Carmel O'Shannessy on doing fieldwork in Northern Australia


By Andries W. Coetzee
Nov 10, 2012

Carmel O'Shannessy with Warlpiri speaker in Lajamanu

Carmel O'Shannessy with Warlpiri speaker in Lajamanu

Professor Carmel O'Shannessy has had a longstanding connection to the small Warlpiri speaking community, Lajamanu, in the Northern Territory of Australia for many years. She had started out working as a teacher-linguist in the local school system there, but over the years her interests has shifted towards documenting the unique linguistic situation in Lajamanu. That lead her to a PhD in linguistics, and eventually to join our Department. Carmel goes back to Lajamanu just about every summer, to collect data, to catch-up with old friends (see the photo above), and to maintain the all important relationship that she has with the community. Carmel submitted the report below about her most recent visit to Lajamanu (Summer 2012), including some really interesting YouTube clips illustrating the work that she does. I hand over to Carmel now:

I first went to Lajamanu (Northern Territory, Australia) in 1998 to work as a teacher-linguist in the Warlpiri-English bilingual education program in the local government school. My job was to facilitate the renewal of the bilingual education program, as it had not been functioning for the previous 7-8 years, although before then it had been vibrant. That was the beginning of a long-term relationship with the community and a deepening one with linguistics. I learned about Warlpiri language and culture, studied more linguistics, and heard a lot of what I thought was code-switching between Warlpiri and varieties of English, especially by children. The ‘code-switching’ turned out to be a new mixed code, Light Warlpiri, which systematically combines elements of Warlpiri and varieties of English, and I have been documenting this code, and the complex linguistic situation in the community, ever since.

Summer 2012 was one of my approximately annual visits for data collection and community outreach. On this trip I collected data about speaker’s views of elements in Light Warlpiri, distributed DVD’s and weblinks of material collected in 2010, and discussed issues of archiving and community access to data, as well as future research plans.

The DVD’s consist of reports on children’s Warlpiri in each of four Warlpiri communities, e.g. here, and here. The intended audiences for the reports are Warlpiri teachers, and educators with little or no linguistic training. Teachers in the schools have been using the reports for professional development activities. These data are part of a longitudinal study of the stabilization and development of the new code, Light Warlpiri, embedded in a multilingual context in which the heritage language, Warlpiri, is highly endangered.