Carmel O'Shannessy has been a Visiting Research Fellow at the Humanities Research Centre (HRC), Australian National University (ANU), Canberra, since February this year, during her sabbatical leave. Carmel has been quite busy during her visit. On March 17, she gave a public lecture, called React locally: How language creation can be a response to global language pressures at the HRC. Carmel also gave the inaugural seminar at the new ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, at ANU, on March 20. Her seminar was called Social practice and language differentiation. The abstracts of both these presentations are included below.

React locally: How language creation can be a response to global language pressures

One small Warlpiri community in the Northern Territory has reacted creatively to global pressure from English by incorporating elements of Warlpiri and varieties of English and Kriol systematically in a new way of speaking. The speakers incorporate the source languages into the new code in a pattern rarely seen in the world’s languages – by combining noun structure from Warlpiri with verb structure from English and Kriol, and adding structural innovations not found in any of the source languages. The unusual structure is motivated by an interplay of multilingualism, child-directed speech, and peer-group social interactions. This case study shows that a community’s response to global pressure can be one of dynamic creativity.


Social practice and language differentiation

A major question of interest to CoEDL is whether “social factors drive language diversification differentially” (Ellison and Evans 2015). The question is addressed by examining choices made by multilingual children and adults in one Warlpiri community in northern Australia. A community of practice approach (cf. Bucholtz, 1999; Eckert, 2000; Eckert & McConnell-Ginet, 2007) is applied to capture the interaction of social and cognitive motivations for increasing language differentiation, investigated here through choices of grammatical and lexical items.

In the community in focus, children and young adults speak both Warlpiri (Pama-Nyungan) and Light Warlpiri, a mixed language that combines nominal morphology from Warlpiri with the verbal system from varieties of English and/or Kriol (an English-based creole) with some innovations (O'Shannessy, 2013). Older adults speak Warlpiri and code-switch into varieties of English and/or Kriol. Light Warlpiri is a relatively new language – the oldest speakers are about 35 years old – and is in the process of stabilising as it unfolds. By documenting this process in real time, we are able to observe speaker choices in the production of each language, and draw inferences about their motivations. As Light Warlpiri unfolds both grammatical and lexical forms show increased differentiation between the two languages.  

Speaker selections are interpreted by viewing Light Warlpiri speakers as a community of practice, with a fluid relationship to a larger community of practice of Warlpiri speakers, of which they are also members. Through specific linguistic choices they construct and highlight their identities as members of these communities. Understandings that particular items index one or more communities of practice are developed as individual choices are reiterated. Over time choices that index communities of practice may lead to greater differentiation between linguistic systems. In this context three strands of interest to CoEDL are brought into play - evolution, shape and learning.