Journal article

A small speech community with many small languages: The role of receptive multilingualism in supporting linguistic diversity at Warruwi Community (Australia)

Ruth Singer



At Warruwi Community (pop. 400), nine very different Indigenous languages are still widely used, which is unusual in the contemporary Australian Indigenous context. Using the receptive multilingual mode, speakers frequently address one another in different languages. This mode offers speakers of small languages such as Mawng (ca. 400 speakers) an alternative to accommodating to larger languages such as Yolngu-matha (ca. 2000 speakers). Although not unique to Warruwi, receptive multilingual practices are part of a set of “mutually constituting ideologies and practices” (Nakassis, 2016) that co-construct a speech community where many small languages flourish.

University of Melbourne Researchers


Awarded by Australian Research Council

Awarded by Fritz Thyssen Stiftung

Funding Acknowledgements

This work draws on extensive discussions with members of Warruwi Community, and the fieldwork was supported by Warruwi Community and Warruwi School. Thanks especially to Janet Mardbinda, Rachel Meiyinbara, Nancy Ngalmindjalmag and Richard Dhangalangal for their participation in the research leading to this article. Discussions with Susy Macqueen while doing fieldwork helped to deepen the discussion and analysis of linguistic repertoires in this paper. I would like to thank audiences at the University of Melbourne (Dyason Fellowship, School of Languages and Linguistics Melbourne-Manchester humanities fund), SOAS, University of Oslo and the Australian Languages Workshop for their responses to some of the ideas in this paper. Thanks very much to Jill Vaughan and Sari Pietikainen for their comments on the article. Research was funded by the Australian Research Council (DE140100232 and FL130100111) and travel support from SOAS (University of London), the University of Melbourne and the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung (Ref.