In the remote town of Lajamanu, in Australia’s Northern Territory, a linguist from the University of Michigan named Carmel O’Shannessy, has been studying the people in the town for close to ten years. She discovered that around 350 of the town’s residents, most of them in their mid-30s are speaking a new language, which is now called Light Warlpiri. Around the world, many languages disappear almost constantly. It is good to know that new languages, which are usually based on traditional languages, are appearing.
Warlpiri and Light Warlpiri
There are about 3,000 Warlpiri people in the Northern Territory that speak the Warlpiri language. The language belongs to the Ngarrkic languages that belong to the larger Pama–Nyungan language family. This is an Australian aboriginal language that has the most number of speakers.
Light Warlpiri however is an offshoot of the traditional language, spoken by only some 350 of the people living in the town. Most speakers of the new language are still in their early 30s. From her study, linguistics professor Carmel O’Shannessy found that the language combines English with Warlpiri and Kriol.
What makes the new one different from the traditional one is the use of verbs. Most of the verbs in Light Warlpiri are from English and some Kriol. The grammar elements though are still very much Warlpiri. The verbal system leans more towards English and Kriol.
In English, the word order generally shows the relationship between the subject and object. In the traditional Warlpiri, the word order can be interchanged and the grammatical interpretation are based on the suffixes attached to the nouns they use. Light Warlpiri also has present and past tenses but not the future tense. During the course of the study, it came to light that the new language has its own linguistic system even if it evolved from existing languages. This is the reason why it is considered as a separate and distinct language.
The remote town of Lajamanu
Lajamanu is pretty isolated. A supply truck delivers goods to Lajamanu’s only store once a week. Mail is also delivered once a week by a small plane. The town lacks roads that are fully paved. The residents here speak Warlpiri and Kriol, which was created in Australia and spoken in the region of Western Australia and the Northern Territory around the 1800s. The population here is only about 850. Kriol itself is a mix of languages. It is an English-based creole that is widely spoken in the region as well as in Western Australia.
Possible origin of Light Warlpiri
O’Shannessy posits that the new language has its origin from the Lajamanu workers that were employed in the cattle ranches around the area. Since these ranches employed many people, it is likely that the Lajamanu people picked up their languages to be able to communicate with them.