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1200.0.55.005 - Language Standards, 2012, Version 1.1  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 26/09/2012  First Issue
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Contents >> First Language Spoken >> Underlying Concepts - FLS

First Language Spoken - Underlying Concepts



Name of variable

The name for the variable is First Language Spoken.

Definition of variable

Nominal definition

First Language Spoken is defined as the first language a person masters during the language acquisition phase of intellectual development. This would generally be the language spoken in the home by the people who have raised the person from infancy.

First Language Spoken is an attribute of the counting unit 'person'.

Operational definition

Operationally, First Language Spoken is defined as the language the respondent identifies, or remembers, as being the first language which they could understand to the extent of being able to conduct a conversation.

The definition of language is provided in the Australian Standard Classification of Languages (ASCL), 2011 (ABS cat. no. 1267.0)

Discussion of conceptual issues

The concept of first language includes the terms 'native language' and 'mother tongue.' However, within the Australian context 'First Language Spoken' is the appropriate term. The term 'first language' is used in Australian government policy documents and referred to in linguistic journals.

The 'First Language Spoken' variable and the ASCL recognise that approximately one percent of the Australian population use non verbal forms of communication. For coding purposes Auslan and similar sign languages are recognised as separate languages. However Signed English/finger spelling is considered to be another form of English and coded against English.

The question module is, 'Which language did you first speak as a child?' ABS question testing indicates use of the word 'speak' poses few response problems for people who use sign language.

The question modules used for this variable are not designed to measure dual first language speakers and should not be used for this purpose. Although there is some academic interest in the identification of respondents who claim to have spoken two languages as first languages (for example in the study of changing language patterns, cultural affiliation or expected language proficiency), research indicates that data produced from a question seeking this information may not be statistically viable.


First Language Spoken is one of five language variables. The other language variables are Languages Spoke at Home, Main Language Spoken at Home, Main language other Than English Spoken at Home\
and Proficiency in Spoken English.




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