1267.0 - Australian Standard Classification of Languages (ASCL), 2016  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 18/07/2016   
   Page tools: Print Print Page



The first edition of the Australian Standard Classification of Languages (ASCL) (ABS Cat. No. 1267.0) was published in 1997 to meet a statistical and administrative need for a classification of languages. It was designed for use in the collection, aggregation and dissemination of data relating to language usage in Australia and to classify the following language variable:

  • First Language Spoken
  • Languages Spoken at Home
  • Main Language Spoken and
  • Main Language Other than English Spoken at Home

ASCL is used within the ABS and by other organisations in the fields of health, community services, and education in a number of administrative and service delivery collections.

The classification was developed through extensive research, stakeholder consultation and data analysis including the use of Census of Population and Housing data to separately identify languages used in Australia by a significant number of people. When ASCL was first published, it was recognised that it would be necessary to add languages to the classification as Australia's migration patterns changed. Consequently, ASCL was revised in 2005 and 2011.

Examination of the 2011 Census of Population and Housing data, information from stakeholders and external sources indicated that some aspects of the classification required changes to improve its usefulness. As a result, a minor review of ASCL was undertaken in 2015-16.


While the ASCL does not attempt to offer an exhaustive definition of language, the following definition encompasses the essential elements of language as used in ASCL.

The Macquarie Dictionary (Sixth Edition, 2013) defines language as:

"Communication in the distinctively human manner, using a system of arbitrary symbols with conventionally assigned meanings, as by voice, writing, or sign language. Any set or system of such symbols as used in a more or less uniform fashion by a number of people, who are thus enabled to communicate intelligibly with one another."

The term "language" is used to describe the base (finest) level categories in ASCL. They include:
  • those languages which are universally recognised as distinct and separate languages
  • separately identified dialects
  • creoles and pidgins
  • groups of linguistically distinct languages (e.g. American languages)
  • sign languages.

A dialect is a regional or social variety of a language distinguished by pronunciation, grammar, and/or vocabulary.

Some language entities considered dialects are listed as separate categories in ASCL for the following reasons:
  • failure to separately include language dialects may decrease the usefulness of language data by limiting analysis to the parent language only when a more detailed breakdown might be desired or required
  • the boundary between a language and its dialects is not always clear or agreed, and
  • the majority of stakeholders consulted preferred to include certain dialects as separate categories.


All world languages are in scope of the classification and languages with significant numbers of speakers in Australia are separately identified within the classification structure. Special attention has been given to separately identifying Australian Indigenous languages. Languages which are not separately identified are included in the most appropriate residual category of the classification.

Extinct or dead languages spoken for religious or academic purposes are included in the most appropriate residual category of the classification. However, if sufficient numbers of an extinct or dead language are identified as spoken in Australia, it is separately identified in the classification, for example Latin.

Sign languages are defined as a communication system using gestures rather than speech or writing (The Macquarie Dictionary (Sixth Edition, 2013)), and are included in the classification.

Languages not commonly used as a means of general communication between people, such as computer languages, are excluded from ASCL.

Back to top of the page