As we all know, languages are constantly changing, falling in and out of usage and even dying out, but how many new languages are emerging? The best known languages of the past hundred years or so are probably the ones that have been created for entertainment purposes. From J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elvish language Sindarin, to the more recent Klingon and Dothraki, made up languages have featured heavily in fantasy and science fiction, in particular. These are known as constructed languages, as they’ve been purposefully crafted from scratch, rather than naturally emerging.
What you may not know is that there are still new languages popping up in the real world. It was recently discovered that in a remote village in Australia’s Northern Territory, the younger generation speak a language that their elders are not privy to. So here are a few languages from the last century or two.
Warlpiri rampaku (Light Warlpiri)
In the village of Lajamanu in northern Australia, only those under the age of 35 speak Warlpiri rampaku. This amounts to about half of the population of 700, who also all speak “strong” Warlpiri. The two languages are completely unrelated, both to each other and to English. However, Warlpiri is spoken by about 4,000 aboriginal people in Lajamanu and other villages, while Warlpiri rampaku is unique to Lajamanu. Many villagers also speak Kriol, an English based creole, which begun in the 19th century. The language is so new that many of its first speakers are still living and a number of factors probably contributed to its invention, including the village’s isolation, the mixture of languages spoken by the people, and the inventive use of language by children.
Esperanto was invented in 1887, intended to be a language that was politically neutral and remove barriers between different countries. It never entirely caught on, but it is the most widely spoken constructed language, so it must be doing something right. Esperanto is an example of an auxiliary language, created to enable communication between people without replacing native tongues. There have been quite a few of these since the 1800s. It’s a nice idea, as it means no ones native language dominates over anyone else’s, but it’s a huge ask to overcome the role of economic power. However, there is evidence that learning Esperanto provides a good foundation for learning other languages, so I wouldn’t write it off.
Idioma de Señas de Nicaragua – ISN (Nicaraguan Sign Language)
Nicaraguan Sign Language was developed by school children in the 1970s and ’80s. Before this point, there had been no deaf community in Nicaragua and no formal form of communication for the deaf. In 1977 a centre for special education began a programme for deaf children and later, in 1980 a vocational school for deaf adolescents opened. This provided the right conditions for a language to arise among the children. Not only was this a new language, but it allowed for these children to begin to communicate fully with others, without the need for lip-reading and spoken Spanish. The teachers at the school didn’t even realise what the children were doing and mistook the sign language for miming and an indication of the children’s failure to learn Spanish. An American linguist was brought in to study the children and discovered the younger ones were building on the basic pidgin language of the older students.
Do you know of any more recent languages that have developed naturally? Which are your favorite constructed languages?