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The Australian National University

Professor Nicholas Evans

BSc(Hons), MA, PhD (ANU), FAHA, FBA
Head and Professor, Department of Linguistics, School of Culture, History & Language
ANU College of Asia and the Pacific

Areas of expertise

  • Comparative Language Studies 200322
  • Language In Time And Space (Incl. Historical Linguistics, Dialectology) 200406
  • Translation And Interpretation Studies 200323
  • Studies Of Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander Society 169902
  • Language In Culture And Society (Sociolinguistics) 200405
  • Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander Languages 200319
  • Linguistic Structures (Incl. Grammar, Phonology, Lexicon, Semantics) 200408
  • Linguistics 2004

Research interests

Australian languages, Papuan languages, linguistic typology, historical and contact linguistics, semantics, the mutual influence of language and culture

Biography

My central interest is the diversity of human language and what this can tell us about the nature of language, culture, deep history, and the possibilities of the human mind. My research pursues an ongoing dialectic between primary documentation of little-known languages, and induction from these to more general theoretical issues. My  book Dying Words: Endangered Languages and What They Have to Tell Us sets out a broad program for the field's engagement with the planet's dwindling linguistic diversity.

I have carried out fieldwork on several languages of Northern Australia and Papua New Guinea, particularly Kayardild, Bininj Gun-wok, Dalabon, Ilgar, Iwaidja, Marrku and Nen, withpublished grammars of Kayardild (1995) and Bininj Gun-wok (2003), and dictionaries of Kayardild (1992) and Dalabon (2004).  All up I have spent around six years living in the above speech communities, learning and recording their languages, as well as working  broader issues including Native Title, vernacular language literacy, and indigenous art and music. Training young scholars interested in carrying out language documentation and analysis with fragile languages, within a broad ethos of reciprocal engagement with speech communities, is a key goal of our Department. 

Specific current projects include a cross-linguistic study of how diverse grammars underpin social cognition, and a team k project on the diverse and little-studied region of Southern New Guinea.

Two large new initiatives I am starting are a large-scale project on 'The Wellsprings of Linguistic Diversity', which will integrate variationist studies across a number of small-scale multilingual speech communities in indigenous Australia, PNG and the Pacific to  study whether we can detect the seeds of macro-diversity in community-level microdiversity, and a new ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, to start mid-2014, whose goal is to integrate typology and descriptive linguistics, evolutionary approaches, and studies of learning and processing across a wide range of linguistic types with the aim of setting up a new approach to language that places diversity, variation and change at centre stage.


Publications

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Updated:  20 April 2014 / Responsible Officer:  Pro VC (Research and Research Training) / Page Contact:  Researchers