Short Saturday: A New Language—It’s Child’s Play!

We’ve talked a lot about words and slang words, language and how it changes … These are not static things, as much as we’d like to think so.

And when I read this little blurb—“Warlpiri rampaku [Light Warlpiri] is revealed as a new language, spoken only by people under age 35 in Lajamanu, in northern Australia”—you can imagine my reaction. To wit: Well, that sounds interesting! And (thinking): Of course it’s those young whippersnappers.

Carmel O’Shannessy, a linguist visiting a remote area in Australia has reported a new language—admittedly concocted from Warlpiri, Australian English, and Kriol—that had been developed by the community’s children. What makes this more than just slang usage, more than a dialect, more than pidgin or creole, is new grammatical construction has also developed:

She found unique grammatical patterns forming, which is one of the factors that makes Light Warlpiri a language of its own.

The pattern for Light Warlpiri involves the use of a mostly Warlpiri sentence with an English or Kriol verb. For example, to ask someone “Where did you go?” in Warlpiri, one would say “Nyarrpara-kurra-npa yanu?” But in Light Warlpiri, one would say “Nyarrpara-kurra yu-m go?”

Here, the Light Warlpiri version uses the English word for “go”, and “yu-m” translates to the non-future version of “you”. But in the Warlpiri version of the same sentence, “yanu” is used for the past tense of “go” and the “you” is expressed as “-npa”.

This was from the Michigan Daily (O’Shannessy is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan); the article contains much linguistic detail. For another angle, check out the New York Times piece. It also has video.

If this sort of thing trips your trigger, look in here for a recording of what a six-thousand-year-old language (Proto-Indo-European) might have sounded like. How we got from there to the language in this blog is another post entirely. Enjoy!

Tweet: When I read about Light Warlpiri, you can imagine my delight—a new language!
Tweet: Words & language are not static, as much as we’d like to think so. New languages are possible!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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