Light Warlpiri, A Newly Discovered Australian Mixed Language

Linguist Carmel O’Shannessy wrote to the journal Language of a newly discovered language, Light Warlpiri. Her correspondence, “The role of multiple sources in the formation of an innovative auxiliary category in Light Warlpiri, a new Australian mixed language,” documents 300 people in a remote desert community about 644 kilometres from Katherine, a town in Australia’s Northern Territory, speaking in a striking auxillary system. She believes it emerged in the 1970’s and 80’s.

The language draws on traditional Warlpiri, which is spoken by about 6,000 people in indigenous communities scattered throughout the Tanami Desert along with Kriol, an English-based Creole language spoken in various regions of Australia; and English. In the Warlpiri language, words can be placed in any order, and grammatical interpretations are based on suffixes that are attached to the nouns. And the imported words have changed meanings so that the structure of the auxiliary model is not the same as they were in the source languages. O’Shannessy explains,

“In Light Warlpiri, you have one part of the language that mostly comes from English and Kriol, but the other grammatical part, the suffixing, comes from Warlpiri.”

Another distinction of the newfound language is a word form that refers to both the present and past time, but not the future. For example, in 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.

“That structure doesn’t exist in any of the languages that this new code came from, which is one of the reasons we see this as a separate linguistic system, even though it comes from other languages that already exist,

Here’s an interesting example. Blue words in this color are from Warlpiri, and those in that are red are from English or Kriol. Green colored words are for the creative auxiliary system and verbal structure.

De-m run back rarralykaji-kirra jarntu an yapa-wat ngapa-kujaku.
“The dog and the people run back to the car to get out of the rain.”

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