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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Development of a manageable classification structure was constrained by a requirement to represent the approximately 6,000 languages spoken worldwide. To achieve this, languages with 100 or more speakers in Australia have been separately identified, with the exception of Australian Indigenous languages. Any Australian Indigenous language with three or more known speakers is separately identified.


The ASCL has a three-level hierarchical structure. The classification is available in the ASCL data cube.


The third and most detailed level of the classification consists of 432 languages including 44 'not elsewhere classified' (nec) categories. The 432 languages include 216 Australian Indigenous languages (including 20 nec categories), and 216 languages (including 24 nec categories) which cover the rest of the world. This is an increase of 73 languages (including 6 nec categories) since the second edition in 2005. This increase includes 48 (including 6 nec categories) additional Australian Indigenous languages.

Narrow Groups

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. For three narrow groups of Australian Indigenous languages (Narrow Group 81 Arnhem Land and Daly River Region Languages, Narrow Group 82 Yolngu Matha and Narrow Group 83 Arandic) three digit levels are positioned between the narrow group and language level of the classification. They provide meaningful and useful groups of languages. There are 13 three digit level categories.

Broad Groups

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.


Classification criteria are the principles by which classification categories are aggregated to form broader categories within a classification structure. The classification criteria were not changed as result of the 2011 ASCL. The following classification criteria are used:
  • the relationship between languages as a result of their evolution from a common ancestral language (genetic affinity)
  • 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.

The classification criteria were not always applied when creating the residual categories. Broad Group 9 Other Languages consists of narrow 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 geographic area but which are not linguistically related to the other narrow groups. At the language level of the classification, the residual categories are comprised of languages which are genetically related and geographically proximate to the other languages of the narrow group. 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.
    Although the design of the classification is generally undertaken using the classification criteria to form the language groups, the criteria was applied differently in different parts of the classification structure. This method has been used so that the classification makes sense and is useful in an Australian statistical context.