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LISTEN: 'Light Warlpiri,' The New Language In Australia

Tue, July 16, 2013 8:42pm

Story by Mark Memmott




Listen to this story on npr.org »

A screen image from a video that professor Carmel O'Shannessy has created. In it, a girl tells a story in "Light Warlpiri," the language O'Shannessy reports she discovered in Australia.

We've all read stories about languages that are dying.

Here's a completely different tale: University of Michigan linguistics professor Carmel O'Shannessy says she's found a language that was born just a few decades ago.

It's "Light Warlpiri," which as our colleagues at Michigan Radio report was discovered by O'Shannessy "in a remote aboriginal community of Lajamanu in the Northern Territory of Australia."

Tuesday on All Thing Considered, O'Shannessy told host Audie Cornish that the people of Lajamanu have been "code switching" between English and creole for many years. But on visits there, she noted that the younger people had gone further to create a new "Light Warlpiri" with a structure of its own.

She theorizes that the language grew in the 1970s and '80s when many of the adults "were speaking to young children [and] using a lot of English and creole verbs." The children, who spent a lot of time with each other, "conventionalized a system" that became their own language. And now, "those children have grown up and they're young adults" who are teaching Light Warlpiri to their offspring.

You can hear what the language sounds like on this video that O'Shannessy created. It's a young girl telling a story in Light Warlpiri.

We'll add the as-broadcast version of the All Things Considered conversation to the top of this post later. Click here to find an NPR members station that broadcasts or streams the show.

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