New Language Born in Outback Town

Nobody over 35 speaks Light Warlpiri

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 15, 2013 1:33 AM CDT | Updated Jul 20, 2013 7:04 PM CDT

(Newser) – Linguists more accustomed to dealing with dying languages have been thrilled to witness the birth of an entire new language in one of Australia's most remote communities, the New York Times finds. Nobody over 35 speaks "Light Warlpiri," which is spoken only in Lajamanu, an isolated village of 700 people deep in the Northern Territory populated mostly by the descendants of Aborigines forcibly resettled by the Australian government.

The new language arose after parents in the community spoke to infants in a baby talk made up of English, the Aboriginal language Warlpiri, and a creole language, according to Carmel O'Shannessy, a University of Michigan linguist who has studied the language for more than a decade. Over time, children began speaking a mix of all three languages with enough new elements—including a "present or past but not future" tense—for it to be considered a new language. Warlpiri itself may be on the way out, O'Shannessy says, but "Light Warlpiri seems quite robust" and the community's young people see it as a big part of their identity.

Lajamanu is hundreds of miles away from the nearest commercial center.   (Shutterstock)
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