Carmel O'Shannessy at the AAA in Chicago

Nov 24, 2013 Bookmark and Share

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Carmel O'Shannessy presented a paper at the American Anthropological Association Annual Conference in Chicago, Nov 20 - 24. Her paper, Social and Cultural Factors in the Emergence of Light Warlpiri, a New Mixed Language in Australia, was part of a panel called  "Youth language, hibridity, and new publics in diverse global contexts".  The panel brought together ethnographies of young people's language practices and communicative repertoires in dynamic contexts in North America, Australia, Tanzania and Bolivia.

Abstract of Carmel's talk:
Indigenous youth in remote areas of Australia forge and express their identities in a complex interplay of social practices, including language practices, which are at once traditional and contemporary. One dramatic expression of this complexity is the emergence of a new mixed language in a Warlpiri community, called Light Warlpiri, which is spoken by young adults and children. The new code systematically combines elements of Warlpiri and English/Kriol. It developed when children received systematic codeswitched input in their early years, analyzed the input as a single linguistic system, and added innovations. The new code now symbolizes the identity of young speakers in that community, and partial language maintenance under pressure to shift to English. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork spanning 11 years, this paper shows how, in a context of severe language endangerment, several intersecting social and cultural factors influenced the emergence of Light Warlpiri. First, the community was formed through forced relocation of Warlpiri to a site distant from other Warlpiri. Second, young children have behavioral autonomy, which allows for freedom of means of expression. Third, there is considerable linguistic creativity in the community, involving drawing on multilingual resources. Finally, there are competing pressures of strongly identifying as Warlpiri while also identifying as belonging to one particular community, and of embracing the world of English. Thus cultural and social practices were part of the mechansim of language change in this context.

Panel Abstract

Recent scholarly volumes highlight global linguistic flows and young people's complex and dynamic practices in diverse contexts (Alim et al, 2009; Blommaert, 2010; Higgins, 2012; Kral, 2012; O'Shannessy 2011). Contemporary research from Native North America further underscores how youth transform language practices, and shape ideological multiplicity and emergence in diverse communities (Kroskrity & Field, 2009; Wyman, 2012; Wyman et al., 2013). Rapid sociolinguistic change now extends to many Indigenous contexts around the world where, until fairly recently, family, peer and community language socialization processes (Garret & Baquedano-Lopez, 2002; Schieffelin & Ochs, 1986) were linked to traditional lifestyles and language ideologies were tied to relatively predictable framework(s) of practice and human development (Rogoff, 2003). In these and other contexts, shifting language practices are becoming accepted as the norm as youth find new ways to localize media forms and negotiate popular youth culture resulting in the development of related oral, written and multimodal, as well as cultural practices that intertwine with new intercultural or ‘hybrid' identities (Duff 2008). By bringing together ethnographic examples from North America, Australia, Tanzania and Bolivia, our panel highlights the ways that youth in diverse cultural contexts develop and mobilize various communicative repertoires as they engage with diverse (trans)local publics. Further, panelists consider the hybrid practices that young adults, youth and children are developing in contexts marked by rapid sociolinguistic transformation. Multiple papers show how Indigenous youth around the world are navigating rapidly changing relations and practices of cultural production and reproduction in endangered language contexts criss-crossed with processes of heritage language learning, shift and reclamation. They indicate how, in such contexts, youth may use innovative mixes of language practices to take up activist stances towards maintaining Indigenous languages and knowledge systems, and/or supporting struggles for Indigenous rights. Others focus on the ways in which youth engage with music and popular culture forms and modes ; the acquisition of technology-mediated practices and the impact on language and social and cultural practice; and the ways youth navigate multilayered publics with particular stakes in shaping the future. As a whole, papers in this panel highlight how youth creatively cross (Hill 1999; Rampton 1995) and combine languages as they participate in varying forms of learning and education, broadly conceived, and how young people's everyday practices are now commonly mediated by new information, globally-circulating cultural forms, and communication technologies. Further, papers illuminate the ways that researchers can productively engage youth perspectives, language practices, and experiences while situating youth language research in a broad, sociohistorical perspective. Authors reflect on the ways that youth negotiate language ideologies and practices to express voices in ways that can be deemed authentic in diverse, dynamic communities, and pose new methodological approaches for attending to young people's emic perspectives. As a whole, the panel highlights how anthropologists are finding new ways to foster critical language awareness across repertoires of difference (Rymes, 2011) in an interconnected world through engaged youth language research, leading to a discussion on the implications for scholars and educators in diverse contexts.