Assistant Professor Carmel O'Shannessy gave an invited presentation in the Language, Variation and Change research group at the University of Chicago on Monday, December 3. Carmel's presentation addressed the creation of a new mixed language, Light Warlpiri, spoken in the Aboriginal community of Lajamanu in northern Australia. Carmel has been documenting the birth and development of this unique mixed code over the past the decade during intensive fieldwork in the community. For more on her fieldwork, see this related post. The title and abstract of Carmel's presentation is given below.

The role of multiple sources in the creation of novel formal categories in a new mixed language: Light Warlpiri as a case study

Light Warlpiri is a newly emerged mixed language spoken in northern Australia, which combines elements of Warlpiri (Pama-Nyungan) and varieties of English and Kriol (an English-lexified creole). Synchronic evidence suggests that it was formed through a two-part process. First, adults directed codeswitched speech to young children as part of a baby talk register. Next, the children analyzed the codeswitched speech as a single system, and added innovations. The structure of the code developed by the children closely resembles the structure of the codeswitched speech which was directed to them.

Mixed languages usually consist of a systematic combination of elements from each of two source languages, and the components of each source usually occur in the mixed system relatively unchanged. But Light Warlpiri shows dramatic innovation in tense-mood-aspect categories in the verbal auxiliary system. Light Warlpiri makes a future-nonfuture distinction in the auxiliary which is not made overtly in the input languages. The Light Warlpiri distinctions can be attributed to speakers having selectively drawn on elements from Warlpiri, and from different varieties and styles of English and Kriol. The innovations resemble those which have been seen in some instances of pidgin development, yet the contexts of language emergence differ. The commonality in contexts in which new formal categories emerge in a new code may be contact-induced change where there are multiple sources in the input.