What's the link between Science news, high school students and UM Linguistics? Mrs. Andrea Jacobs, a teacher at Maryvale Preparatory School in Brooklandville, Maryland, used an article from the New York Times (07-16-2013) about the mixed language, Light Warlpiri, to work with her students on Sociolinguistics.
UM Associate Professor Carmel O’Shannessy discovered this language while she was working in the community of Lajamanu in Australia’s Northern Territory. Only people under about 35 years of age speak Light Walpiri in the remote community. The language arose from parents speaking to their children in a mix of English, Kriol and Walpiri. “The kids took this language and began to speak it as their native language and made changes in it, especially in the verb structures. It really turned it into a separate language,” explained Nickolas Bakalar in his article, the one used in Mrs. Jacobs’ class.
Mrs. Jacobs contacted O'Shannessy about her research and last week Carmel talked to the students via Skype, adding a more interactional element to their studies. The students had prepared questions touching on current issues in language endangerment and the emergence of new languages. “For some students it was their first interaction with a college professor,” Mrs. Jacobs said.
One of the students commented, “after we read all that stuff it was so cool to really talk to her. We got to see what she looks like and sounds like and it made me want to go to [Lajamanu] too. What she did is really hard. It would be amazing to be able to speak [Warlpiri].” Carmel said that she was "really excited to know that high school students and their teachers talk about Linguistics and language contact! Their questions showed that a lot of thought had gone into this work - they asked some of the same kinds of questions that I need to ask in my research."