Warlpiri children playing. Carmel's research explores how the linguistic practices of these children contribute to language change.

A new paper by Carmel O'Shannessy  just appeared in print in the journal First Language. In this transdisciplinary paper, Carmel continues her exploration of the role of children in language change and development in a small Warlpiri speaking community. She shows how multilingual children increase language differentiation by indexing communities of practice. Drawing on intersections of sociolinguistics and psycholinguistics, the study explains how children who speak both Warlpiri and a mixed language, Light Warlpiri, make different lexical and phonological choices in each language. Their choices are motivated by membership in overlapping communities of practice. The full bibliogaphic information of the paper, including an abstract, is given below.


O'Shannessy, Carmel. (2015) Multilingual children increase language differentiation by indexing communities of practice. First Language, 35:305-326.

An area in need of study in child language acquisition is that of complex multilingual contexts in which there is little language separation by interlocutor or domain. Little is known about how multilingual children use language to construct their identities in each language or in both languages. Identity construction in monolingual contexts has been examined closely using a community of practice model, with case studies of adolescents and teenagers. Language is viewed as social practice, as individuals use language to actively construct a shared community of practice. This study examines multilingual children’s (ages 6–12) lexical and phonological choices in two of their languages, Light Warlpiri and Warlpiri, that share many lexical items and most nominal morphology. The children’s choices contribute to language differentiation and in some instances drive language differentiation further than adult speech does. The motivation is captured in a community of practice model.