[lg policy] Australia: Census night!

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Wed Aug 10 14:11:42 UTC 2011

Census night!

For all of you in Australia, tonight is the once-every-five-years
stat-fest that is the National Census! We thought we’d get into the
spirit of things with some Census and Language stats!

We’re obviously quite excited about questions 16-19 which are all
about finding out what languages people speak. These questions ask
what language people speak at home, and if they speak English as a
second language, what is their proficiency. These questions are
important for English language program and translating and
interpreting services planning and funding.

>>From what I can gather, it is only possible to write one language for
your home language, which seems unfortunate for bilinguals who have
two home languages.

The ABS have help available in 34 languages, which give a nice
snapshot of the current most common native tongues in Australia, after
English. From Dinka to Kirundi to Samoan and Erdu there’s information
available. Of course, this doesn’t reflect the most commonly spoken
first languages in Australia, but the ones where speakers are less
likely to have high levels of English proficiency.

Seeking to know what languages other than English are spoken in
Australia is a relatively new question on the census. It wasn’t until
the 1991 census only a decade ago that people were asked to name their
main language. For a decade before that people were only asked if they
spoke English at home, and how well. Apart from the year 1976 no
census between 1981 and 1933 asked any questions about language, all
the way through some of our biggest migration waves. In 1933 people
were asked to state their second language only if they were not
literate in English, as did the earliest census to ask about language
in 1921.

According to the census tweeps (@2011census, who have proved to be
highly entertaining these last few months) 105 Australians speak a
made up language. We’re not sure if this is the sum total of Na’vi,
Klingon, Esperanto and Elvish speakers or if those people just wrote
nonsense on the form.

So don’t forget tonight to make your language count!



 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com


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