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Australian Journal of Linguistics
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Light Warlpiri: A New Language
Carmel O'Shannessy a
aUniversity of Sydney and Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen
Online Publication Date: 01 April 2005
To cite this Article: O'Shannessy, Carmel (2005) 'Light Warlpiri: A New Language ',
Australian Journal of Linguistics, 25:1, 31 - 57
To link to this article: DOI: 10.1080/07268600500110472
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© Taylor and Francis 2007
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Light Warlpiri: A New Language*
University of Sydney and Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen
1. Introduction
In the Warlpiri community of Lajamanu, in the Northern Territory of Australia,
children and young adults, less than about 30 years old, speak in a way which
systematically combines elements of Warlpiri (a Pama-Nyungan language), Kriol (an
English-based creole) and English, as in examples (1) and (2).
(1) uuju-ng i-m hab-um ngapa
horse-ERG 3sg-NFUT have-TR water
The horse is having water.
(2) yu-m ngurrju -nyayirni
2sg-NFUT good very
You did very well/You were very good.
In the examples, elements drawn from Warlpiri are in italics , those from
Aboriginal English or Kriol are in bold print and those from Standard Australian
English are in plain text. The auxiliary cluster is underlined. The examples are from
adults in their early twenties.
Older adults call this way of talking ‘Light Warlpiri’ (LW).
LW draws most verbs
and verbal morphology from Kriol, nouns from Warlpiri and English, and nominal
morphology from Warlpiri. It has an innovative auxiliary paradigm, which is derived
from Warlpiri and Kriol auxiliaries.
Languages spoken in Lajamanu are Warlpiri, Aboriginal English and Standard
Australian English, and LW. Older Warlpiri speakers, over approximately 30 years
old, typically code-mix and borrow from Kriol and English when speaking Warlpiri.
They also code-switch between Warlpiri and English or Kriol. People in Lajamanu are
* I am grateful to the following people for discussion of the data: Melissa Bowerman, Penelope Brown, Bhuvana
Narasiman, Jane Simpson, Pieter Muysken, Wolfgang Klein, Patrick McConvell, Barbara Schmiedtova, Felicity
Meakins, Mary Laughren, anonymous AJL reviewers, members of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
Language Acquisition Group, and participants in the Aboriginal Child Language Acquisition workshop, Alice
Springs, 2003.
Older speakers of Warlpiri generally have passive control of LW, but also say that they sometimes cannot
understand the children when the children are speaking to each other.
ISSN 0726-8602 print/ISSN 1469-2996 online/05/010031-27 #2005 The Australian Linguistic Society
DOI: 10.1080/07268600500110472
Australian Journal of Linguistics
Vol. 25, No. 1, April 2005, pp. 31/57
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not speakers of Kriol, but elements that could be identified as Kriol (or Aboriginal
English) appear in their Warlpiri through borrowing and code-mixing. The code-
mixing of older Warlpiri speakers both resembles and differs from the combination of
elements in LW. A specific difference is that, when code-mixing, older Warlpiri
speakers do not produce the LW auxiliary system, which is an innovation on the part
of the younger generation. The use of this system, described in Section 4, is taken as
diagnostic of LW.
LW developed as an in-group language, through Warlpiri speakers speaking to each
other and code-mixing between Warlpiri and Kriol or English. It has not undergone
processes of pidginization and creolization.
Nor is LW an interlanguage, because LW
did not arise from the need to learn a language other than Warlpiri for
communication with a non-Warlpiri speaking group. Nor did LW come from Kriol
or English speakers who needed to learn Warlpiri. LW arose among a group of
Warlpiri speakers. They typically code-mixed between Warlpiri and Kriol or English,
and their code-mixing has conventionalized into a new language, which is now
learned by children as one of their two first languages.
My analysis of LW is based on approximately 90 hours of audio and video tape
recordings of children’s and young adults’ speech, between 2001 and 2004, including
both spontaneous and elicited production data.
1.1. Organization of Paper
In this paper I describe LW and demonstrate that it is a new language. Lajamanu
children learn both LW and Warlpiri. They target LW as the language they produce
first and as the language of their everyday interactions. They speak LW with each
other and with older adults, even if older adults speak to them in Warlpiri. LW is
spoken only with people from Lajamanu community. Both adults and children think
of it as a kind of Warlpiri.
In a sociolinguistic context of extreme social disruption, when members of a newly-emerged community have
an urgent need for communication with each other, speakers of several different languages develop a more
restricted language, a pidgin, for communication with each other in certain public domains, but speak their
respective first languages in their domestic domains. In creolization the pidgin develops and becomes the first
language of the next generation, the creole (see, for example, Harris 1991, 1993; Mulhausler 1991). The debate
about the genesis and typology of creoles is not addressed by this paper.
McConvell et al. (in progress) argue that LW is a Mixed Language.
My fieldwork was supported in 2001 and 2002 by AIATSIS Grant no G2001/6570 and ARC Grant no.
A10009036 (Principal investigators Christopher Manning and Jane Simpson) and in 2003 by the University of
Sydney and the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen. Thank you to Lajamanu Community
Education Centre Principal and staff for providing accommodation and allowing me to work with teachers and
children. For data collection and transcription I am grateful to members of Lajamanu Community, in particular
to Valerie Patterson Napanangka, Elizabeth Ross Nungarrayi, Belinda Baker Nakamarra, Audrey Baker
Nakamarra, Agnes Donnelly Napanangka, Cecily James Nakamarra, Gillian Dixon Nakamarra, Elaine Johnson
Nangala, Leah Johnson Napaljarri, Steve Patrick Jampijinpa, Sabrina Nelson Nakamarra, Leonie Rose
Nungarrayi, Matrina Robertson Nangala, Roseanne Dixon Napangardi, Tanya Hargraves Napanangka,
Geraldine McDonald Nangala, Noressa White Napurrurla and Gracie White Napaljarri.
32 C. O’Shannessy
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In Section 2 I define relevant language names. Section 3 describes LW phonology
and phonotactics. Section 4 discusses LW grammatical functions, and Section 5
describes LW discourse markers. Section 6 presents some examples of older people’s
code-mixing, code-switching and borrowing, and contrasts these with LW. In Section
7 I argue that LW is not code-mixing or code-switching, or one language with
extreme borrowing, but that it is a new language.
2. Definitions of Language Names
2.1. Warlpiri
Warlpiri is essentially Warlpiri as documented in the literature (Hale 1973; Laughren
et al. 1996; Nash 1986; Simpson 1991), with some variation found in Lajamanu. The
descriptions in the literature are mainly based on varieties spoken in the communities
of Yuendumu and Willowra, approximately 600 kilometres south of Lajamanu.
Lajamanu Warlpiri shows some variation, especially among speakers under 60 years
old. One variation is allomorphic simplification of ergative and locative suffixes.
In the literature on Warlpiri, velar initial forms occur on disyllabic word stems: -ngki,
-ngku, (ergative) -ngka (locative), and coronal initial forms occur on longer stems:
-rli, -rlu (ergative), -rla (locative). In Lajamanu Warlpiri, spoken by adults under
about 60 years old, both forms occur on longer word stems.
The second variation is
the deletion of a velar stop from the velar form of ergative and locative clitics, so that
they become -ngi, -ngu, -nga.
Again, both forms are used by Lajamanu adult
speakers, especially those under 60 years old.
2.2. Kriol
Kriol is the English-based creole spoken as a common language with local variation
by indigenous people across northern Australia. For Kriol data I draw on Fitzroy
Valley Kriol (Hudson 1983) and Ngukurr-Bamyili Kriol (Sandefur 1979).
2.3. English and Aboriginal English
English refers to Standard Australian English. Aboriginal English (AE) is a variety of
English. It contains features from traditional Australian languages and/or from Kriol
(Malcolm 1991), such as phonology, syntax and lexical items. The English of people
in Lajamanu often shows features of AE. These include, for example, bin as a past
tense marker, a transitive marker -im on transitive verbs, one as the indefinite article
and zero copula. AE is used by Warlpiri to speak to indigenous people from non-
Warlpiri communities, and to non-indigenous people.
In standard Warlpiri the lateral form is used on some lexically marked disyllabic determiners, e.g. yali (that-
there), nyampu (this/here), yinya (that/there), nyiya (what).
Velar stop deletion is also a feature of Eastern Warlpiri (Simpson 1985).
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2.4. Kriol and AE
Both Kriol and Aboriginal English vary along geographic lines, incorporating words
and structures derived from and inspired by the traditional languages of the local
area. They also vary as to how many features they incorporate from standard English.
[For a discussion of distinctions between Aboriginal English and creoles see, for
example, Malcolm (1991).]
Kriol is English-based, and AE contains morphemes and words from Kriol, so there
is considerable phonological, syntactic and lexical overlap between AE and Kriol. For
example, the elements listed above for AE also occur in Kriol. It is often not possible
to distinguish whether an element in LW is drawn from AE or Kriol. Since Lajamanu
people are influenced by both AE and Kriol, I will use AE/Kriol to indicate that the
source of the element could be either AE or Kriol, or both.
It is difficult to identify which processes and which source languages lead to some
features in LW. This is because some features in AE/Kriol are already the result of
language contact processes between English and traditional Australian languages, for
example, relexification (Muysken 2000). I take the view that LW speakers are
influenced directly by features of AE/Kriol and also by language contact processes
involving English and Warlpiri. The processes and the outcomes often resemble each
other and strengthen the motivation for a feature to occur in LW.
Following Muysken (2000), I use the term ‘code-switching’ for when the language
used changes inter-sententially in a single speech event, and the term ‘code-mixing’
for instances where lexical and grammatical elements from two or more languages or
varieties appear within a single sentence.
3. LW: Phonology and Phonotactics
LW phonology is drawn from Warlpiri, Kriol and English. In Kriol, English-derived
words take on the phonology of traditional Australian languages (Sandefur 1979), so
there is considerable overlap in the phonological inventories of Warlpiri and Kriol.
Some LW words, such as bugi (wash, ‘bogey’ in Kriol and Australian English
), are
from Kriol, while others are English-derived words with some Warlpiri or Kriol
phonology, such as uuju (horse). Many English sounds, for example, fricatives, are
retained in LW, even though they are not found in basilectal varieties of Kriol or in
Warlpiri. Fricatives may be present in AE.
The LW sound system is a continuum similar to that of Kriol, which ‘can be
described as a continuum of sounds with an Aboriginal type sound sub-system at one
end and an English type sound sub-system at the other’ (Sandefur 1979). Variation
along the continuum may be between speakers or within one speaker. In LW, some
sounds are more like English sounds and others are more like Warlpiri and Kriol
‘Bogey’ originated in an East Coast NSW language and was commonly used in Australian English in the 1950s
(M. Laughren, p.c.).
34 C. O’Shannessy
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LW words with Warlpiri as their source language follow the same phonotactic rules
as Lajamanu Warlpiri. The phonotactics in Lajamanu Warlpiri differ from descrip-
tions of Warlpiri in the literature
(e.g. Nash, 1980). The differences are final vowel
deletion, initial glide deletion, cluster modification, and semi-vowel formation. Each
is explained in turn.
Warlpiri as described in the literature does not allow word-final consonants, but
the phonotactics of Lajamanu Warlpiri have changed. Warlpiri has three vowels and
all words are vowel final, but in Lajamanu Warlpiri the final high vowels [u] and [i]
are omitted from some words and morphemes, for example, the dative case-marker
Syllable deletion commonly occurs with final vowel deletion in the
pronunciation of some possessive pronouns, such as nyuntu-nyangu (you-POSS),
which becomes nyun-nyang;
and the possessive case-marker -kurlangu , which
becomes -kang. Initial glide deletion occurs mostly on the determiner, yinya (there),
which becomes inya.
Cluster modification has two forms, cluster simplification and consonant addition.
In cluster simplification a velar stop is deleted from nasal-plus-velar-stop consonant
clusters in ergative and locative case markers.
The final vowel in the ergative and
locative case markers may also be deleted. As a result, the velar-initial ergative case
marker has three forms: -ngku,-ngu, and -ng, and the velar-initial locative case
marker has two: -ngka, and -nga. Cluster simplification also occurs in some words
where a palatal glide is substituted for a palatal stop, as in malju/malyu (young
man). Consonant addition has been observed in only one word: wirlinyi (hunting),
where a palatal stop is inserted, resulting in wirlinyji .
Semi-vowel formation occurs in some words where rhotics become semi-vowels, as
in -pardu*/-pawu (diminutive suffix), -jarrimi*/-jayimi (inchoative verb). It is also
a feature of baby talk (Laughren 1984).
The phonotactics described here occur in both Warlpiri and in LW, but they are
more frequent in LW.
4. LW: Grammatical Functions
Grammatical functions are marked differently in English and Kriol from in Warlpiri.
English and Kriol use SVO word order in a nominative-accusative pattern to indicate
subject and object, by positioning transitive and intransitive subjects before the verb,
and positioning transitive objects after the verb.
The variation may now be present in the Warlpiri spoken in other Warlpiri communities, but I only have data
for Lajamanu Warlpiri.
This kind of vowel deletion was also noted earlier in Yuendumu community in Bavin and Shopen (1991).
nyun-nyang is also heard in rapid connected speech in other Warlpiri communities.
Words with initial y followed by i followed by a palatal consonant are typically pronounced without any
obvious glide onset in other varieties as well (M. Laughren, p.c.).
The velar stop deletion in the ergative marker was noted in Yuendumu Community by Bavin and Shopen
Wirlinyji is also a common variant of wirlinyi in other Warlpiri communities (M. Laughren, p.c.).
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Warlpiri uses case-marking to indicate subject and object, marking transitive
subjects with ergative case, and intransitive subjects and transitive objects with
absolutive case, which is realized as zero. Warlpiri has a cross-referencing system of
pronominal clitics, hosted by an auxiliary base, which are in nominative-accusative
case. The ordering of subject, verb and object is free in Warlpiri, but preferred orders
arise from pragmatic considerations (Swartz 1991). In Warlpiri, core arguments need
not be overt and non-overt arguments are preferred (Swartz 1991).
As in Kriol and English, the unmarked way to indicate grammatical functions in
LW is with SVO word order. However, subject and object NPs may be omitted in LW,
as in Warlpiri, but not in Kriol, and only under specific conditions in English.
Ergative case-marking optionally marks transitive subject NPs, usually only on NPs
drawn from Warlpiri. I will return to the role of the ergative case-marker in Section
4.4.1, after presenting other elements in LW.
4.1. Verbs
LW uses mostly English or Kriol verb stems, with Kriol verb morphology. Verb
morphology is similar in LW and Kriol in the following ways: (a) verbs are not
inflected for tense or aspect (with the exception of some Warlpiri verb stems, which
are explained below); (b) transitive verbs take a transitive marker, -im on the verb
stem; and (c) transitive and intransitive verbs may take Kriol directional and
locational suffixes [which Hudson (1983) calls third order affixes], as in example (3).
(3) a-rra teik-im-at
1sg-fut take-TR-out
I’ll take (it) out.
A difference between Kriol and LW verb morphology is that the iterative suffix, -
bat, frequent in Kriol, is rare in LW, but an example from LW is given in example (4).
(4) nyampu ngana i-m jak-im-bat
DET Who 3sg-pst throw-TR-ITER
This, who’s throwing (it) around?
In LW the transitive suffix, -im , can change verb valency, as in example (5).
(5) jinta -kari i-rra kam-at-im nail
one -other 3sg-FUT come-out-TR nail
Another one (another person), he’ll take a nail out.
LW also uses some Warlpiri verb roots, all transitive, and these take the Kriol
transitive suffix, reduced to -m as in example (6). The Warlpiri verb roots are not
attested with other Kriol suffixes. The Warlpiri verb stems found so far in LW are
panti- (pierce), kati- (press), punta- (steal) and winji- (pour, spill). These are in the
second Warlpiri verb class, and in Warlpiri, verbs in this class show regressive vowel
harmony in the past tense (Nash 1980).
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(6) jilkarla-ng i-m panti-rni -m
thorn-ERG 3sg-NFUT pierce-PRES-TR
A thorn is piercing him/pierced him.
In LW the past tense form of these verbs also optionally shows regressive vowel
harmony, so I analyse them as being composed of the Warlpiri stem plus the Warlpiri
past tense affix -rnu and the Kriol transitive -m , as in example (7).
(7) i-m pantu-rnu -mwatiya-ng
3sg-NFUT pierce-PST-TR wood-ERG
A thorn pierced him.
4.2. The Auxiliary System: Source Languages
LW verbs typically occur with an auxiliary. The auxiliary system has forms derived
from Kriol, yet it functions more like the Warlpiri auxiliary in that the auxiliary
appears in second position, and works in tandem with verb morphology to indicate
tense, mood and aspect. Unlike the Warlpiri auxiliary, however, the LW auxiliary only
indicates subject, not object.
4.2.1. Warlpiri auxiliary cluster
The Warlpiri auxiliary cluster is obligatory in verbal clauses. (For detailed discussion
of the Warlpiri auxiliary, see Hale 1973, 1982; Laughren 2002; Laughren et al. 1996;
Swartz 1982.) The Warlpiri examples are from Laughren et al. (1996) and Hale
(1982), with my gloss (following Hale et al. 1995).
The format of the Warlpiri auxiliary cluster is:
/BASE/PRO (Laughren 2002)
The BASE carries information about tense, mood and aspect (TMA) and operates in
combination with verbal inflections. The COMP, if present, is also involved in the
expression of TMA features in combination with BASE and verbal inflection. PRO
consists of a subject pronominal clitic and a non-subject pronominal clitic. In
examples (8)/(12), the auxiliary is underlined. Warlpiri has free word order so the
verb may occur in any position. The auxiliary cluster occurs in second position, as in
examples (8) to (12). The first constituent may be a phrase of any type.
Example (8) shows the imperfective auxiliary base, ka , and non-past inflection on
the verb. The combination of these gives a present tense, imperfective aspect reading.
(8) Ngarrka-patu-rlu ka-lu-jana karnta-patu nya-nyi.
man-pl-ERG IMPF-3pl-3pl woman-pl see-NPST
The men see the women. (Laughren et al . 1996)
In example (9) the combination of zero auxiliary base and past tense inflection on
the verb indicate past tense and perfective aspect.
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(9) Karnta-patu-rlu-Ø-lu-jana kurdu-kurdu-ku miyi yu-ngu.
woman-pl-ERG-PERF-3pl-3pl child-redup-DAT food give-PST
The women gave food to the children. (Laughren et al . 1996)
In example (10) the auxiliary base -lpa indicates past imperfective and the verbal
inflection is past, so the reading is past imperfective.
(10) Karnta-patu-lpa-lu-jana kurdu-kurdu-ku miyi yu-ngu.
woman-pl-IMPF-3pl-3pl child-redup-DAT food give-PST
The women were giving food to the children. (Laughren et al . 1996)
In example (11) the future auxiliary base and non-past verbal inflection gives a
future tense, prospective reading.
(11) Karnta kapu wangka-mi.
woman FUT talk-NPST
The woman will talk. (Laughren et al . 1996)
Subject and object NPs may be omitted, as in example (12).
(12) Parda-rni ka-rna-jana.
wait-NPST IMPF-1sg-3pl
I am waiting for them. (Hale 1982)
4.2.2. Kriol auxiliary
In contrast with Warlpiri, the auxiliary in Kriol, as documented by Sandefur (1979)
and Hudson (1983), does not carry information about person or number. Sandefur
(1979) describes five categories of auxiliary verb for Kriol: negation, tense, mode,
aspect and voice. He defines auxiliary verbs as those which ‘modify the meaning of
the main verb of a verb phrase. They differ from main verbs in not being able to stand
alone, except in topic-comment constructions which have no linking verbs’ (Sandefur
1979: 125). A subset of Kriol auxiliaries appears in Lajamanu AE and is borrowed into
Warlpiri, and a subset of those appears in LW. For example, past tense marker bin
occurs frequently in Lajamanu AE but rarely in LW. Table 1 summarizes the forms
which occur in LW.
Since the documentation by Sandefur (1979) and Hudson (1983), a change has
occurred in the Kriol auxiliary, attested in several Kriol-speaking communities (see
Section 4.3.1 for details). The future Kriol auxiliary, garra , a free form, has been
reduced to a bound form, -rra. The -rra form attaches to English-based pronouns,
resulting in a new auxiliary sub-paradigm of a-rra, i-rra, yu-rra, wi-rra, de-rra . In this
sub-paradigm there is an element for person (the pronominal element) and an
element for tense/aspect (the -rra element). The new -rra sub-paradigm is part of
The auxiliary base ka is treated as a phonological word because in some combinations, for example, the
future kapu , it can occur in initial position in the clause. In contrast, the auxiliary base -lpa can never occur in
initial position and must be suffixed onto the initial constituent in the clause.
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the larger LW auxiliary paradigm. Since I do not have Kriol examples, I will describe
the form as it is in LW, in Section 4.3.1.
4.3. The Auxiliary System: LW
In LW I distinguish between the auxiliary cluster, on the one hand, and the whole
auxiliary system or paradigm, on the other. The cluster consists of two elements, one
pronominal and one for tense/aspect. It immediately precedes the verb.
The LW auxiliary cluster consists of a pronominal morpheme marking the person
and number features of the subject, followed by a morpheme marking TMA, as
exemplified in Table 2.
The LW auxiliary forms are derived from Kriol, but the auxiliary system functions
more like the Warlpiri system, in carrying information for person and number of
subject as well as for tense and aspect. It is also like the Warlpiri auxiliary in that
information about tense, aspect and mood is provided by combinations of the
auxiliary cluster and verb morphology. The LW pronominal subject element carries
information for person and number, as the Warlpiri pronominal subject clitic does.
The second LW element carries information about tense/aspect. Unlike the Warlpiri
Table 1 Kriol auxiliaries of negation, tense and mode which appear in LW. Taken from
Sandefur (1979)
Kriol auxiliary category Kriol auxiliary sub-category Kriol form English gloss
Negation simple no not
emphatic nat not
neba past negative
Tense past bin* past
Mode necessity/advisability gada, ada, should
attempt trai try
*bin occurs rarely in LW.
There has been no published documentation of variation in Kriol since documentation by Sandefur (1979)
and Hudson (1983).
Table 2 LW auxiliary paradigm
LW auxiliary forms 1 singular 1 plural 2 singular 2 plural 3 singular 3 plural
Present or past a-m wi-m yu-m /i-m de-m
Future a-rra wi-rra yu-rra yumob-rra i-rra de-rra
Want to a-na wi-na yu-na /i-na de-na
LW has ways of expressing duality, but there is no single consistent dual form. Rather there are several
combinations drawn from AE/Kriol and Warlpiri which express duality, including an inclusive and exclusive
distinction. Some of these occur with the yu-rra auxiliary form, for example, ‘yurru yurra go’ (you two, you are
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auxiliary cluster, the LW auxiliary does not indicate non-subject. In the LW auxiliary
system there is no morpheme whose sole function is to indicate tense. The LW
auxiliary cluster occurs in both verbal and nominal clauses. There is a LW pronoun
for second person dual, yurru, but it does not host the LW auxiliary suffixes. There
are no dual forms for first or third person. Examples of verbal clauses are given in
(13)/(14); a nominal clause is shown in example (15).
(13) jurlpu de-rra catch-im
bird 3pl-fut catch-TR
They’re going to catch the bird.
(14) nalija i-m meik-im
tea 3sg-NFUT make-TR
She’s making tea.
(15) yu-m garr-um card mayi?
2sg-NFUT got-TR card INTERR
Did you get a card?
The order of elements in the auxiliary clusters in the two varieties are reversed, as
shown in Table 3.
The tense/aspect elements are bound forms. They are hosted by (a) LW auxiliary
pronouns, (b) free pronouns drawn from Warlpiri, and (c) proper names. The LW
pronominal forms also occur as free pronouns, with no tense /aspect suffix.
At first glance the third singular subject auxiliary, i-m, appears to be the AE/Kriol
third singular subject and object pronoun, im. But in LW there are two homonymous
im forms. One is analysed as two elements, subject pronominal, iand tense /aspect -
m, and is part of the LW auxiliary system. The other is an unanalysed subject and
object form drawn from AE/Kriol, which in LW is only an object pronoun.
4.3.1. LW auxiliary -rra: future (temporal)
In Sections 4.3.1/4.3.5 I present an analysis of each element of the LW auxiliary
cluster, in verbal and nominal clauses. In describing tense and aspect I follow Klein’s
(1994) time-relational analysis. The time being talked about, or topic time, is seen in
relation to the time for which the situation is valid. This relationship gives an
aspectual reading. Topic time is also seen in relation to the time of the moment of
speech, and this relationship gives a tense reading.
The -rra form in the auxiliary gives a future tense reading, indicating that the time
of the event being talked about is after the moment of speech, as in example (16). The
Table 3 Order of Warlpiri and LW auxiliary cluster elements
Auxiliary cluster First position Second position
Warlpiri auxiliary base: tense, aspect pronoun
LW pronoun tense, aspect
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time may be immediately after, or at any interval after the moment of speech. The
topic time is before the time of the situation for which it is valid, so the aspectual
interpretation of -rra is prospective.
(16) Nuna-rra purr-um ngula-nga
Nuna will put them there.
The modal interpretation of -rra is open. A potential, as opposed to assertional,
future reading is indicated by the combination of the -rra auxiliary form and
omission of the transitive marker on a transitive verb, as in examples (17)/(19).
More specific modal readings must be inferred from the context. Examples (17)/(19)
express a warning, threat, or likely action.
(17) i-rra bite you dat jurlpu
3sg-FUT bite-Øyou that bird
That bird might bite you. -transitive, warning
(18) a-rra hit you junga jirrama
1sg-FUT hit-Øyou true two
I’ll hit you two/the two of you. -transitive, threat/warning
(19) i-rra cry dat Apu
sg-FUT cry that name
She might cry, that Apu. -intransitive, warning/potential
The -rra forms may be an internal change in Kriol, which has taken place since
documentation by Sandefur (1979) and Hudson (1983). Kriol has a future auxiliary,
garra (written as gada in Sandefur’s description). In Sandefur’s documentation (cf.
Table 1, above) there are both gada and ada forms. Sandefur says the ada form is
infrequent, expresses necessity or advisability, and is future oriented but can be used
with past tense bin. He does not analyse it as having a pronominal element. The ada
form, however, may have been a motivation for the analysis of -rra presented here.
In the change from garra to a-rra, the initial ga- is omitted, leaving -rra as the
future form. The -rra is then suffixed to the pronominal forms derived from English/
Kriol (a, yu, wi, de ). The third singular i-rra form is attested in Elliot (R. Green, p.c.).
The -rra suffix attached to Kriol pronouns is attested in some Kriol-speaking
communities such as Kalkarindji in the Victoria River area and Ngukurr in the Roper
area (F. Meakins, p.c.) and Beswick (S. Cutler, p.c.).
The change to -rra forms is likely to have come into LW from Kriol. Its emergence
in LW could have been reinforced through a process akin to the code-mixing process
of congruent lexicalization (Muysken 2000). In congruent lexicalization, ‘the two
languages share a grammatical structure which can be filled lexically with elements
from either language’ (Muysken 2000). LW shares with Warlpiri an auxiliary structure
with an element marking person and number features (of subject) and a TMA
morpheme. While adopting the -rra form from Kriol (B
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LW combines it with the pronominal subject morpheme. Note that -rra also suffixes
to proper nouns, such as example (16), where it is directly attached to Nuna.
The AE/Kriol garra still occurs in LW, but much less frequently than the -rra
forms, and it usually has a reading of necessity rather than future.
4.3.2. Auxiliary -m: non-future (temporal)
The -m auxiliary suffix indicates that the time of the event denoted by the verb began
before the moment of speech, that is, in the past. It is left open whether that activity
continues at the moment of speech, but -m cannot refer to the future. In example
(20), an adult asks a child where she put a piece from a puzzle. The situation of
‘putting’ began before the moment of speech and ended just before the mother spoke.
(20) nyiya nyampu? nyarrpara yu-m purr-um?
what This where 2sg-NFUT put-TR
What about this one? Where did you put it?
In contrast, in example (21), a mother is talking to her child about a video clip. In
the scene an elephant leads a mouse out of a maze, and this takes a couple of seconds.
The situation of ‘leading the mouse’ began before the moment of speech and
continues while the mother is talking.
(21) i-m teik-im elephant-i-ng
3sg-NFUT take-TR elephant-euph-ERG
The elephant is taking it.
In examples (20) and (21) the difference in aspectual readings is inferred from the
context. In example (20) the topic time is after the time of the situation, so the aspect
is perfective. In example (21), the topic time is within the time of the situation, so the
aspect is imperfective.
While a combination of the non-future morpheme -m in the auxiliary cluster and
transitive suffix -im on the verb, as in example (20), can be interpreted as either
completed or not completed according to the context, the combination of -m in the
auxiliary and the progressive -ing on the verb can only be interpreted as present
progressive, as in example (21). The perfective/imperfective distinction is not
formally marked in LW. This is also a feature of Warlpiri in which the progressive/
non-progressive contrast and the past simple vs. past perfect (did vs. have done) are
not marked.
The -mform appears to be derived from AE/Kriol past tense marker bin. The form
is related to two other forms: (a) the English contraction I’m, and (b) the AE/Kriol
third singular pronoun im.
I hypothesize that in AE/Kriol, when bin followed a pronoun [for example, in ‘a
bin go’ (I went)], the middle vowel was omitted, and the form became /abn/. Then,
the manner of articulation of the bilabial stop /b/ was omitted, and the /n/
assimilated to the bilabial place of articulation, creating a bilabial nasal /m/. So the
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pronoun plus tense/aspect element became /a-m/. It is not surprising, then, that the
-m element refers to past time, as did its putative source, the morpheme bin.
The same phonological process applies to each pronoun, resulting in a-m (I),
yu-m (you), wi-m (we), de-m (they). Evidence of a pathway from AE/Kriol bin to
LW -m is that the ‘abn’ form has been heard in the Tennant Creek area (J. Simpson,
p.c.), alongside the earlier ‘a bin forms, and occurs once in my LW data alongside the
-m forms. So far the -m sub-system, with a pronominal element for first, second and
third persons, is not attested beyond LW.
In a process similar to the development of the -rra forms, once the change
from a bin to a-m took place, the further development of the sub-system of
-m forms could have been through a process akin to congruent lexicalization. In this
instance the grammatical form is shared by all three of the source languages: the
Warlpiri auxiliary cluster, the new Kriol form, and the English contraction I’m.In
English I’m, the initial element is a pronoun and, in verbal clauses, the second
element an auxiliary. The interpretation of the -rra and -m forms would reinforce
each other.
The -m form also occurs with nominal predicates, as in example (22). This is
similar to Warlpiri, in which a pronominal clitic co-occurs with a nominal predicate.
The -m form resembles English, except that in English the ‘m of I’m represents a
copula verb. The English I’m probably reinforced the interpretation of the LW -m
forms, because, in addition to the formal similarity, only the LW -m forms, and not
the -rra or -na forms, occur with nominal predicates.
(22) a-m pina ngaju na
1sg-NFUT knowledge 1sg pro now
I know now.
The third source of the LW -mform is the AE/Kriol third singular subject and
object pronoun im. Its presence as a subject form is likely to have reinforced the other
reanalyses. In LW im also exists unaltered from its AE/Kriol source as third singular
object pronoun. It may be the case that multiple sources have simultaneously
influenced the development of new forms and paradigms.
The future auxiliary -rra sub-paradigm is attested in several places in the Kriol
speaking area. In contrast, the non-future -m sub-paradigm is only attested in
Lajamanu. So the non-future -m sub-paradigm originates in Lajamanu and we are
yet to see if it spreads into the Kriol speaking area.
4.3.3. Auxiliary -na: desiderative (modal)
The -na form is a modal suffix which indicates ‘wanting to’, and occurs with
transitive and intransitive verbs. Logically the -na form is open with respect to tense,
but in my data all examples refer to present and future time, and have imperfective
aspect. When used with the third person subject, the -na form can also indicate what
the speaker wants for the third person subject, rather than what the subject wants. So
i-na also has a reading of ‘necessity’, as in example (24).
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(23) yu-na hab-um kuyu mayi
2sg-want have-TR meat INTERR
Do you want to have meat?
(24) i-na sidan nyampu-rla
3sg-want Sit here-LOC
She has to sit here.
The -na form is derived from English ‘want to’, when pronounced as ‘wanna’. In a
development similar to that of the -rra forms, the initial wa is omitted, resulting in -
na which is suffixed to each pronoun. The -na affix is the only auxiliary element
which alone indicates mood. The reanalysis of -na completes the LW auxiliary
4.3.4. Verbal affixes: transitive marker -im and progressive -ing
The transitive marker -im typically occurs on transitive verbs, as seen in several
examples above. It is omitted under the following circumstances:
a. when -rra is present in the auxiliary cluster to issue a threat or warning, as in
examples (17)/(19) above;
b. when the transitive verb has the progressive ‘-ing’ marker.
The progressive -ing affix on transitive verbs, as in example (25), and intransitive
verbs, as in example (26), indicates events which are in progress at the moment of
speech. In contrast to the English progressive -ing , which can be applied to the past
and future, the LW -ing specifically indicates ‘activity-in-progress-now’. In line with
this, it does not occur with the future -rra auxiliary suffix.
(25) i-m hab-ing it lolly
3sg-NFUT have-prog it lolly
She’s having the lolly.
(26) a-m wait-ing tarnnga-juk
1sg-pst wait-prog long time-still
I’ve been waiting for a long time.
Although a progressive transitive verb does not take the transitive marker -im ,itis
almost always followed by the third person pronoun it, as in example (25) above,
unless the object is first or second person. The third person pronoun it rarely occurs
as a subject pronoun, or as the object of a non-progressive verb. So while it is not a
dedicated marker of transitivity, it mostly occurs following a progressive transitive
verb, and so acts like a transitive marker. An overt object NP is optional, and may
occur before or after the auxiliary /verb component. That it should function
somewhat like a transitivity marker in a contact situation between English and a
traditional Australian language is not new, since in early Australian Pidgin both -im
and -it were transitivity markers (Koch 2000), and -it is still used in Kriol as a
transitivity marker for some verbs, such as gibit (Sandefur 1979).
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As described in Section 4.3.2, the -m auxiliary indicates that the situation denoted
by the verb began before the moment of speech. So in examples (25) and (26), the
activities began before the moment of speech, as indicated by -m, and are in progress
at the moment of speech, as denoted by -ing . The length of time before the moment
of speech in which the activity was in progress is left open, and can be expressed by an
adverb, for example, tarnnga-juk (long time-still) in example (26). The context of
example (26) is that the woman had been waiting for some time before the moment
of speech and was still waiting when she spoke.
Table 4 gives a summary of the temporal and modal interpretations of LWauxiliary
and verbal combinations.
4.4. Case-marking
4.4.1. Ergative case-marking on transitive subjects
The distribution of ergative case-marking in LW is strikingly different from that in
Warlpiri. In Warlpiri the ergative is obligatory except on first and second person
singular pronouns (Bavin 1985), so there is a split in ergative case-marking according
to an animacy hierarchy. In LW the ergative occurs variably on transitive subject NPs,
and occurs more on those which are drawn from Warlpiri than on those drawn from
English or Kriol. So one factor in ergative case-marking distribution may be a source
language distinction. Since the presence of the ergative is not necessary for indicating
grammatical relations, its presence may be motivated by pragmatic factors.
A shift
in the role of ergative case-marking to that of marking discourse prominence has
been documented for several traditional Australian languages (Pensalfini 1999). A
Table 4 Temporal and modal interpretations of LW auxiliary and verbal combinations
Verbal affixes
Transitive verbs Intransitive verbs
Auxiliary affix verb
/-im verb/Øverb/Øverb/-ing
-mevent began
before moment
of speech
-event completed
before moment
of speech;
-event continues
at moment of
/-event completed
before moment
of speech
-event continues
at moment of
-rra event is after
moment of
future event:
open as to modal
event, warning,
future event:
open as to modal
-na want to,
want to, necessity /want to, necessity /
In another morphologically ergative language, Samoan, Ochs (1985) found that speakers apply ergative case-
marking less when they are in informal or intimate family contexts, and more when they are in formal, public
contexts. So far I do not have evidence that the same socio-pragmatic distinction applies to Warlpiri speakers in
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similar change in the function of the ergative is not attested in Warlpiri, but
something similar may be operating in LW. While my analysis is incomplete, there are
some promising lines of inquiry, based on initial analysis of short LW narratives in
which seven adults told stories to young children.
One line of investigation is that in addition to source language of NP, factors such
as argument structure, animacy of agent and treatment of ‘new’ information play a
role in determining when ergative case-marking is applied.
Table 5 shows that in the narratives ergative case-marking is considerably less
frequent on human than on non-human agents. In Warlpiri there is also a case-
marking distinction based on animacy, but the distinction is drawn at a different
point in the hierarchy.
Du Bois (2003) makes a distinction between lexical NPs and reduced forms, for
example, pronouns or cross referencing. The first mention of a referent is relatively
less cognitively accessible than subsequent mentions of a prior referent, and needs a
more substantial lexical realization. So the first mention of a referent tends to be a
lexical NP. Later mentions of the same referent are achieved through use of reduced
forms. An argument which was previously mentioned is more cognitively accessible
than a new argument which needs a more substantial lexical realization.
In spontaneous discourse, ‘certain configurations of arguments are systematically
preferred over other grammatically possible alternatives’ (Du Bois 2003: 24). These
preferred configurations constitute a Preferred Argument Structure. Two constraints
on Preferred Argument Structure are relevant here: (1) avoid a lexical agent; and (2)
avoid presenting new information in the agent role. Cross-linguistically, a new
argument tends to be presented in the intransitive subject role.
Table 5 Distribution of ergative case-marking in LW narratives in relation to source
language and animacy
Type of agent NP
Number of
overt agents
% case-marked,
within each
Human: pronouns AE/Kriol 0 27 22.4
Warlpiri 3 3
Human: determiners,
AE/Kriol 1 1
Warlpiri 7 15
Non-human, animate AE/Kriol 5 6 88.8
Warlpiri 3 3
Inanimate AE/Kriol 0 0 92.9
Warlpiri 15 16
Totals 34 71 47.9
Six of the narratives come from elicited production tasks, in which adults used a picture stimulus to tell a
story to a child, and one was a spontaneous story told to a child while playing with dolls.
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Du Bois’ (2003) distinction between lexical NPs and reduced forms holds for the
LW narratives, where arguments are introduced into the narrative by a lexical NP. A
human agent is then referred to by a pronoun or through reference in the auxiliary
system after its introduction. This is consistent with the constraint ‘avoid a lexical
In contrast to the human agents, LW non-human agents, including inanimate
agents, are likely to continue to be realized as lexical NPs after being introduced and
usually receive ergative case-marking, as in examples (27) and (28), which are
consecutive utterances from one speaker.
(27) ah! jinta-ju watiya-ng i-m panti-rni-m wirliya
ah one-TOP wood-ERG 3sg-NFUT pierce-NPST-TR foot
ah! the one, the wood is piercing (his) foot.
(28) Japalyi i-m panti-rni -m watiya-ng
name 3sg-NFUT pierce-NPST-TR wood-ERG
It’s Japalyi (that) the wood is piercing.
Use of a lexical NP for subsequent mentions of the same argument violates the
constraint ‘avoid a lexical agent. Although the constraint refers to tendencies, not
absolutes, it is notable that all LW narrators used a lexical NP for the same inanimate
agent in multiple subsequent mentions. An inanimate agent is less ‘agentive’ and so is
less easy to access cognitively as an agent. LW does not have a passive construction, so
the new information of a thorn piercing a boy cannot be presented by a passive such
as ‘he was pierced by a thorn, where the semantic role of agent would be an oblique
object. In LW an agent is always presented as grammatical subject, and an inanimate
agent is more likely to be realized as a lexical NP.
A pattern which is common in spontaneous discourse is that the ergative case-
marker is applied to the first mention of a lexical agent but not to a subsequent
mention, as in examples (29) and (30), which are consecutive utterances from one
(29) i-m bring-im nalija Nungarrayi-ng
3sg-NFUT bring-TR tea name-ERG
Nungarrayi brought tea.
(30) i-m bring-im nalija Nungarrayi
3sg-NFUT bring-TR tea name
Nungarrayi brought tea.
In the talk prior to example (29), nalija (tea) was mentioned but not the person
called Nungarrayi, so example (29) introduces Nungarrayi as an agent. It seems that
the ergative case-marker in (29) calls extra attention to the agent, which is not needed
in the next mention. So the ergative case-marker may also indicate focus, in the sense
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of Lambrecht (1994), in which the focus is new information, unrecoverable from the
previous talk.
In sum, LW has two case systems operating to distinguish grammatical functions:
(a) the nominative-accusative system instantiated through word order and use of
English pronouns; and (b) the ergative-absolutive system instantiated through
ergative case-marking on certain lexical NPs. A speaker’s decision about which
of these to produce is determined by an interaction of several factors: source
language, animacy and pragmatic constraints, including argument structure
The combination of two case systems in LW is similar to that in Warlpiri, in which
overt NPs are case-marked according to an ergative-absolutive system, and
pronominal agreement clitics follow a nominative-accusative system. Ergative case
is not present in Kriol.
Ergative case-marking is also variably present in LW on adverbs of manner and
time. In Warlpiri, ergative case-marking is obligatory on manner adverbs and
optional on (some) time adverbs in transitive clauses. In LW ergative case-marking is
optional on both.
4.4.2. Case-marking: oblique functions
In LW, oblique functions are indicated by Warlpiri case-marking and English
prepositions. Case-marking occurs in 80% of total occurrences of either case-marking
or prepositions. The only AE/Kriol preposition used is for, often pronounced as bor
or br, as in example (31).
(31) what yu-m do-im br-im?
what 2sg-NFUT do-TR for-3sg
What did you do to her?
(32) an you talk for im yangka a-m talk for you.
and you talk for 3sg you know 1sg-NFUT talk for you
and you talk to her the way you know I told you to.
The function of for/bor as in examples (31) and (32), is like the dative in Warlpiri.
In Warlpiri, the verb wangka (talk) takes a dative case-marked object NP.
There is a difference in intonation between the two sentences. In example (29) there is a slight pause before
Nungarrayi-ng , so that Nungarrayi could be said to be an NP topic outside the clause nucleus, but in example
(30) there is no intonation break so that the NP could be said to be the subject inside the clause nucleus.
Pensalfini (1999) notes that in Jingulu, dislocated transitive NPs (set off intonationally from the clause nucleus)
are not case-marked, but transitive subject NPs within the clause are. There could be a similar distinction in LW,
along the lines of subject-topic, but for these two LW sentences the application of case-marking is the reverse of
that in Jingulu, as in these LW sentences the topic outside the clause nucleus is case-marked, but the subject is
Hudson (1983) explains that in Kriol for functions similarly to the dative in Walmajarri.
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4.4.3. Locative case marker: distribution in LW
In the Warlpiri literature, velar initial locative allomorph -ngka , occurs on two
syllable words, and -rla on words of three or more syllables. In Lajamanu Warlpiri
(especially with speakers under 60 years old), the locative case marker has three
allomorphs, -ngka,-nga, and -rla . The velar initial forms occur on words of any
syllable length. When Warlpiri speakers code-mix or borrow and insert English
nouns, they often apply the coronal-initial form, -rla , irrespective of the word
length. In LW the distribution is similar, but more systematic. The -ngka and
-nga forms occur on words of any length which are usually drawn from Warlpiri,
as in example (33). The -rla form occurs on words of any length which mostly
are drawn from English or Kriol, as in example (34). The -rla form can occur
on words drawn from Warlpiri as well as from English and Kriol, but -nga rarely
occurs on words drawn from English or Kriol. Another redistribution of locative
allomorphy is that in Warlpiri, determiners nyampu (this, here) and inya (that,
there) take the -rla locative allomorph. In LW they take both the -ngka and -rla
LW retains the suffixing, locative case-marking system of Warlpiri, rather than
using the locational prepositional systems of English or Kriol.
(33) karnta-pawu ngula you got-im ngula-jala rdaka-nga
woman-DIM ANAPH you got-TR ANAPH-EMPH hand-LOC
You’ve got the woman, there in your hand.
(34) fence-rla yu-rra shat-im-ap ngula-j
fence-LOC 2sg-NFUT shut-TR-up ANAPH-FOC
Lock that one up inside the fence.
All other Warlpiri oblique case-markers occur in LW, and their functions are the
same as in Warlpiri.
4.5. Word Order
Word order in LW is predominantly SVO, but initial position objects and final
position subjects are not uncommon. This contrasts with the much freer word order
of Warlpiri, and with the slight preference seen for OV order (Swartz 1991). That is,
in LW the position of the subject and object are much more predictable than in
Given that a transitive subject is not always case-marked, we might expect that,
when there is no ergative case-marking, SVO word order would reliably indicate
grammatical functions. However, examination of the same seven LW narratives
analysed in Section 4.4.1 shows that this is not the case. OV order can occur when
there is a lexical agent, as in example (35), or when there is no overt agent, as in
example (36).
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(35) Japayi i-m trip-im watiya-ng
name 3sg-NFUT trip-TR tree-ERG
The tree made Japayi trip.
(36) jurlpu de-rra catch-im
bird 3p-FUT catch-TR
They’ll catch the bird.
OAV order can also occur when there is a pronominal agent, as in example (37).
(37) jupu na dey jeis-ing it
bird now they chase-prog it
They’re chasing the bird now.
We might also expect a reliable interaction of word order and case-marking, such
that SVO word order would not require ergative case-marking on agents, but VA
order would. But in the narratives case-marking is optionally applied to both AV and
VA word orders, as Table 6 shows.
Table 6 shows the order of lexical transitive agents and verbs, regardless of whether
there is an overt object. Some 54% of the total number of verbal clauses are transitive,
and 31% of those have lexical agent NPs. The table shows that AV word order occurs
in 57% of the 30 clauses, and VA order 43%. Ergative case-marking is present in an
average of 60% of the clauses (59% with AV word order and 62% with VA word
order). So AV word order and ergative case-marking are preferred.
Given that animacy plays a role in the distribution of ergative case-marking, we ask
whether animacy of agent is relevant to word order.
Table 7 shows that human and animate agents tend to occur in AV order, while
inanimate agents occur in both AV and VA order. The ratio of AV to VA orders in the
Table 6 Word order and ergative case-marking on lexical agents in seven LW narratives
Word order ERG present ERG absent Totals
AV 10 7 17
VA 8 5 13
Transitive clauses with lexical agents 18 12 30
Total number of transitive clauses 97
Total number of clauses in narratives 181
Table 7 Animacy of lexical agents and distribution of AV and VA word order in seven LW
Word order Inanimate Non-human, animate
Human, including
determiners, numerals
AV 5 6 11
VA 7 1 0
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LW texts is similar to that found in Warlpiri adult narratives (Swartz 1991), where AV
clauses are twice as likely to occur as VA clauses.
In sum, word order in LW is more fixed than word order in Warlpiri, and more free
than word order in English and Kriol.
5. Discourse Markers
There are several discourse markers used in LW. Some of them are derived from
Warlpiri and one is derived from English.
(38) Nungarrayi dat ngaju-nyangu yinarlingi angka ?
Name that 1sg-POSS echidna tag
Nungarrayi, that’s my echidna, isn’t it?
The form, angka, in example (38), is common in both LW and in Lajamanu
Warlpiri. It is not described in the literature for Warlpiri, so it must be a recent
innovation. It functions as a tag does in English. There are no tag forms documented
for Warlpiri. The derivation of angka is from yangka, which means ‘you know the
one’ (Warlpiri Dictionary).
(39) jalpi kala-npa wapa-ja yangka
Self USIT-2sg walk-PST you know
You used to walk by yourself as we know.
Yangka , in example (39), asserts shared knowledge of speaker and hearer. In
contrast, the tag angka, in example (38) above, functions as a request for
confirmation of shared knowledge, and requires a response. Both yangka and angka
are common in both LW and Warlpiri.
Another Warlpiri discourse device common in LW appears in several forms:
nganta,ngana,nana,ana ,wana . The original Warlpiri form is nganta, meaning
‘reportedly’, or ‘said to be’ (Warlpiri Dictionary). It appears often in conversations.
The LW forms of nganta function in the same way as the original form does in
Warlpiri. An example of nganta in Warlpiri is given in (40) and in LW in example
(40) wajilipu-ngu nganta karnta-jarra-ng jirrama-jarra-ng .
chase-PST reportedly woman-dual-ERG two-dual-ERG
They chased it, it says, two women.
(41) an de-m find-im dat jurlpu nana nes-rla
and 3pl-NFUT find-TR that bird reportedly nest-LOC
And they found the bird, it says, in the nest.
Another discourse marker, anus, in example (42), is derived from English honest ,
and emphasizes the truth of the proposition.
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(42) dat nganpa-kang anus
that 1plexc-POSS EMPH
that’s ours, really!
Several LW discourse particles come directly from Warlpiri, such as waja (assertive
emphasis), jala (contrastive emphasis) and yakarra (asserts surprise), and the
Warlpiri topicalizing morpheme -ju . The particle na (now), from Kriol, which is also
present in adult Warlpiri, occurs frequently.
6. Older Speakers’ Warlpiri and English Code-mixing and Code-switching
People over age 30 in Lajamanu commonly code-mix and code-switch between
Warlpiri and AE/Kriol. However, their code-mixing and code-switching is not the
same as LW, because the speakers do not use the LW auxiliary paradigm. The LW
auxiliary is the strongest diagnostic of LW. Examples of code-mixing and code-
switching from speakers over 30 years old follow in (43)/(47).
(43) nyarrpara you garra purr-um
where 2sg FUT put-TR
Where will you put it?
Example (43) shows the use of the AE/Kriol future auxiliary verb garra in a
question which contains code-mixing between AE/Kriol and Warlpiri. The speaker is
about 40 years old. She does not use the LW yu-rra form.
Examples (45)/(47) are one utterance from a person about 60 years old, and show
her use of the AE/Kriol simple past tense form bin, not the LW auxiliary -m form.
Examples (44) and (46) show code-mixing of AE/Kriol and Warlpiri. Example (45)
shows a code-switch to a full Warlpiri clause containing a pre-verb borrowed from
(44) a bin walk, a bin look raun,mungulyurru
1sg PST walk 1sg PST look round early
I walked, I walked, I looked around, early.
(45) knock-up-jarri-ja-rna
I was tired.
(46) kuja a bin walk,kuja, kuja
thus 1sg PST walk thus thus
Here I walked, here, here.
Examples (47) and (48) show consecutive utterances from a conversation between
J, who is in his 40s and is not a LW speaker, and N, who is in her 20s and is a LW
speaker. They are arguing about who owns the money a child is playing with. J claims
that Jangala gave the money to him, and N claims that it is Nungarrayi’s money.
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(47) J: na A bin teik-Jangala bin gi-me old-im for im
no 1sg PST take name PST give-1sg hold-TR for 3sg
No, I took-, Jangala gave it to me, to keep it for him.
(48) N: nyan-nyang jala a-m gib-im fibe dollar Nungarrayi-k
3sg-POSS EMPH 1sg-NFUT give-TR five dollar name-DAT
It’s hers, actually! I gave five dollars to Nungarrayi.
In example (47) J uses the AE/Kriol simple past tense form bin. In contrast, in
example (48), N uses the LW auxiliary non-future a-m form. There is no transitive
suffix on the verb teik in example (47) because it is a false start. The examples show a
person, who is not a LW speaker, using the AE/Kriol auxiliary bin, and a LW speaker
using the LW non-future a-m form in the same conversation.
Examples (43)/(47) show how Warlpiri speakers code-mix and code-switch in AE/
Kriol and Warlpiri, and how they borrow English words into Warlpiri. Example (49)
demonstrates that LW resembles the code-mixing of older people’s speech in that it
consists of elements from AE/Kriol and Warlpiri. But it demonstrates a contrast with
older people’s speech in the use of the LW auxiliary form a-m , not the AE/Kriol past
form bin.
7. Why LW is Not Code-mixing
The ways in which the three source languages combine in LW both resembles and
differs from the code-mixing of older Warlpiri speakers. LW is likely to have grown
out of the AE/Kriol code-mixing of Warlpiri speakers, but the LW system has
conventionalized and is not code-mixing any longer. Warlpiri speakers’ code-mixing
is like LW in that there is insertion of AE/Kriol verbs, but it is unlike LW in that there
is no use of the LW auxiliary system. Arguments supporting the assertion that LW is a
new language, not code-mixing, follow.
Speakers cannot be code-mixing if the elements involved are not present in any of
the languages they are allegedly mixing. The LW auxiliary paradigm does not occur as
a complete system in Kriol. A subset of the system, some of the -rra forms, are
attested in Kriol, but the -m and -na subsystems are not attested outside LW. If LW
were code-mixing, we would expect to find the source auxiliary system in AE or Kriol
spoken outside Lajamanu. Warlpiri, AE/Kriol and LW have different verb and
auxiliary systems. Older speakers of Warlpiri do code-mix by inserting AE/Kriol verbs
with a transitive -im suffix into otherwise Warlpiri clauses, but they do not use the
LW auxiliary paradigm with these verbs. Rather, they use the AE/Kriol auxiliaries,
future garra and past bin, or else no auxiliary, and the third singular subject pronoun
im. Since older Warlpiri speakers do not use the LW paradigm as a system, but only
use im, they have not analysed im as it is analysed in LW’s auxiliary system, that is, as
bimorphemic i-m. Some of the Warlpiri code-mixed clauses resemble LW clauses
where there is no tense/aspect element in the auxiliary cluster. But garra and bin
occur frequently in Warlpiri code-mixing, whereas LW speakers only sometimes use
garra (to indicate necessity) and rarely use bin.
Australian Journal of Linguistics 53
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Neither LW speakers nor older Warlpiri speakers code-mix the auxiliary and
verb of LW and Warlpiri. That is, they do not use LW auxiliary clusters with Warlpiri
verbs, or Warlpiri auxiliary clusters with Kriol or LW verbs. Warlpiri verb stems
such as in the pantirni-m examples [examples (28) and (29)] are not problematic
because they only occur in LW with the transitive affix -m, they do not occur in
LW in the same form as Warlpiri phonological words, that is, without the Kriol -m
To illustrate, I briefly present the productive means of verb formation in Warlpiri.
The Warlpiri verb commonly consists of a preverb and bound verb (Nash 1980).
Main verbs are a closed class and preverbs are an open class. New verbs are formed by
using a preverb with either of two bound verbs, the inchoative -jarrimi or transitive -
mani. Items from English and Kriol can be borrowed into the preverb slot, as in
examples (49) and (50). An English or Kriol preverb is integrated phonologically by
vowel addition, glossed as euphonic.
(49) Walyiri-nga stuck-jarri-ja wheel-i-ji.
sand-LOC stuck-INCHO-PST wheel-euph-TOP
The wheel was stuck in the sand.
(50) jinta-kari-rli ka-
one-other-ERG IMPF-3sg-3sg open-euph-TR-NPST
The other one is opening it.
An entire Kriol verb, with the transitive affix and a directional suffix, can be
borrowed into Warlpiri as a preverb, as in example (51).
(51) tak-im-at-ma-ni ka-
take-TR-out-trans-NPST IMPF-3sg-3sg
He’s taking it out.
In the above examples English and Kriol verbs are inserted into Warlpiri pre-verb
slots, and combined with Warlpiri bound verbs and the Warlpiri auxiliary system. In
contrast, neither the Warlpiri preverb /verb combination nor the Warlpiri auxiliary
appears in LW. When a Warlpiri verb stem is used it has the AE/Kriol transitive
-maffixed [see example (6) in Section 4.1].
In sum, the difference between the two varieties is that LW speakers apply the
LW auxiliary /verb system, and older Warlpiri speakers, when code-mixing, do not.
Table 8 gives examples of English and Kriol verbs as used in Warlpiri code-mixing
and in LW.
The third reason in support of LW as a new language is that the distribution of
elements in LW differs from older Warlpiri speakers’ code-mixing. The most striking
example of the difference is the distribution of ergative case-marking in LW and
Warlpiri, described in Section 4.4.1. To a lesser extent, the distribution of locative
case-marking also differs in the two varieties. Older Warlpiri speakers apply the -rla
form to words of three syllables or more and to lexically specified determiners, and
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the -ngka form to words of two syllables. In LW the distinction is based on the source
language of the word: -rla for English words and -ngka for Warlpiri words. Between
these two extremes are speakers of Warlpiri between about 30 and 60 years old, who
apply locative case-marking in Warlpiri according to both the word length and the
source language distinctions. Warlpiri oblique case-marking and English prepositions
are distributed along an 80%
/20% ratio in LW, whereas case-marking is used all of
the time in Warlpiri.
The fourth reason for LW being a new language is that LW is now being
transmitted to children as one of their first languages and this is an indication of its
stability. Children target LW as the language they produce first when they begin to
speak, and children and young adults almost always use this language, even when they
are speaking to an older person who is speaking to them in Warlpiri or who is code-
mixing in Warlpiri and AE/Kriol. That children in Lajamanu were ‘mixing’ Warlpiri
and English was documented in 1979 (Leeding 1979), which is in line with the oldest
LW speakers being about 30 years old.
LW speakers distinguish between Warlpiri, LW and English in their production.
When children over five years, and young adults, speak Warlpiri*/for example in
elicited production tasks*/they use the Warlpiri verb and auxiliary system. When
they borrow from AE/Kriol into Warlpiri, they insert an AE/Kriol item into the
Warlpiri preverb slot and use a main verb from Warlpiri. The use of different verb /
auxiliary systems in each language shows that they are separate systems. Children
similarly do not use the LW auxiliary system in their English, for example when
speaking to native speakers of English.
The fifth point is that LW is not one language with extreme borrowing, since
grammatical structures as well as lexical items from each of the source languages
occur consistently, as discussed above.
In conclusion, the evidence presented here demonstrates that LW is a new language
for which AE, Kriol and Warlpiri are the lexifier languages. Most verb stems and
verbal inflections are from AE/Kriol, but the bulk of its nominal morphology derives
from Warlpiri. It has an innovative auxiliary system consisting of a subject prefix and
a TAM marking element. Subject function is marked by auxiliary prefixes derived
from English nominative pronouns, and to some extent, in the case of transitive
subjects, by ergative case-marking. While LW word order appears to be somewhat less
free than in Warlpiri, it is certainly more variable than in AE or Kriol. As in Warlpiri,
Table 8 English and Kriol verbs as used in Warlpiri code-mixing and in LW
Verb stem
language Transitive/intransitive
Form when borrowed
into Warlpiri Form in LW
Bump Kriol transitive bumpu-mani, bump-um bump-um
Open English transitive openi-mani, open-im open-im
Play English intransitive play-jarrimi play
Panti- Warlpiri transitive Pantirni pantirni-m
Australian Journal of Linguistics 55
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varying word order is primarily determined by factors such as animacy, discourse
prominence and presuppositional structure, rather than strictly grammatical factors
relating to subject and object functions as it is in English and Kriol. LW is transmitted
to children as one of their first languages and it is the language of their everyday
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... In this case, both languages are freely combined and speakers do not orient to elements from either language as different or interactionally meaningful (Gafaranga & Torras i Calvo, 2001;Musk, 2010). In some Australian Aboriginal communities, sustained bilingual practices have even led to the emergence of a fully conventionalised mixed language (McConvell & Meakins, 2005;O'Shannessy, 2005O'Shannessy, , 2006. These three language contact phenomena correspond to what Auer (1999Auer ( , 2014 describes as the three prototypes of bilingual speech, that is, codeswitching, codemixing and "fused lects". ...
... This variety of Kriol with frequent Jaru While the youngest generation at Yaruman have shifted to Kriol, it should be noted that there are some innovations in this generation's speech. One such innovation is the use of a reduced past tense marker -m, which is similar to the second element of the auxiliary cluster in Light Warlpiri (see O'Shannessy, 2005). The -m form is rarely found in the Kriol or mixed speech of older speakers at Yaruman, but often used by young speakers as a past tense marker in conjunction with subject pronouns as an alternative to the past tense marker bin (i.e., am 'I was', yum 'you were', im 'he/she/it was', wim 'we were', and dem 'they were'). ...
... Note that both occurrences of the subject noun phrase dat gugurr 'the ghost' in lines 1 and 4 cross-reference a Kriol pronoun. O'Shannessy (2005O'Shannessy ( , 2021 notes that the development of the non-future morpheme -m in Light Warlpiri has been reinforced by a re-analysis of the third person singular pronoun im. Considering the auxiliary suffix -m has been used in Light Warlpiri for an extended period of time, it may have originated in Lajamanu and later spread to Yaruman. ...
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Aims and objectives: Language contact in the Yaruman community of Western Australia has led to prevalent bilingual practices between the endangered language Jaru and the creole language Kriol. This study examines ordinary conversations in the community and investigates whether the observable bilingual practices are interactionally relevant, and whether codemixing has led to the emergence of a conventionalised mixed language. Approach: The research is based on a qualitative analysis of bilingual speech in natural conversation. The approach combines the methodological framework of interactional linguistics with an analysis of the grammatical structures of conversational data. Data and analysis: The analysed data consist of two hours and thirty minutes of transcribed video recordings, comprising 13 casual multi-party conversations involving all generations in the Yaruman community. The recordings were made using lapel microphones and two high-definition cameras. Findings: Bilingual Jaru–Kriol speakers use codeswitching as an interactional resource for a range of conversational activities. In many cases, however, speakers’ code choices are not interactionally relevant. Instead, codemixing is often oriented to as a normative way of speaking and participants exploit their full linguistic repertoire by relatively freely combining elements from both languages. There are also signs of morphological fusion in the mixed speech of younger Jaru speakers, who more frequently combine Kriol verb structure and Jaru nominal morphology. However, this morphological split is not fully conventionalised and variation is still substantial. Originality: The bilingual speech continuum is supported by the analysis of conversational data in a situation of language shift. This article shows that fusion involving core grammatical categories can occur among a subgroup of speakers without developing into a community-wide mixed language. Significance: The study contributes to a better understanding of community bilingualism and bilingual practices in a situation of language shift. It demonstrates how codeswitching, codemixing, and grammatical fusion can co-exist in a bilingual community.
... The paper concludes by discussing two points of interest. Firstly, since this paper and Simpson (1991) treat external Warlpiri has been the subject of extensive research, particularly in regard to phonological, morphological, and syntactic analysis, as well as language contact (Hale 1973(Hale , 1976(Hale , 1981a(Hale , 1981b(Hale , 1982(Hale , 1983Nash 1980Nash , 2008Swartz 1982Swartz , 1991Bavin and Shopen 1985;Simpson 1988Simpson , 1991Simpson , 2005Simpson , 2007Laughren 1989Laughren , 1992Laughren , 2010Laughren , 2017Bittner and Hale 1995;Hale et al. 1995;Legate 2001Legate , 2002Legate , 2008Granites and Laughren 2001;Pentland and Laughren 2004;Harvey and Baker 2005;O'Shannessy 2005;Bowler 2014Bowler , 2016Bowler , 2017Bundgaard-Nielsen and O'Shannessy 2019;Browne 2020). Warlmanpa has been less wellstudied, but has been the subject of a vocabulary and grammatical analysis (Nash 1979;Browne 2021, respectively). ...
... Warlpiri has been the subject of extensive research, particularly in regard to phonological, morphological, and syntactic analysis, as well as language contact (Hale 1973(Hale , 1976(Hale , 1981a(Hale , 1981b(Hale , 1982(Hale , 1983Nash 1980Nash , 2008Swartz 1982Swartz , 1991Bavin and Shopen 1985;Simpson 1988Simpson , 1991Simpson , 2005Simpson , 2007Laughren 1989Laughren , 1992Laughren , 2010Laughren , 2017Bittner and Hale 1995;Hale et al. 1995;Legate 2001Legate , 2002Legate , 2008Granites and Laughren 2001;Pentland and Laughren 2004;Harvey and Baker 2005;O'Shannessy 2005;Bowler 2014Bowler , 2016Bowler , 2017Bundgaard-Nielsen and O'Shannessy 2019;Browne 2020). Warlmanpa has been less wellstudied, but has been the subject of a vocabulary and grammatical analysis (Nash 1979;Browne 2021, respectively). ...
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Warlpiri and Warlmanpa (Ngumpin-Yapa languages of Australia) exhibit a complex predicate construction in which a class of preverbs introduces a single argument that is not shared by the argument structure of the inflecting verb, nor is there necessarily any shared event structure. This is problematic for many theories of linking structures of complex predicates, since no arguments or events are shared between the predicative elements of the complex predicate. The same grammatical relation is instantiated by a beneficiary adjunct. In light of new research in event and argument structure, I propose a lexical rule which introduces an applicative argument to account for the beneficiary construction; and that the preverbs take another predicate as one of their arguments to account for the complex predicates. The applicative rule and the preverbs both introduce an argument of the same grammatical relation, leading to interesting interactions, given that two grammatical relations of the same type are not expected to co-occur within a single clause.
... Studies of language change, variation and contact in Australia have made significant contributions to expanding this avenue of thought. There is a considerable amount of literature on modern incarnations of Australian languages, particularly with respect to contact effects (Dickson 2015;Langlois 2004;Lee 1987;Mansfield 2014;McConvell and Meakins 2005;Meakins and O'Shannessy 2016;O'Shannessy 2005;Sandefur 1986;Schmidt 1983), and many of these document the maintenance of complexity or complexification alongside simplification processes. Gurindji Kriol and Light Warlpiri, for instance, are two Australian mixed languages derived from the Ngumpin-Yapa languages Gurindji and Warlpiri (respectively) and English/Kriol. ...
... Lastly, it is important that modern Kunwok or Kunwinglish is supported. As observed by Donaldson (2002) in her assessment of Ngiyampaa, and more recently pointed out by Dickson (2015) and O'Shannessy (2005), people find ways to express old ways of speaking in a new language. Hence, despite signs of regional levelling and contact-influences from Kriol and English, modern incarnations of the language can continue to facilitate the expression of cultural concepts. ...
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Bininj Kunwok is a Gunwinyguan language (a non-Pama-Nyungan spoken in west Arnhem Land and Kakadu National Park, NT. With around 2500 speakers and children learning it as a first language, Kunwok is one of the strongest Indigenous languages in Australia. Despite its small speech community, it exhibits considerable variation, much of which has been the subject of recent research. One of the primary findings from this study into variation in Kunwok is the rich interspeaker diversity, particularly between different generations of Kunwok speakers. Comparing the speech of young adults and children with that of their elders through a multigenerational corpus has revealed a language change in progress (demonstrated both in real time and apparent time). This paper will discuss three of the key differentiating features of young people’s Kunwok: word-initial engma production, pronominal forms and paradigms and loanwords. We will also examine community members’ perspectives on young people’s Kunwok on the basis that they provide insight into the ideological frameworks that support the linguistic variation and change documented in the community. In conclusion, the paper will summarise the findings, outlining the main features of young people’s Kunwok, and then reflect on the trajectory of Kunwok and the contributions of this study to our understanding of language change in the Australian Aboriginal context.
... This new edition is called Warlpiri-Lite. The emergence of the Lite edition has been reported by O'Shannessy (2005), who notes that Warlpiri-speaking youth deploy standard Warlpiri in communicating to their tribal elders and at times of public formality; are able to comprehend standard Warlpiri that is delivered to them by their tribal elders; yet speak Lite amongst themselves. It seems that this youthful edition is a genuinely realistic ploy to bring the past up-to-date in order to make their future more secure. ...
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If you were to think that the English language and the Australian Aboriginal Warlpiri language are poles apart in character and nature, you could be correct, at least in principle. There are differences, of course, but the intriguing question must be whether those language differences are sufficient enough to form a strong contrast between the languages. This paper proposes the thesis that a demonstration of just a small number of differences, each of which is critical in nature, would ensure that Warlpiri will be seen, not just as apart from English, but as worlds apart from English; that is, the Warlpiri language has cleaved loyally to its heritage of complexity, while English has cleaved far away from its now distant origins and could be described as simplistic when viewed against the complex richness of Warlpiri. The methodology used in this essay is to provide Warlpiri language exemplars across a small number of the diverse differences which make Warlpiri unique in its own ways, while listing a small number of differences that make English unique. This discussion should make understandable Warlpiri youth’s recent drive to creating a parallel and successful version of their language.
... Two things are suggested here. First, as a language in general, evidence of the distinguishable Tagalog, English, and Hokkien tag question subsystems co-existing in PHH, whether appended after Hokkien or English-based SVO clauses or Tagalog VSO clauses, distinguishes PHH as a trilingual contact variety such as Light Warlpiri spoken in Australia (O'Shannessy, 2005). Evidence of innovation or combination of these subsystems that is manifested in bilingual tags also suggests that PHH is developing as a linguistic variety. ...
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This paper investigates tag questions in a Philippine contact variety spoken by Chinese in the Philippines called Philippine Hybrid Hokkien (PHH)-a trilingual admixture that is characterized by the systematic coexistence of the Hokkien, Tagalog, and English grammatical (sub)systems. After analyzing spontaneous oral data gathered from native speakers, ten types of tag questions were identified, with two of them being bilingually innovative and unique to PHH (e.g. m si ba?). Further analyses of data reveal that attitudinal tag questions are more frequently used than confirmatory tag questions. That alternative tags (e.g. okay?) are more preferred compared to their canonical counterparts have also been suggested by initial data. Although the use of tag questions in PHH is reminiscent of the individual grammars of English, Tagalog, and Hokkien, data suggests that PHH, whether analyzed as a trilingual linguistic variety or a hybrid X-English, is developing away from these normative languages and that the Chinese Filipinos are creating new norms for this variety.
... Light Warlpiri is an Australian Mixed Language that emerged in the 1970s-80s in the remote Warlpiri community of Lajamanu, in the Northern Territory. It combines Warlpiri (Pama-Nyungan) nominal morphology with Kriol and English verbal morphology and structural innovations in the verbal auxiliary system (O'Shannessy 2005(O'Shannessy , 2013. In the examples elements from Warlpiri are in italics, and elements from English and Kriol are in plain font. ...
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Mixed languages combine significant amounts of grammatical and lexical material from more than one source language in systematic ways. The Australian mixed language, Light Warlpiri, combines nominal morphology from Warlpiri with verbal morphology from Kriol (an English-lexified Creole) and English, with innovations. The source languages of Light Warlpiri differ in how they encode reflexives and reciprocals—Warlpiri uses an auxiliary clitic for both reflexive and reciprocal expression, while English and Kriol both use pronominal forms, and largely have separate forms for reflexives and reciprocals. English distinguishes person and number in reflexives, but not in reciprocals; the other source languages do not distinguish person or number. This study draws on naturalistic and elicited production data to examine how reflexive and reciprocal events are encoded in Light Warlpiri. The study finds that Light Warlpiri combines near-maximal distinctions from the source languages, but in a way that is not a mirror of any. It retains the person and number distinctions of English reflexives and extends them to reciprocals, using the same forms for reflexives and reciprocals (like Warlpiri). Reflexives and reciprocals occur within a verbal structure (perhaps under influence from Warlpiri). The results show that a mixed language can have discrete contributions from three languages, that the source languages can influence different subsystems to different extents, and that near-maximal distinctions from the source languages can be maintained.
... Walpiri (O'Shannessy, 2005;2016). Further research is needed to reveal how co-activation of shared syntactic representations in individuals can lead to syntactic convergence and eventually, linguistic change in bilingual communities. ...
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This thesis takes a holistic perspective on Indigenous language interpreting in the justice system by situating it in the linguistic, racio-political, and sociocultural context in which it occurs. Interpreting is also examined from an epistemological standpoint in order to uncover the hidden ways by which language, knowledge, and interpreting can intersect. The thesis focuses particularly on Kriol interpreting in the Katherine region and aims to elevate the voices of Indigenous language interpreters. Data is drawn from court observations, field notes, and semi-structured interviews with interpreters and legal professionals
The Well-being and Indigenous Language Ecologies (WILE) framework shows how well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples relates to speaking Indigenous languages, Traditional and New. By recognising and responding to the diversity of language experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the continent, WILE provides a differentiated model of well-being and Indigenous languages. This marks a significant advance for work in this area, and a tool for differentiating policies and programs.
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A range of varieties of English have been developed for communication within or across Australian Aboriginal communities which are collectively known as Aboriginal English. This designation is normally not used to include pidgins or creoles, although pidgins and creoles have, in the past, played a role in the development of Aboriginal English. Research into varieties of Aboriginal English began in the 1960s with a succession of studies of the informal speech of small groups in a number of Queensland communities. Descriptive accounts have now been made of varieties from all states of Australia and from the Northern Territory. Most varieties have many features in common, but the influence of pidgin/creole and of Aboriginal vernaculars is stronger in some locations than in others. Areas of interest in Aboriginal English research include issues of code choice and switching, speech use, discourse, oral narrative, the historical development of the dialect, semantics and lexicography. The role of Aboriginal researchers in research into Aboriginal English has been small but is growing, especially with recent trends towards applied and action research.
A description of the creole language spoken in the Roper River area of Australia's Northern Territory, this paper is intended for the practical use of Europeans working in the area. An introductory section discusses the role and status of pidgins and creoles in modern Australia, the development of creole in the Roper River area, and the distinction between pidgin, creole, and corrupt English. Subsequent chapters describe: (1) the sound system of the creole, based on the contrastive sounds of English and aboriginal languages and the interference and leveling patterns; (2) a proposed practical orthography; (3) nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and the noun phrase; (4) verbs and the verb phrase; (5) prepositions and the prepositional phrase; and (6) simple sentence structure. (MSE)