1267.0 - Australian Standard Classification of Languages (ASCL), 2011  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 16/08/2011   
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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 languages spoken in Australia and used to classify language use associated with the language variables, 'First Language Spoken', 'Languages Spoken at Home', 'Main Language Spoken' and 'Main Language Other than English Spoken at Home'. The ASCL has been widely used within the ABS and by other organisations, with health, community services, and education organisations adopting the ASCL in a number of their administrative and service delivery collections.

The classification was developed through extensive research, stakeholder consultation and data analysis. Census Population and Housing data were used to separately identify languages spoken in Australia by a significant number of speakers. At the time of publication, it was thought that the language profile of Australia would alter over time due to changing migration patterns and that it may be necessary to add languages to the classification. Consequently, a second edition of the ASCL was published in 2005.

Since the review of the ASCL in 2005, some languages within Australia have emerged, undergone name changes or experienced an increase or reduction in their numbers. Examination of the 2006 Census data and information from stakeholders and external sources indicated that some aspects of the classification required additions, removals or changes to improve its accuracy and applicability. As a result a minor review of the Australian Standard Classification of Languages (ASCL) was undertaken. This review aims to maintain the ASCL's relevance and usability, and to provide a more comprehensive representation of languages in Australian society.


The definition of language has not changed as a result of the ASCL review and while this publication does not attempt to offer an extensive definition of language, the following definition encompasses the basic elements of language as it is classified in the ASCL.

The Macquarie Dictionary (Fifth Edition, 2009) defines language as:

"Communication by voice in the distinctively human manner, using arbitrary auditory symbols in conventional ways with conventional meanings.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 ASCL does not distinguish between a separate language or dialect. A dialect can be described as a variety of language, identifiable by its vocabulary and grammar, spoken by people in a particular geographical area or by members of a particular group or social class.

Language entities considered dialects are separately identified for the following reasons:
  • failure to separately identify language dialects would decrease the usefulness of language data collection and reduce the analytical value of the classification
  • the majority of stakeholders consulted preferred to include certain dialects as separate categories.

The languages of the classification include:
  • those which are universally recognised as distinct and separate languages
  • separately identified dialects
  • creoles and pidgins
  • a group of linguistically distinct languages (American languages)
  • sign languages.


All world languages are in scope of the classification. Languages with significant numbers of speakers in Australia are separately identified within the classification structure. Actively spoken Australian Indigenous languages are also separately identified. 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 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 (Fifth Edition, 2009), and are included in the classification. Languages excluded from the classification cover those not commonly used as a means of communicating between people, such as computer languages.