Professor Carmel O'Shannessy talked with students of Earnest W. Seaholm High School in Birmingham, Michigan, at a Flex conference. The theme of the conference was "Twisting the Kaleidoscope: Exploring Perspectives in an Increasingly Global World."

Carmel's talk was entitled "Creative response to global pressure: a case study of a new language, Light Warlpiri."


A negative by-product of the rise of English as a global language is that in many cases English replaces local languages, and we are losing lesser-known languages at an alarming rate. But one small Indigenous community in the north of Australia has reacted creatively to pressure from English, by incorporating elements of the traditional language, Warlpiri, and varieties of English and Kriol systematically in a new way of speaking. The speakers incorporate the source languages into the new way of speaking 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 new elements that are not the same as those in 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.

“Flex is the Flexible Scheduling Program where the main goal is to delve deeper into concepts that aren’t commonly talked about in high school. Flex is an integrated class that incorporates all four grades where students challenge the status quo; we study both history and literature and intertwine the two to try and find meaning in both the smallest and biggest events of history. The Flex theme this year is Global year, where we look at what it means to be a global citizen, investigating topics such as the global economy, the environment, and universal human rights. The annual Flex conference is used to provide outreach and spread the word about the Flex program and also to help individuals outside of the program participate in conversations about current topics that affect all generations. This year’s theme, Twisting the Kaleidoscope: Exploring Perspectives in an Increasingly Global World, is about the importance of being educated on other’s beliefs, values, and lenses. We hope to impress upon our peers that, although understanding is not condoning, it is necessary to be knowledgeable about other cultures.”

– By Ana Davis, Earnest W. Seaholm High School