Dr Joshua Brown

BA (Hons), BEc, PhD, FHEA
Lecturer and Convener, Italian Studies
College Arts & 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


I am a historical sociolinguist. After completing my PhD in history of the Italian language, I held a two-year position as 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. I was lucky enough to make use of documents in the Datini Archive, Prato whose more than 150,000 documents are almost all available for viewing online. 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.

From 2016-17, I was a postdoctoral fellow in Italian Studies at Romanska och klassiska institutionen, Stockholm University, Sweden. I took up my position in Italian at ANU in 2018. I am the Convenor for the Italian Studies program, a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and a member of the Outreach and Engagement Reference Group in the School of Literature, Linguistics and Languages. I am an affiliate of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language and 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 an active member of the Anglo-Saxon reading group on Thursdays during term time.

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

Researcher's projects

1) 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.

2) 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 due for publication with Brepols in 2021.

3) ANU Teaching Enhancement Grant: Transitioning to university: managing expectations in language classes (with Dr Manuel Delicado Cantero and Dr Solène Inceoglu)

The project will create new online video resources for languages education. The main objective is not to create videos to attract students into language programs as such videos already exist. Instead these videos are aimed to current and incoming students in our programs who need more guidance on how to improve their skills to be successful university language learners. Two consistent problems facing many first-year students are the mechanics of how learning is performed at university and the expectations of what and how to learn new material. This problem is particularly acute in language learning, given students’ (often) unrealistic expectations of language courses. Based on our own research and teaching experience at ANU, we will create a suite of ten (short) videos, featuring the main aspects involved in language learning, what students learn and how, and how learning at university differs from high school. The videos will feature footage from actual language classes, interviews with current students and staff, and general study advice. Since the videos will directly address the question of method in learning, their impact will also increase student autonomy and lead to more efficient use of time spent in class for both students and academic staff.

The videos from this project have now been published.

Available student projects

Proposals are welcome for Honours, MPhil, and PhD research in any of the areas listed in the research interests section above. 

Current student projects

Primary Supervisor

A descriptive analysis of Greek-Romance language contact and change in extreme southern Italian dialects (2020, Honours)

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

Associate Supervisor

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:  21 October 2020 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers