Is Tamil a National Language in Australia?

Misconceptions about Tamil in Australia as a National Language

Not so long ago there was a misconception in Australia that Tamil was one of the national languages of Australia. Most people who know much about Australia will know that the country has no national language as such, but English has since the time of European settlement been adopted as the de facto national language. Over the decades since English settlement began the English spoken has evolved somewhat so that Australian English varies a little particularly its accent and some distinct idioms, even though it’s still easily understood by anyone who is a native English speaker. This doesn’t mean English is the only language spoken in Australia. Far from it, as well as a host of Aboriginal languages, there are many other languages spoken by immigrants who have entered the country permanently over the last one hundred years or more.

The Languages Spoken in Australia Today

There is no official language of Australia. Apart from English, which according to the last official census in Australia in 2016, 73% of the population speak as of their main language. The second most spoken language in Australia is Mandarin, followed by Arabic, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Italian, and Tamil. On top of the migrant languages, the indigenous population is represented as well with 52,000 of them speaking one of the many indigenous languages in the home, according to the 2006 census.

The Tamil Language in Australia

At one point Hugh McDermott, who is the state member for Prospect, suggested that Tamil in Australia should be part of the school’s National Curriculum. This statement was misconstrued to mean it should be the national language of Australia as well. There is no doubt that there are several thousand Tamil speakers spread across the country, but as there is no national language in Australia, Tamil would never take on this status. The number of Tamil speakers in Australia is:

NSW – 21,527
VA – 17,452
WA – 4,078
QLD – 3,475
SA – 1,703
ACT – 1,416
NT – 280
TAS – 216

Tamil Australians who speak Tamil are typically those who originate from Tamil Nadu or those who identify with Tamil culture. The origins of majority of Tamil Australians are from India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, or Malaysia.

Where does the Tamil Language come from?

Bhadriraju Krishnamurti, a renowned linguist, believes Tamil descended from the Proto-Dravidian language, which was spoken around the 3rd century BC, possibly in peninsular India in the lower Godavari River. The next stage in Tamil history is Proto-South-Dravidian which was evidently spoken in the middle part of the 2nd century BC, while proto-Tamil made its debut in the 3rd century BC.

Characteristics of Tamil Language History

When compared to other Indian languages Tamil has the oldest Indian literature that is non-Sanskritic. Scholars categorize its language history into 3 distinct periods:

The first is Old Tamil from 300 BC to AD 700, Middle Tamil from the 7th–16th century, and Modern Tamil from 1600 to the present day. Interestingly, in November 2007, an excavation that was carried out at Quseir-al-Qadim discovered Egyptian pottery that dated back to the 1st century BC which was sprinkled with old Tamil Brahmi inscriptions. It has also been discovered in Tamil language history that it was the language used by India’s earliest maritime traders.

Geographic Distribution of Tamil in India

Tamil is the main language spoken in Tamil Nadu in India and in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. Tamil can also be found spoken in smaller numbers in other Indian states such as Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra. Up to the 12th century Tamil, or a dialect of it, was the common language spoken in Kerala in both literatures and for administration purposes. Also, Tamil was used often in inscriptions in Chittoor and Nellore in Andhra Pradesh in the southern parts, up to the twelfth century AD. It was also used for the purpose of writing between the tenth and fourteenth centuries in such places as Mysore, Kolar, Bangalore, and Mandya in the south Karnataka district.

Most of the populations who speak Tamil outside of India live in Mauritius, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, South Africa, Thailand, Vietnam, and Burma. A significant group of Pakistani Tamil speakers resides in the city of Karachi Pakistan, which includes Hindus who are Tamil speakers Muslims, and Christians. There are also groups of Tamils who live in Guyana, Trinidad, Tobago, Fiji, Réunion, and Suriname. It is spoken in Canada by migrants from both India and Sri Lanka and India. In the United States, particularly in New York and the state of New Jersey Tamil speakers can be found.

Conclusion- How many Countries have Tamil as an Official Language?

Tamil is found as an official language in Singapore, India, and Sri Lanka. It has been assigned official status in the state of Tamil Nadu in India and Puducherry, an Indian Union Territory. It’s a language used with English, Mandarin, and Malay in the education sector in Malaysia. However, it’s a misconception that it is the national language of Australia. However, there are Tamil speakers living in Australia who may need to use English-to-Tamil translation online from time to time.

Is There an Official Language in Australia?

The short answer is that there is no official language in Australia, but in reality, the situation is a little more complex.

What is an official language?

An official language is a language that is accorded supreme status in a country or state. The term “official language” is not usually the language spoken by a country or people but is assigned to be used by the government of a country. There are 178 countries that recognize an official language.

The official language in Australia

One question often asked is “Is English the official language of Australia?” On paper, Australia does not have an official language, but for practical reasons, English plays the role of the main language used for education, commerce, science, and administration. English is de facto the primary language because it happens to be the first language spoken by approximately 73% of the country’s population.

Many people are searching and want to know what is the official language of Australia. While there is no official language in Australia, the main language of Australia is definitely English. The written English used is closely related to the English of Britain, although there are a few differences in spelling.

English is regularly spoken by over 80% of citizens at home as a first language, even if a significant percentage of these people are bilingual or multilingual. That’s why it is considered that English is the official language in Australia.

All official documents which are needed to support a government application such as a visa or citizenship application must be in English. If the original documents are not in English, then they must be translated by an accredited professional translator into English and certified that they are accurate translations of the original. If the translation takes place within Australia, then the translator must be accredited by the official accreditation authority, NAATI.

The sorts of documents that are regularly translated into English are:

Indigenous languages/Aboriginal languages

When the European occupation of Australia began there were as many as 400 different indigenous languages, some of which were mutually intelligible, being more dialects than anything else. None of these languages has become adopted as either an official language or a national language of Australia in the same way as the indigenous language of neighboring New Zealand did (Maori). Many indigenous languages have either died out or are in danger of disappearing. Where one of the 70 odd indigenous languages that have survived is still widely used (mainly in the north of Western Australia, the Northern Territory, and Queensland), professional translators help to bridge the gap when it comes to providing government services where a translation from the aboriginal language to English is required to assure understanding takes place.

What are the most common languages spoken in Australia?

There are many other languages spoken in Australia apart from English which is spoken by the large immigrant population that lives permanently in the country. 

Most Australians speak just English so it is the most commonly spoken language in Australia. Overall about 73% of Australians speak just English while about 18.2 % are non-English speakers. Of the non-English languages, those that are spoken the most are listed below:

  • 2.5% speak Mandarin
  • 1.4 % speak Arabic 
  • 1.2% speak Italian
  • 1.2 % speak Vietnamese 
  • 1.2 % speak Cantonese 
  • 1.0% speak Greek
  • 0.7 % speak Hindi
  • 0.6% speak Spanish.
  • 0.6% speak Punjabi

In Australia is Tamil an official language?

Some people think that Tamil is one of the official languages in Australia. However, those people who know a lot about Australia will know that the country doesn’t have an official language but English has been used as a de facto official language since European settlement. Because of the large number of Tamils living in Australia, there have been requests made in Australia’s parliament to add Tamil to the national curriculum but no decision has ever been made so Tamil isn’t an Australian official language.

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