Australian languages are usually classified into two main groups. The first group is a large family spanning the continent, Pama-Nyungan. The other group is not a family but merely an "everything else" category, Non-Pama-Nyungan.

Of the languages that still have a large number of speakers (in the thousands), all the ones I can think of are I believe Pama-Nyungan: Arrernte, Kala Lagaw Ya, Pitjantjatjara, Warlpiri.

This makes me wonder which language is the most spoken but not a Pama Nyungan language?

  • 1
    Yes, those ones you list are Pama-Nyungan (well, Kala Lagaw Ya is a bit complicated). As for your question, it's hard to say for sure but the answer is probably between Murrinhpatha, Anindilyakwa, Tiwi and Bininj Gun-Wok. Commented May 3, 2013 at 7:12
  • English, of course! :-p Commented May 15, 2020 at 12:05

2 Answers 2


Exact figures are always hard to come by, but here are the Non-Pama-Nyungan with the most speakers, as far as I can tell:

  • Gunwinggu, spoken in Arnhem Land by 2,000 people in 2003.
  • Tiwi, spoken in the Tiwi Islands by 1,830 people in 1996.
  • Enindhilyagwa, spoken on Groote Eylandt by 1,240 people in 1996, though Wikipedia says there have been reports of as many as 3,000 speakers.
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    AustLang provides the various census and other figures for all Australian languages. Commented May 3, 2013 at 7:48
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    @hippietrail Tiwi is problematic as there's been large-scale shift to what's now called Modern Tiwi. Speaker numbers for old Tiwi are relatively low. Commented May 3, 2013 at 7:50

The non-Pama-Nyungan languages with the highest numbers of speakers are Bininj Gun-Wok, Tiwi, Anindilyakwa and Murrinhpatha.

  • Anindilyakwa: Spoken on Groote Eylandt, AustLang reports speaker numbers in the range 1,500-2,000, while the 2011 census indicates 1,500 speakers.
  • Bininj Gun-Wok: this is a cover term for Mayali, Kunwinjku, Kune, Gundjeihmi, Kuninjku and Gundedjnjenghmi. This is a group of closely-related and mutually intelligible varieties spoken across central Arnhem Land. AustLang indicates total speaker numbers of around 1,300; the 2011 census indicates around 2,000 speakers.
  • Murrinhpatha: spoken in the community of Wadeye (also known as Port Keats), this language has grown in speaker numbers due to having become the regional lingua franca. 2006 Census speaker numbers were 1,850, while the 2011 census gives it 2,400.
  • Tiwi: The language of Bathurst and Melville islands, off the coast to the north of Darwin. Tiwi has undergone substantial change with a new variety emerging, called Modern Tiwi, while speaker numbers for old Tiwi have dropped greatly. Austlang reports speaker numbers over 1,700 while the 2011 census gives it over 2,200.

On the basis of these figures it appears that Murrinhpatha currently is the non-Pama-Nyungan language with the largest number of speakers. Of course, the Indigenous Australian languages with the largest numbers of speakers are the creoles, Kriol (Kimberley and Arnhem Land regions) and Yumplatok (Torres Strait islands and Cape York peninsula). While these are not Pama-Nyungan, they are also conventionally not included in non-Pama-Nyungan.

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