Securing federal funding for research is becoming increasingly difficult. We are therefore very happy to report that two research projects by Michigan Linguistics faculty were in the group of projects that recently received funding from the National Science Foundation. We had reported on Pam Beddor and Andries Coetzee's NSF funded research in an earlier post. Today, we focus on Carmel O'Shannessy's NSF award.
Carmel's research over the past several years has focused on the complex linguistic situation in a small Warlpiri speaking community in northern Australia. In addition to Warlpiri, both English and an English-based creole (known as Kriol) are used regularly in the community. Carmel has been documenting the linguistic practices in the community, with particular emphasis on the how children acquire language in this complex multi-lingual situation. During her research, she noticed that the children are creating a new linguistic code that combine aspects of English, Kriol and Warlpiri, but that also contain novel innovative features that are not present in any of English, Kriol or Warlpiri. This new mixed language known as "Light Warlpiri" was also the topic of a recent high profile article by Carmel that appeared in the journal Language. Carmel's NSF grant will support her ongoing documentation and study of Warlpiri and Light Warlpiri. We include the abstract of Carmel's project from the NSF website below.
Documentation and acquisition of Light Warlpiri and Warlpiri
In most endangered language situations, speakers transition from speaking an endangered language to an existing majority language. In very rare situation, children learning both an endangered language and a majority language may create a new mixed linguistic variety with features of both languages. These unusual situations provide clues to social, psychological and linguistic mechanisms involved in the emergence of such novel communicative forms.
Linguist Carmel O'Shannessy of the University of Michigan will document a newly emerging language, Light Warlpiri, in a small indigenous community in northern Australia, focusing on the role of children and young adults in the development of the language. Light Warlpiri is a mixed language using Warlpiri, English, and Northern Territory Kriol (a local English-based creole). Although Light Warlpiri has recently emerged and is still stabilizing, it is also highly endangered.
Three striking features of Light Warlpiri make its documentation at this point in time especially important. First, the oldest speakers of Light Warlpiri are only about 35 years old, so relative to how long languages can exist, Light Warlpiri is young and can be observed as it grows. Second, the structure of Light Warlpiri is unusual - the verb structure is from varieties of English and Kriol, but with some radical innovations, and the noun structure - word endings - are from the traditional language, Warlpiri. Third, children learn both Light Warlpiri and the traditional language, Warlpiri, which is an uncommon language learning situation.
Through audio and video recordings of staged and spontaneous language contexts, the project will track children's acquisition of Warlpiri and Light Warlpiri, providing insights into bilingual acquisition in a complex linguistic context, as well as insights into the interaction of language endangerment and language emergence. The project will add audio and video time-aligned data to an existing longitudinal corpus which was started in 2002, forming an open-access audio-visual corpus of children's and adults' language spanning approximately 15 years. The corpus will be used to produce a sketch grammar of Light Warlpiri, tracing the sources of grammatical features. The project will also create online activities in Warlpiri which Warlpiri youth and young adults can access from their cell phones, promoting Warlpiri maintenance and engagement with technology.