The World’s Newest Language!

We’ve all heard of dead languages, but a group of children in northern Australia have recently created a newborn language.

This discovery was made by University of Michigan linguist Carmel O’Shannessy. The new tongue, Warlpiri rampaku, (also known as Light Warlpiri,) originated in Lajamanu, a remote village with a population of about 700, nestled in Australia’s Northern Territory.

O’Shannessy has studied Light Warlpiri since 2002 and visits Lajamanu annually, staying between three and eight weeks at a time. Based on her studies, O’Shannessy has concluded that Light Warlpiri is a completely new language with its own set of grammar rules, not just a dialect or a creole.

Approximately 350 people speak the language and all of them are under the age of 35. Unlike most discovered languages, Light Warlpiri is young enough that many of its originators are still alive.

Speakers of Light Warlpiri are also among the 4,000 individuals throughout Australia who speak traditional Warlpiri. Many also speak another language, a late 19th century creole called Kriol, which is partly based on English.

The Light Warlpiri language uses many borrowed English and Kriol words.  It originated from parents who combined three languages when speaking to their children. The children then took this baby talk, changed the verb structure, and a new language was eventually born.

According to Peter Bakker, a linguistics professor at Denmark’s Aarhus University, Light Warlpiri is neither a creole (combination of two established languages) nor a pidgin (a rudimentary creole.) In an interview with the New York Times, Bakker said, “Light Warlpiri is clearly a mother tongue.”

While it isn’t clear what inspired the new language, O’Shannessy suggests that Lajamanu children may have developed it as a way to establish their identity as Warlpiri youth.

The future of traditional Warlpiri is uncertain because of Light Warlpiri’s well-established and robust nature, but older members of the Lajamanu community would like to see it kept alive.

It is thought that Lajamanu’s isolated nature played a role in the development of Light Warlpiri. The village, which was established in 1948, has some partially paved roads but its nearest commercial area is located over 300 miles away.

Looks like we might have to add some new translation services to light Warlpiri!


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