More than 300 Indigenous Australian language groups and dialects covered the continent at the time of European settlement in 1788 (around 70 in Western Australia). Today only around 120 of those languages are still spoken and many are at risk of being lost as Elders pass away.
These different language groups are more than just a means to communicate - they are an essential characteristic, unique to people, communities and their sense of identity. They illustrate the rich diversity of the culture, but at the same time, they all share a common tradition ancient to the land, which obeys the mythical laws of the Dreaming, through dance, storytelling, art and music - a philosophy that made them inseparable from their culture and land. They are the vehicles for storing and transferring much of the cultural knowledge such as songs, bush food and traditional medicine.
Most Aboriginal people over the age of 30 in the Kimberley, Pilbara and desert regions of WA speak one or more traditional languages, as well as varieties of Aboriginal English and Kriol. Throughout most of the state, Aboriginal people, with the exception of some of the elders, speak English.
The South West
At the time of colonisation, the Noongar language was spoken in the south-west of WA, including the Perth region. These days, few fluent speakers of this language remain.
The Murchison & Gascoyne
The main surviving language of the Murchison and Gascoyne area (inland from the central-west coast), is Wadjari, originally spoken in the eastern Murchison area. Although there were a number of languages spoken in this region, the people all referred to themselves as Yamatji, and today, they call the language they speak the Yamatji language.
Few speakers remain of the languages of the southern and western Pilbara region, which spread from the Gascoyne to Ashburton Rivers. However, a number of languages are still spoken in the northern and eastern Pilbara. Yindjibarndi is the strongest survivor of the many languages which came together in Roebourne, and is also spoken in Onslow and other Pilbara towns.
Several Aboriginal languages still survive of around 30 different languages and dialects that were spoken in the Kimberley region.
A range of dialects of the Western Desert language are spoken in communities across the Nullarbor Plain, in the desert, along the Canning Stock Route, and to the north across the Gibson and Great Sandy Deserts to the Kimberley, and to the west through the Hamersley Range and the Murchison Goldfields.