A new language, a mixture of Traditional Warlpiri, Kriol and English, has been discovered in a remote community in Northern Australia, near the Tanami Desert. It is now being called Light Warlpiri and it is spoken by around 300 people. It was discovered by Carmel O’Shannessy, professor at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who later published the study online on June 18. The study highlights the ability of languages to develop out of the most unexpected contexts and situations.
Light Warlpiri arose around the 70s and 80s, when Warlpiri speakers were working in cattle ranches owned mainly by English speakers. This generation of people, who are currently around 35 years old, went back home and used both Warlpiri and English to each other and they would also use this mixture of languages as a kind of baby-talk with which they addressed the children. Eventually, these children started internalizing the mixture of languages and modelling their own language on other children their age.
This process turned Light Warlpiri into a system of its own, which makes use of Warlpiri, English, and Kriol (a Creole language spoken in different parts of Australia). Light Warlpiri is special because of the distribution of these three languages within the new language system. In most cases, verbs in Light Warlpiri have an English or Kriol origin, while the grammar of the new language is mainly based on Warlpiri.
The language was first discovered by O’Shannessy when she was working in a school in the northern part of Australia. The school taught traditional Warlpiri to children, but she noticed that some of them seemed to be switching from one language to another. Once she studied these occurrences, she realized there was an underlying fixed structure shared by all these children which constituted a language of its own.
Light Warlpiri has developed features of its own, like the creation of a word (a verbal auxiliary) which is used to refer to the present and the past at the same time, excluding the future.
Another feature is the use of particles which are added at the end of each noun which allow for their interpretation. In English, each word gets part of its meaning according to the place it occupies in the sentence. This relatively fixed organization of sentences allows speakers to identify the subject of the sentence, for example, which is generally the doer of the action. In Light Warlpiri, instead, the order of the sentences is not fixed, so the functions of the words are marked by the addition of a suffix.