The Linguistics Department was highlighted internationally this summer, when Carmel O’Shannessy’s research on a new mixed language, Light Warlpiri, hit the news. The media interest was a result of Carmel’s publication in Language, the leading international linguistics journal. Carmel’s paper traces the development of an innovative structure in the verbal auxiliary of the new language, on which she has worked since 2002. The idea of a new language being documented captured the imaginations of media across the US, including the New York Times, and from Australia to India and to Europe. Carmel was interviewed on about 35 radio and tv news and current affairs programs. 

Light Warlpiri, a new Australian mixed language combining Warlpiri (Pama-Nyungan) with varieties of English and/or Kriol that has emerged within approximately the last thirty-five years, shows radical restructuring of the verbal auxiliary system, including modal categories that differ from those in the source languages. The structure of Light Warlpiri overall is that of a mixed language, in that most verbs and some verbal morphology are drawn from English and/or Kriol, and most nominal morphology is from Warlpiri. Nouns are drawn from both Warlpiri-lexicon and English-lexicon sources. The restructuring of the auxiliary system draws selectively on elements from Warlpiri and several varieties and styles of English and/or Kriol, combined in such a way as to produce novel constructions. It may be that when multiple sources provide input to a rapidly emerging new system, innovative categories are likely to appear.

Listen to some examples of Light Warlpiri, and Carmel talking about Light Warlpiri, on her homepage. You can also read some of the stories that appeared in the press about Light Walpiri.

In addition to teaching at the Linguistic Institute at UM during the summer, Carmel gave three talks in Australia, at the Australian National University, the University of Melbourne, and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra, one at the International Symposium on Bilingualism in Singapore, and one at an Institute workshop on historical linguistics. After the Institute she conducted fieldwork in her research site in Australia, and led a professional development workshop for teachers in the local school.