New languages are born and die all the time, particularly in regions where multiple languages exist. Code-switching isn’t uncommon in these areas, where people swing from one language to another in mid-sentence. Sometimes, that alternation becomes something of its own.
A linguistic melting pot
In the Lajamanu region of Australia’s Northern Territory, three languages dominate the tongue. Colonial English and Indigenous Warlpiri coexist alongside Kriole, a variant of the Caribbean Creole. For individuals under the age of 35, however, a fourth language combines all three of these tongues into a unique dialect called Light Warlpiri.
Extremely regionalized and limited to a specific demographic, Light Warlpiri is spoken by about half of the population of its home village. Out of the roughly 600 inhabitants, between 350 and 450 of them, reportedly speak this new hybrid language.
Divided down the middle
What makes Light Warlpiri particularly interesting is that its fusion of languages is divided into distinct categories. Most code-switched “languages” are the product of dropping random words for different languages into a sentence. In Light Warlpiri, it’s set apart by its distinct language categories.
Light Warlpiri uses the verbs and grammar surrounding them from Kriol and English, but the nouns and their grammatical patterns come from Warlpiri. Very few mixed languages in the world have such a clear split, and it’s one of the primary reasons Light Warlpiri is so exciting to linguists.
Keeping up with the youth
The Light Warlpiri-speaking population is entirely under the age of 40. Their parents spoke the three languages in a code-switching format to them, but the kids picked it up as more of a suggestion for a unique language, eventually developing it into the Light Warlpiri it is today.
Its prevalence grows as the new language is passed down to the children of the original speakers. While the language has no set written format, the founders are not entirely sure they want to develop one, preferring to keep it unofficial and a complex social signal that they are part of a young, hip community.