Dr Joshua Brown

BA (Hons), BEc, PhD, FHEA
Senior Lecturer and Convenor, Italian Studies
College of Arts and Social Sciences

Areas of expertise

  • Italian Language 200309
  • Language In Culture And Society (Sociolinguistics) 200405
  • Language In Time And Space (Incl. Historical Linguistics, Dialectology) 200406
  • Linguistics Not Elsewhere Classified 200499

Research interests

  • Language history
  • Philology
  • Historical sociolinguistics
  • Language variation and change
  • Romance linguistics
  • Language contact
  • Language pedagogy
  • Digital Humanities


I am a historical sociolinguist. After completing my PhD in history of the Italian language, I was Cassamarca Assistant Professor in Italian at The University of Western Australia. My first book looks at early evidence for tuscanisation in non-literary texts sent from Milan in the late fourteenth century. A second, co-authored book, provides a study of the nearly 200 extant letters held in the New Norcia Archive and written by an Italian priest in colonial Western Australia. In addition to the history of the Italian language, my research interests have widened to include broader questions of dialect contact, language change, and koineization using tools from Digital Humanities.

I was a postdoctoral fellow in Italian Studies at Romanska och klassiska institutionen, Stockholm University, before taking up my position in Italian at ANU. I am the Convenor for the Italian Studies program, an affiliate of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, a member of ANU’s Centre for Early Modern Studies and an associate of the ANU Centre for Digital Humanities Research. I am the stream leader for historical sociolinguistics at ANU’s Centre for Research on Language Change, and the ACT representative for OzCLO, the Australian Computational and Linguistics Olympiad. I am an active member of the Anglo-Saxon reading group on Wednesdays during term time.

You can hear more about me and my research here and watch a short video here.


Researcher's projects

1) Creating a digital corpus of the Mediterranean Lingua Franca

This project aims to provide a comprehensive source of data for forms of language termed the “Mediterranean Lingua Franca” in early modern Italy. This ‘contact’ language has been said to exist from anywhere between the late middle ages until the nineteenth-century. This project will map the various linguistic forms, sources, and geographical places where lingua franca has been estimated to be spoken around the Mediterranean from 1353 to c.1740. It aims to provide a comprehensive database of object, textual and lexical items which can be easily searched for linguistic forms. 

2) Koineization in Renaissance Italy

The focus of my current project is on the historical formation of ‘common’ or koine languages, and their interaction with standard languages. In particular, I am interested in how different grammars react to each other and form a common language when different dialects are brought together by processes of (relatively quick) migration. This situation arises often in historical contexts, and is particularly prevalent in late medieval Italy. I am currently writing a volume which investigates these microlevel dynamics in the letters of a nun from fifteenth-century Milan, Margherita Lambertenghi. Using freshly discovered archival materials from the Archivio di Stato in Milan, focus is placed on the role of women’s writing in Renaissance Italy and how a linguistic analysis of this writing can help us understand language change. Margherita’s letters contain evidence of a form of non-literary Milanese that is so far undocumented in the literature and has been understudied. Due to an extreme lack of documents from Milan during the fifteenth century, her writing contains precious insights to the broader forms of language mixing that was part of an ongoing process. This volume is contracted with De Gruyter.

3) Languages of Renaissance Italy (with Dr Alessandra Petrocchi, University of Oxford)

This unique volume represents the first-ever collection of essays that deal with multiple types of language contact and cross-cultural exchanges in and with respect to Renaissance Italy (1300 to 1600). The contributions span a wide variety of topics, including the development of the Italian language from Latin, early Italian vernaculars, cross-linguistic and cultural exchanges with the Mediterranean regions (thus with Hebrew, Arabic, and Byzantine Greek primary sources) and European countries (Spanish, French, German, Dutch, and Middle English primary sources). The volume employs comparative methods, cross-linguistic research, and investigates interdisciplinary topics. It takes a fresh approach to the history of late medieval and early modern Italy by focusing on East/West linguistic and cultural encounters, transmission of ideas and texts, multilingualism in literature (various genres and various forms of multilingualism), translation practices, reception/adaptation, transculturalism and literary exchanges, and the relationship between languages and language varieties. It aims to provide a comprehensive picture of a truly global Renaissance Italy where languages, textual traditions, and systems of knowledge from different geographical areas either combined or clashed. This volume is under review in the series "Late Medieval and Early Modern Studies", Brepols.

Current student projects

Associate Supervisor

The diachrony of definiteness in Syriac (PhD, 2020 - ongoing)

Exploring teacher perceptions of assessment in languages: The French Language Progression Framework K-10 (MPhil, 2019 - ongoing)

Past student projects

Primary Supervisor

Persistence and Innovation of the -isc- Inchoative Infix in Three Dictionaries Concerning Infinitive Forms in Southern Calabrian Dialects (2020, Honours)

Exploring the migrant in Italian cinema: the case of Marco Tullio Giordana’s Quando sei nato non puoi più nasconderti and Cristina Comencini’s Bianco e nero (2011, Honours)


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Updated:  20 June 2021 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers