Professor Nicholas Evans

Distinguished Professor, Department of Linguistics, School of Culture, History & Language; ARC Laureate Fellow; Director, ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language
College of Asia & 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


My central focus 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. I am especially interested in the ongoing dialectic between primary documentation of little-known languages, and induction from these to more general questions about the nature of language. My book Dying Words: Endangered Languages and What They Have to Tell Us outlines the field's engagement with the planet's dwindling linguistic diversity.

I have carried out fieldwork on several languages of Australia and Papua New Guinea, publishing grammars of Kayardild (1995) and Bininj Gun-wok (2003), and dictionaries of Kayardild (1992) and Dalabon (2004).  I love fieldwork and have spent around seven years living in remote communities, learning and recording their languages, and relating this to  broader issues including Native Title, vernacular literacy, and indigenous art and music. Training young scholars interested in carrying out language documentation and description, within a broad ethos of reciprocal engagement with speech communities, is a key goal of our program. 

Specific current projects include the cross-linguistic SCOPIC study (co-leader: Danielle Barth) of how diverse grammars underpin social cognition, a global study of paradigm syncretisms (PARABANK – see and a team project on the diverse and little-studied region of Southern New Guinea, particularly Nen and other languages of the Yam family.

Two larger research projects are

(a) my ARC Laureate Project  on 'The Wellsprings of Linguistic Diversity', which integrates typological and 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

(b) CoEDL, the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, 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.


Projects and Grants

Grants information is drawn from ARIES. To add or update Projects or Grants information please contact your College Research Office.

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Updated:  17 April 2021 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers