum in their language 

First Nations Presenter

Josie Lardy: Mangarrayi and Kriol mob, Jilkminggan Northern Territory

Josie is a multilingual educator who works with Kriol and Mangarrayi as well as Standard Australian English. She explains how she learned each of these languages and how they have figured in her family and her working life. Josie talks about the role of Kriol in everyday community life in Jilkminggan (NT) and its use in education and information for the community. She speaks about the position of Mangarrayi, and revival efforts with a single fluent older speaker (Aunty Sheila Conway) and middle-aged generations who understand partially. Through her travels, Josie has heard Aboriginal English spoken in different parts of Australia and recognises this as an expression of identity, like other Indigenous languages.


Where traditional Indigenous languages are spoken as the main everyday language… 

They are the main form of communication for children and adults in the family and they are spoken between Indigenous community members as their main everyday language

Even “strong” traditional languages which are spoken across all generations do not have large speaker numbers of speakers (e.g. each language has under 5,000 speakers)

English is learned as an additional language. Its use locally is restricted to a small number of domains like the classroom and some workplaces (often described as a classroom-only or “foreign language” setting). It requires intentional teaching in school.

A new Indigenous contact language might also be known, due to associating with speakers in nearby communities, in the extended family or in regional activities such as high school boarding facilities, sporting competitions etc

Only some speakers of these strong traditional languages have been supported in bilingual education or other language programs to learn literacy and access the curriculum in their language

First Nations Presenter 

Baressa Frazer: Languages in Aurukun, far north Queensland

Baressa Frazer belongs to the Puuch Clan of Aurukun on western Cape York. Her languages are Wik Mungkan and Wik Ngathan. Baressa is an experienced educator, having worked in school leadership, teaching, adult education and community engagement roles. She is a published author and is currently undertaking postgraduate studies. Baressa explains how Wik Mungkan, the main language of everyday community life, has a pivotal role in communicating effectively with the community. English is like a foreign language in Aurukun, as it is not part of day to day interactions between local people. Due to family connections and historical links, many people in Aurukun also have some familiarity with contact language varieties spoken in surrounding communities. 

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University