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New language discovered in Australia, only spoken by 350 people

Carmel O’Shannessy stands with residents of Lajamanu (University of Michigan)
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Carmel O’Shannessy stands with residents of Lajamanu (University of Michigan)

Kids these days, it's like they speak their own language sometimes. But in one remote Australian town, they actually do.

University of Michigan linguist Carmel O’Shannessy has been studying the town of Lajamanu for a decade and found that about 350 of the town’s residents, nearly all under the age of 35, speak a newly discovered language.

“Light Warlpiri,” as O’Shannessy calls it in a new paper published in the journal Language," is a mix of English and two other local dialects, Kriol and Warlpiri.

"The striking thing about Light Warlpiri is that most of the verbs come from English or Kriol, but most of the other grammatical elements in the sentence come from Warlpiri," O'Shannessy told LiveScience.

Lajamanu is essentially an isolated enclave. There are no fully paved roads, and a small plane delivers the mail each week. A supply truck also visits once a week to deliver goods to the town’s only store.

Walpiri itself is spoken by only about 6,000 people in the region, according to the Daily Telegraph. Kriol is another language recently created in Australia, first spoken in the country’s Northern Territory and Western Australia in the 1800s.

O’Shannessy says Light Warlpiri likely originated when workers from Lajamanu were employed on nearby cattle ranches. When those workers returned home, they began speaking in a mixture of Warlpiri, English and Kriol that eventually evolved into its own language.

“Many of the first speakers of this language are still alive,” Mary Laughren, a research fellow in linguistics at the University of Queensland in Australia, told the New York Times.

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