1267.0 - Australian Standard Classification of Languages (ASCL), 2016  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 18/07/2016   
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The Australian Standard Classification of Languages (ASCL) does not list all (or even most) of the approximately 6,000 languages spoken worldwide. In order to be separately identified in ASCL, a non-Indigenous language must have 100 or more speakers in Australia. For Australian Indigenous languages the minimum threshold is three known speakers.


The ASCL has a three-level hierarchical structure, as follows:

Broad Groups (one-digit codes)

The first and most general level of the classification comprises nine broad groups of languages, including one 'other' category. Broad groups are formed by aggregating geographically proximate narrow groups.

Narrow Groups (two-digit and three-digit codes)

The second level of the classification comprises 51 narrow groups of languages similar in terms of the classification criteria, including seven 'other' categories which consist of languages which do not fit into a particular narrow group.

As there are a large number of Australian Indigenous languages, three narrow groups have been subdivided by inserting three-digit categories. The narrow groups affected are:

  • 81 Arnhem Land and Daly River Region Languages
  • 82 Yolngu Matha and
  • 86 Arandic

There are 13 such three-digit categories in total and they provide meaningful and useful groupings within these narrow groups as well as allowing greater flexibility in presenting or summarising data for these Australian Indigenous languages.

Languages (four-digit codes)

The third and most detailed level of the classification consists of 435 languages, including 44 'not elsewhere classified' (nec) categories. The 435 languages include:
  • 217 Australian Indigenous languages (including 20 nec categories), and
  • 218 non-Indigenous languages (including 24 nec categories).

This is an increase of three languages since the 2011 edition and includes one additional Australian Indigenous language.

A pictorial representation of the ASCL structure, including examples, is shown below:

Diagram of the classification structure, with examples, for both non-Indigenous languages and Australian Indigenous languages.

The full classification is available in the ASCL data cube, accessible from the 'Downloads' tab.


Classification criteria are the principles by which categories are aggregated to form broader categories within a classification. The classification criteria used in ASCL are:
  • the relationship between languages as a result of their evolution from a common ancestral language (genetic affinity)
  • the area in which a language originated (geographic proximity). This also refers to the area where a language was first acknowledged as a distinct entity.

In the ASCL, languages are grouped into progressively broader categories, generally on the basis of genetic affinity and the geographic proximity of areas where particular languages originated. This allows populations of language speakers whose languages have evolved from common linguistic roots to be grouped in analytically useful ways. Secondary use of geography at the narrow group level also enables the formation of more meaningful residual language categories.

For usability purposes in the Australian context, the classification criteria have not been applied strictly in Broad Group 9 - Other Languages (see Residual Categories).

Residual Categories

Broad Group 9 Other Languages consists of groups of languages which are not linguistically or geographically related and do not have sufficient speakers in Australia to form separate broad groups. At the narrow group level, the residual categories contain languages which originated in the same geographic area but which are linguistically unrelated to other languages in the broad group.

At the language level of the classification, the residual categories comprise languages which are genetically related and geographically proximate to the other languages in the narrow group. However, these languages have not been separately identified in the classification because they do not have sufficient numbers of speakers in Australia to form a category of their own.