William Steed writes:
The 2011 census data is out. One of the questions it asked is about the language spoken at home. It reveals some things about the Australian populace that some people may find surprising. Hopefully, they also find it heartening.
Across Australia, 20.4% of households reported speaking more than one language at home (the most commonly reported languages haven’t change: Mandarin, Italian, Arabic, Cantonese and Greek). In Sydney and Melbourne, this rises to over 30%. In Sydney’s Haymarket, around Chinatown, 85% of dwellings reported more than one language. The biggest language groups there were Mandarin (17%) and Thai (14.4%), followed by Indonesian, Korean and Cantonese (continuing the Australian shift away from Cantonese towards Mandarin in the Chinese community).
The newest Australians have some different characteristics. Although a third of new arrivals (since the previous census) in Australia report English as their home language, 10% report Mandarin, and differently to older arrivals, more commonly spoken languages are Punjabi, Hindi and Arabic.
It’s difficult to find data for indigenous languages from what’s been released so far, and it’s difficult to judge the reliability of the census data (for a number of reasons), but there are some heartening reported numbers of indigenous language being spoken in the home, for Warlpiri (2500 dwellings across Australia), Djambarrpuyngu (3000 dwellings) and Pitjantjatjara (4000 dwellings). Kriol (6800 dwellings) and Yumplatok a.k.a. Torres Strait Creole (5300 dwellings) are English-based creoles spoken in a number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia.
What does all this mean for Australia? Frankly, not too much, because while it’s a growth from the previous census, we already knew that Australia is linguistically very diverse. That said, sometimes it is easy to forget just how many people around us speak another language. Some one in five Australian households (and probably a similar ratio of people) speak more than one language. This is a good thing! Most of those people speak English to varying degrees, so there is no reason to complain about communication problems. As we wander the streets, we will find all sorts of interesting languages to hear.
Celebrate your diversity, Australia!