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Language creation and global language pressures

17 March 2015

Presenter: Assoc. Professor Carmel O’Shannesy, University of Michigan

Humanities Research Centre, ANU

School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics seminar series

There are other universities that work with languages and Australian Indigenous communities, but ANU must be the leader in this field, and many of the seminar attendees had strong knowledge of the linguistic communities in the Northern Territory that were discussed by Assoc. Professor O’Shannessy.

Assoc. Professor O’Shannessy presented her research on the features of Light Warlpiri, a very new language which evolved when children who had experienced a particular baby talk continued to use this into adulthood, and speak it with their own children. That ‘baby talk’, a feature of the Lajamanu community, creatively re-patterned standard Warlpiri, Kriol and English in a combination rarely seen in creoles or mixed languages, where

  • noun structures from Warlpiri are combined with
  • verb structures from English and Kriol (Kriol is an English-based creole)

She has been documenting the emergence of this unusual mixed language since 2002. It is a marker both of youth identity and small-community pride, and a dynamic response to the pressure of English on Indigenous languages.

Additional resources

The word maps from ‘Digital Daisy Bates’ are worth exploring.

RN Drive segment from 2013: Warlpiri Rampaku and why inventing a language is child’s play

Relevance to the study

Fascinating but not applicable directly to my study, it would be interesting to present Professor Garcia’s evidence to Professor O’Shannessy, who herself has a PhD with a strong psycholinguistic component. Evidently noun systems and verb systems are so separate in the brain, they can be sourced from different language families!

I did suggest to Professor O’Shannessy that there was at least one other language where the grammar belonged to one language family (Old English) and the lexis was imported from another (Latin/Old French), but she demurred.


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