Professor Carmel O’Shannessy was one of three keynote speakers at the From Language Mixing to Fused Lects colloquium held at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS). FRIAS is an international research college at the University of Freiburg in Freiburg, Germany. “This colloquium seeks to bring together researchers working on different language constellations who share an interest in the linguistic and sociolinguistic description of the emergence of bilingually or multilingually mixed language structures ('fused lects') from language mixing,” according to FRIAS.
The colloquium, organized by Professor Peter Auer and Nikolay Hakimov, brought together researchers from around the world who are working on language contact situations. In addition to code-switching, the focus was on contexts in which code-switching had conventionalized so much that the way of speaking has become a fused lect.
Professor O'Shannessy's keynote talk outlined processes in the development of a mixed language in Australia, Light Warlpiri, that arose from conventionalized code-switching. It highlighted the role of children in this process, and argued that conventionalized code-switching can be all that is needed for a mixed language to develop.
Details of the mechanisms by which a mixed linguistic system can develop from code-switching practices are not well understood, largely because of lack of documentation at the time of emergence of a new system, and of the characteristics of bilingual interactions preceding it. Questions include how types of source language relate to those of code-switching practices and in turn to the patterns of language combination in the new system. Others ask about the relative structural contributions of the source languages, and the sociolinguistic context at the time. There has been less attention to the type of structural contribution made by speakers in specific life stages at different times during the emergence of the new system. Observations of Light Warlpiri from soon after its emergence help to provide this detail, using apparent time analyses to show the differential contributions of three generations to the still-unfolding system. The sources of Light Warlpiri are Warlpiri (Australian, Pama-Nyungan) and English-lexified language varieties (English and Kriol (an English-lexified creole)). Defining features of Light Warlpiri are a composite verbal structure, derived from English, Kriol and Warlpiri, with innovations, combined with Warlpiri nominal case morphology. Lexical items are from both types of source, although most verbs are from English and Kriol. The system emerged about 40 years ago, allowing us the opportunity to track the sociolinguistic context at its time of origin and its subsequent path of development. This paper will illustrate that Light Warlpiri was formed in a two-stage process, where consistent adult code-switching practices in a child-directed speech register were processed by the children as a single linguistic system. Language typology played a role in the type of code-switching practiced. Using processes of reanalysis commonly found in child first language acquisition, the children reanalyzed elements of the verbal input, creating an innovative structure. The result is a composite of the typologically different source languages, with an innovative verbal auxiliary element, yet with one source, Warlpiri, grammatically dominant. The current cohort of child speakers largely maintain the single system, but regularize variable structures, and in doing so, increase the system's autonomy from its sources.