Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The birth of a new language

I often read articles about language. What can I say? I love the topic and can't get enough of it. Over the years, as I read such articles, I learned a fascinating thing: children are the creators of language. Adults have nothing to do with this process. It's always the kids who have the upper hand. Every language in the world was created by children. But we've inferred this fact rather than observed it in the wild. Firsthand evidence was lacking for an obvious reason: new languages aren't born every day.

However, we now have documentary evidence of this fact in a remote village in Australia. For the first time, expert linguists have been present to monitor the birth of a new language.
The language, called Warlpiri rampaku, or Light Warlpiri, is spoken only by people under 35 in Lajamanu, an isolated village of about 700 people in Australia’s Northern Territory. In all, about 350 people speak the language as their native tongue.
That is just so cool. It makes you wonder how the process started. Luckily, the article answers this question:
The development of the language, Dr. O’Shannessy says, was a two-step process. It began with parents using baby talk with their children in a combination of the three languages [used in the local area]. But then the children took that language as their native tongue by adding radical innovations to the syntax, especially in the use of verb structures, that are not present in any of the source languages. 
Throughout the history of humanity, children created every single language spoken on this planet. I don't think many people understand this. Read the linked story for more information. I loved it.

And the next time you hear an oldster say something about the "way kids talk today", you may have a deeper understanding of the phenomenon. It's what kids do.