New language born in Australia's Northern Territory
July 21, 2013 4:14 PM   Subscribe

There are many dying languages in the world. But at least one has recently been born, created by children living in a remote village in northern Australia. The language, called Warlpiri rampaku, or Light Warlpiri, is spoken only by people under 35 in Lajamanu, an isolated village of about 700 people in Australia’s Northern Territory. In all, about 350 people speak the language as their native tongue. Dr. O’Shannessy has published several studies of Light Warlpiri, the most recent in the June issue of Language.
posted by bookman117 (20 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Saw this story the other day, and am completely fascinated. Thanks!
posted by rtha at 4:24 PM on July 21, 2013

I wonder if the grammar is similar to the other creoles highlighted in Derek Bickerton's Bastard Tongues (his thesis: these unrelated, unconnected languages have similar grammar because any group of humans creating a language "from scratch" will tend to develop it in similar directions). I couldn't determine that from TFA. And as an amateur language geek, I'm probably not explaining this well.
posted by kurumi at 4:43 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, from what I understand (I know Carmel personally and have followed her research for years), it is typologically more like what is known as an "intertwined language" (the most famous of which is Michif). So the noun system and the verb system are each drawn from different source languages. Typologically it is fairly similar to "normal" creoles in many ways, but this can partly be attributed to the fact that one of the languages that contributed to this mixture is itself a creole ("Kriol").

Bickerton's work is fairly controversial among creolists, incidentally.
posted by lollusc at 5:36 PM on July 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Thanks for the post -- I heard an NPR/BBC? story on this and wanted to look up more but hadn't yet figured out how to spell "Warlpiri"!
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:27 PM on July 21, 2013

brains are awesome!
posted by bq at 6:54 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Bickerton's work is fairly controversial among creolists, incidentally.

Could you recommend any reading that comes at things from those perspectives? I am very much a mostly-ignorant-but-working-on-it layperson interested in linguistics. I grew up speaking Hawaiian Pidgin (and Standard American English), and I want to know more about pidgins and creoles.
posted by rtha at 6:57 PM on July 21, 2013

An accessible-yet-meaty distillation of this, from the blog GeoCurrents.
posted by Theophrastus Johnson at 8:25 PM on July 21, 2013

NYT article is missing and GeoCurrents blog post just crashed :(
posted by subdee at 9:39 PM on July 21, 2013

I wonder how similar this is to what happened with Nicaraguan Sign Language.
posted by cthuljew at 9:54 PM on July 21, 2013

Last year I taught for a month at Kalkaringi/Daguragu (just down the road from Lajamanu) where they speak Gurindji Kriol, which has a similar structure to Light Warlpiri.
posted by robcorr at 10:16 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't understand the distinction the article makes between a creole, which it defines as "a new language that combines two separate tongues" and "a new language". Is it that "a new language" has its own grammar? But creoles often have distinct grammatical features. So why is this "a language" and not "a creole"?
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:17 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

The article seems to distinguish between a Creole and a new language in part by identifying this as a language that has been spoken since birth. It's not a combination of two languages for its native speakers, but their mother tongue.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:33 PM on July 21, 2013

Rtha, I can't think of any books aimed at non-linguists that get into this debate, but the Languagelog blog has touched on it a few times (including responses by Bickerton in the comments).

See e.g. here (scroll down to get past the initial bit about birds), here, and here. A comment from Derek here.
posted by lollusc at 12:11 AM on July 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, and there are some interesting slides about what creoles are and aren't by Michel DeGraff from MIT here. John McWhorter and Peter Bakker are two of the other big names in the creole debate who take quite extreme positions (not the same as Bickerton's) but their papers are probably not very accessible to the non-linguist.
posted by lollusc at 12:16 AM on July 22, 2013

The old mnemonic is useful: Parents speak pidgin, their Children speak creole.
posted by spitbull at 3:47 AM on July 22, 2013

As someone who lives in Australia, and who mainlines news like Party Kids take party drugs: how in god's name did I miss this?

Lajamanu, an isolated village

Well, I know that hasn't been written by a local. It'd be camp or township,more likely.
posted by Mezentian at 6:29 AM on July 22, 2013

The article seems to distinguish between a Creole and a new language in part by identifying this as a language that has been spoken since birth.

Arguably, no language is a creole until it is someone's mother tongue. Before that it would be a pidgin.
posted by yoink at 7:41 AM on July 22, 2013

Oh, the geocurrents author is someone I knew in university. She writes interesting articles there. She also explains what a mixed language is compared to a creole, though I hadn't realised that creoles only ever have one real parent.
posted by jeather at 9:18 AM on July 22, 2013

See also Potosi Miners Language (via Mefi's own Languagehat).
posted by beagle at 9:21 AM on July 22, 2013

I'll bet the dust was aflyin' when O’Shannessy first ran across this. Any linguist would be doing an ecstatic happy dance. What careers are made of.
posted by BlueHorse at 5:09 PM on July 22, 2013

« Older “They feel like they were tricked or betrayed.”   |   Point Break or Bad Boys 2? Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments