Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have repeatedly asserted that individuals, families and communities can achieve better life outcomes if they maintain or develop knowledge and use of Indigenous languages. However, the evidence that rigorously quantifies the relationship between the use of Indigenous languages and wellbeing is limited.
Applying cross-sectional regressions analysis to data from the 2014–15 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS), this study examines the link between the use of Indigenous languages and a range of wellbeing indicators.
- The findings in this report suggest that speaking Indigenous languages is strongly associated with indicators of wellbeing relating to actions over which Indigenous individuals, families and communities can exert agency and self-determination. In contrast, Indigenous language use is weakly and inconsistently correlated with wellbeing outcomes which are most strongly determined by external structural forces.
- While Indigenous language maintenance and revival are important in their own right, the findings of this study suggest that implementation of certain non-language policies may be improved by addressing the needs and aspirations of Indigenous people to speak their own languages.
- The report demonstrates that the available language data is severely constrained in terms of its ability to make definitive claims about the links between Indigenous language use and wellbeing. Obtaining quality language data is a complex and long-term endeavour, but it is essential if good policy is to be developed. This study therefore constitutes a call, in the International Year of Indigenous Languages, to do better in this area.
- Speaking an Indigenous language is significantly associated with greater cultural attachment, social connectedness and positive emotional wellbeing. Indigenous language speakers are also more likely than English-only speakers to report that they earn income from producing art and craft and participating in cultural activities. However, Indigenous language use is also associated with increased experiences of discrimination and difficulties accessing services.