Carmel O'Shannessy has been very busy with research presentations over the past few months (see our other reports here and here). Continuing with this packed schedule, Carmel just presented a talk at Australian Languages Weekend workshop, organized by the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, at the Australian National University, Canberra. The title and abstract of Carmel's talk are given below.

Indexing a community of practice drives language differentiation and stabilisation

The community of practice approach to language analysis (e.g. Bucholtz, 1999; Eckert, 2000; Eckert & McConnell-Ginet, 2007) integrates notions of individual agency and identity construction with linguistic choice. I apply it to a particular multilingual context to capture the interaction of social and cognitive motivations for increasing language differentiation, examined here through lexical choices.

Particular choices come to be understood as indexing membership of communities of practice.
Multilingual children and young adults in one Warlpiri community 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/Kriol with some innovations) (O'Shannessy, 2013).

The Light Warlpiri lexicon consists of approximately a third of items derived from English/Kriol only, a third from Warlpiri only and a third from either type of source. Consequently, there is an option of using a word from either type of source in some instances, such as English rain or Warlpiri ngapa ‘water, rain’; and some words from a single source have synonyms, for example, Warlpiri jarntu ‘dog’ and maliki ‘dog’ (in addition to words for specific types of dog).
This study examines the lexical choices made in Light Warlpiri and Warlpiri narratives, and finds that when there is a lexical choice available such as that for how to realise the concept of ‘rain’ or ‘dog’, one option occurs more often when Warlpiri is spoken and the other when Light Warlpiri is spoken.

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, allows us to motivate their lexical selections. 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 systems and reduced variation in Light Warlpiri.


Bucholtz, Mary. (1999). ""Why be normal?"": Language and identity practices in a community of nerd girls. Language in Society, 28, 203-223.
Eckert, Penelope. (2000). Linguistic variation as social practice. Oxford: Blackwell.
Eckert, Penelope, & McConnell-Ginet, Sally. (2007). Putting Communities of practice in their place. Gender and Language, 1(1), 27-37.
O'Shannessy, Carmel. (2013). The role of multiple sources in the formation of an innovative auxiliary category in Light Warlpiri, a new Australian mixed language. Language, 89(2), 328-354."