Australian children create new language: ‘Warlpiri rampaku’


Creating a new language is literally child’s play in one remote Australian village,according to The New York Times.

American linguist Carmel O’Shannessy last month published new research on the novel Australian tongue in the journal Language. She has been working with villagers in Lajamanu, population 700, where kids have created a new language called “Warlpiri rampaku” (meaning “light Warlpiri”).

They have been combining their local dialect of Warlpiri with “varieties of English and/or Kriol,” making for a “radical restructuring of the verbal auxiliary system” over the past three-and-a-half decades, according to O’Shannessy

To be clear, this is a legit new language, not two tongues smashed together. As The Smithsonian explains:

“So, the new language, light Warlpiri, borrows some verb structures and nouns from its parent languages, but it puts these pieces together in a new way. This is in much the same was as how many of the Romance languages, such as Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian and Romanian, seem to borrow words from each other while being noticeably different languages.”

About 300 villagers speak native Warlpiri rampaku, according to an interview with O’Shannessy at the University of Michigan, where she works as a linguist. It’s reportedlytaking on so fast that it may threaten regular old Warlpiri, which is spoken by some 4,000 people in the region.

“These young people have developed something entirely new,” linguistics professor Peter Bakker of Denmark’s Aarhus University told The Times. “Light Warlpiri is clearly a mother tongue.”

So how does it sound? O’Shannessy gave an example to The Times using the sentence “We also saw worms at my house,” which in Warlpiri rampaku goes: “Nganimpa-ng gen wi-m si-m worm mai aus-ria.” 


Why this new language has arisen without any apparent need for it remains a mystery. Maybe these linguistically-savvy villagers, many of whom already knew both Walpiri and basic English, were seeking their own way of expressing and communicating the nuances of life in Australia’s isolated north.

For instance, O’Shannessy told LiveScience that the language contains a new way to refer to what she calls “non-future” time. “[I]n English, ‘I’m’ refers to ‘I’ in the present tense, but Light Warlpiri speakers created a new form, such as ‘yu-m,’ which means ‘you’ in the present and past time, but not the future,” explained LiveScience. Some towns have good sports teams. Others pride themselves on famous celebrities. Lajamanu has a new language. That’s pretty cool.

Watch the video report on it from The Times here:


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