Linguistics: Language diversification through the lens of rapid intergenerational change
Language diversification through the lens of rapid intergenerational change
A/Prof Felicity Meakins
University of Queensland
Most cases of language creation occur as languages split and diverge from other languages in processes which are conceptualised in linguistic phylogenies. More rarely, some languages emerge abruptly over the course of one or two generations in language communities as a result of language contact. These cases occur in situations of severe social upheaval, such as mass migration, slavery and colonisation. Over the past 230 years, the language ecology of Australia has shifted significantly to accommodate English. Of the approximately 300 languages which were spoken at first contact, only around 18 remain strong. The main language now spoken in many Indigenous communities across northern Australia is an English-based creole language, Kriol. Other Australian languages have combined with these languages to create new languages, one of the best-known examples being Gurindji Kriol. In this talk, I report on the rapid birth of Gurindji Kriol. This work is the first investigation of contact-induced change within a single speaker population which uses multiple variants. I will outline an innovative modification of classic population genetics methods to investigating change over time in the Gurindji speech community. This method, which has been developed with Lindell Bromham and Xia Hua, aims to increase our ability to explain language change, with a view to making predictions about how languages will change. These predictions are invaluable to the language revitalisation movement in Australia which has undergone an inspiring galvanisation over the last decade.
John Woolley Bldg. A20 Science Road