Professor Jane Simpson

PhD (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), MA in Linguistics (Australian National University), BA (Hons) (Australian National University)
Chair of Indigenous Linguistics, and Deputy Director, ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language
College Arts & Social Sciences

Areas of expertise

  • Linguistics 2004
  • Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander Languages 200319
  • Lexicography 200407
  • Linguistic Structures (Incl. Grammar, Phonology, Lexicon, Semantics) 200408
  • English Language 200302
  • Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander Policy 160501


Jane Simpson majored in Chinese and English literature at ANU, followed by honours in Middle English and an MA in Linguistics (1977).  She spent 10 months in Moscow as an ANU exchange scholar (1977-78).  She has carried out fieldwork on Indigenous Australian languages since 1979, and received a PhD in linguistics from MIT in 1983 for a study of Warlpiri in the Lexical-Functional Grammar framework.  She was a Sloan postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University. She then worked in Central Australia on Warumungu language and language maintenance, and helped set up a language centre in Tennant Creek. She also carried out various consultancies (e.g. Aboriginal Legal Aid, Aboriginal Sacred Sites Protection Authority), and worked on the Warumungu land claims.  In 1987-89 with David Nash she worked as lexicography fellow at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, helping set up a digital archive of Aboriginal language material, which became ASEDA.  In 1989 she became a lecturer in Linguistics at the University of Sydney. In 2005, with Mary Laughren and David Nash, she shared the Linguistics Society of America Summer Institute Inaugural Ken Hale Chair.  In 2011 she moved to ANU as the inaugural chair of Indigenous linguistics and head of the School of Language Studies.  In 2014 she stepped down as head of school and is now Deputy Director of the Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language.

Researcher's projects

  • Working with Nick Evans and others on the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language
  • Working with Doug Marmion (AIATSIS), Francis Markham , Danielle Venn, Yonatan Dinku, and Janet Hunt (CAEPR), Hilary Smith, Carmel O'Shannessy, Inge Kral , Emma Browne, and Denise Angelo on the National Indigenous Languages Report
  • Working with Michael Christie (CDU), Brian Devlin (CDU) and Cathy Bow on the LIEF project Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages
  • Working with Gillian Wigglesworth (University of Melbourne) and others on ACLA, a project on child language acquisition in Aboriginal communities in Central and Northern Australia.
  • Working with Robert Amery and MaryAnne Gale (University of Adelaide) on the indigenous languages spoken around Adelaide.
  • Working with  Samantha Disbray on Warumungu, a language spoken around Tennant Creek.
  • Working with Mary Laughren (University of Queensland) and David Nash on the Warlpiri Dictionary
  • Syntax, especially Lexical-Functional Grammar, and semantics
  • Working with colleagues on digital archiving, and on establishing PARADISEC, an archive of Pacific and regional language and endangered culture material, directed by Linda Barwick with Nick Thieberger.
  • Language maintenance.

Available student projects

I warmly welcome proposals from Indigenous Australians, and from people from the Pacific and South East Asia wanting to describe their own languages.

Currently I am looking for

---students who would like to work on analysing data from our Aboriginal Child Language Acquisition project, (several hundred hours of recordings) or carry out fieldwork on the project

---students interested in Australian Indigenous languages

---students interested in lexicography of minority languages

More generally I am interested in supervising work in any of the areas of research interest listed above. 

Current student projects

Sydney Kingstone Mapping Australian English: reported, recognised and perceived regional variation

Susan Poetsch                         Arrernte children’s language at Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa)

Xueqing [Norah] Zhong            A dictionary of Yugur, an endangered language of China

James Bednall (co-tutelle,  The University of Paris-Diderot (Paris 7))  Temporal, aspectual and modal expression in Anindilyakwa, a non-Pama-Nyungan language of Northern Australia

Denise Angelo A grammatical description of Kriol, with a focus on varieties

spoken in Aboriginal communities near Katherine, Northern Territory

Cathy Bow (co-tutelle, Charles Darwin University) Australian Indigenous languages and digital humanities

Lesley Woods  Ngiyampaa Language

Past student projects

Dixon, Sally Jane. 2017. Alyawarr children's variable present temporal reference expression in two, closely-related languages of Central Australia.  [Lecturer, Friedrich Schiller University, Jena, Germany, 2017)

Mansfield, John. 2014. Polysynthetic sociolinguistics: The language and culture of Murrinh Patha youth.  PhD dissertation. Linguistics, SLLL, Australian National University [DECRA and University of Melbourne staff member, 2018]

Aishah Khojah        2014 Saudi second language learners'  receptive and productive skills in English figurative language, Department of Linguistics, University of Sydney. [co-supervisor with Bronwen Dyson] [Assistant Professor, English Language Institute, King Abdulaziz University, Saudi Arabia, 2015 on-going]

Marie-Elaine van Egmond         2012.  Enindhilyakwa phonology, morphosyntax and genetic position.  [University of Sydney, co-supervisor with Brett Baker] [Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin, Institut für Anglistik/Amerikanistik, Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-Universität Greifswald, Germany, 2015 on-going]

Adam Blaxter Paliwala.    2012.    Creole/Superstrate Code-Switching : Analysing the Dynamic Relationship between Tok Pisin and English in Papua New Guinea [University of Sydney, co-supervisor with Linda Barwick and Michael Walsh] [Strategy director, Technology Blueprint Ltd, London 2016]

Winnie Chor           2010 Grammaticalization of directional particles in Cantonese [co-supervisor with Derek Herforth, Chinese] [Assistant Professor in Linguistics, Dept of English, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong 2016]

Chong Han             2010    Informing while amusing: metaphor in Chinese online entertainment news. Sydney: University of Sydney PhD. [co-supervisor with Derek Herforth, Chinese] [Lecturer, Linguistics, Translation and Interpreting, Western Sydney University, 2010]

Joe Blythe              2009    Doing referring in Murriny Patha conversation. Sydney: University of Sydney PhD. [co-supervisor with Linda Barwick and Michael Walsh]  [Lecturer in Linguistics/ARC DECRA, Macquarie University, Australia 2016]

Carmel O'Shannessy 2006  Language contact and child bilingual acquisition: learning a mixed language and Warlpiri in northern Australia (co-supervisor with Melissa Bowerman and Penny Brown, MPI Nijmegen).   [Assistant Professor, University of Michigan 2008, Lecturer in Linguistics, ANU 2017]

Myfany Turpin             2005    Form and meaning of Akwelye: a Kaytetye women’s song series from Central Australia (co-supervisor with Linda Barwick,  PARADISEC/Music Department) [ARC Future Fellow 2015, University of Sydney

Caroline Lipovsky        2005     Negotiating solidarity: a social-linguistic approach to job interviews (primary supervisor, co-supervisors Alice Caffarel, French Department, and James Martin) [Senior Lecturer, Department of French, University of Sydney, 2016]

Barbara Jones        2003    A Grammar of Wangkajunga : A Language of the Great Sandy Desert of North Western Australia. (primary supervisor, co-supervisor with Michael Walsh)[Consultant linguist, 2007-2016]

Takahiro Teranishi 2003    Concept formation through iconicity: basic shapes and their related metaphorical extensions in English and Japanese. (primary supervisor, co-supervisor Hugh Clarke) [Associate professor,  Department of Global Communications, Doshisha University, Japan, 2016]

Nicholas Riemer     1999    A study of semantic extension of percussion/impact verbs in English and Warlpiri (primary supervisor, co-supervisor Michael Walsh) Senior [Lecturer, Department of English, University of Sydney, 2016]

Christopher Cleirigh  1999  The genesis of phonic texture: a selectionist model of Systemic Phonology and Universal Darwinism. (co-supervisor  Christian Matthiessen)

Arlene Harvey         1997    Equivalence and depersonalisation in definitions: an exploration of lexico-grammatical and rhetorical patterns in English technical discourse  University of Sydney (co-supervisor Christian Matthiessen) [Lecturer in Student Learning and Communication Development, University of Sydney, 2016]

Jason Johnston       1996    Systematic homonymy and the structure of morphological categories: some lessons from paradigm geometry.  University of Sydney (primary supervisor,  co-supervisor Avery Andrews,  Australian National University) [lawyer, lecturer in linguistics, University of Sydney 2015]

Alison Mackey        1995    Stepping up the pace.  University of Sydney (primary supervisor,  co-supervisor Patsy Lightbown).  [Professor, Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University, UK, 2016]

as secondary supervisor

Reiko Tomatsu         2006 A computational analysis of literary style: comparison of Kawabata Yasunari and Mishima Yukio (primary supervisor Hugh Clarke, Japanese Studies) (1959 - 2014)

Bronwyn Dyson        2004 Developmental style in second language processing: A study of inter-learner variation in the acquisition of English as a Second language University of Western Sydney (primary supervisor Stuart Campbell)[Senior Lecturer, Postgraduate Academic Writing Adviser, University of Sydney, 2016]

Ikuko Nakane          2003 Silence in Japanese-Australian Classroom Interaction: perceptions and performance. (primary supervisor Ingrid Piller) [Academic, Japanese Studies, Asia Institute, University of Melbourne, 2016]

Johnson Haan        2002 A grammar of Adang (primary supervisor Bill Foley) [Lecturer at University of Nusa Cendana, Kupang, Indonesia, 2016]

Lea Brown              2001  A grammar of Nias Selatan (primary supervisor Bill Foley) [Volunteer Research Asst. Prof Department of Linguistics, SUNY Buffalo, USA, 2016]

Brett Baker              1999 Word structure in Ngalakgan (primary supervisors Toni Borowsky and Mark Harvey) [Senior Lecturer, University of Melbourne, 2010]

Lynn Berry              1999  Alignment and adjacency in optimality theory : evidence from Warlpiri and Arrernte (primary supervisor Toni Borowsky) [Curriculum Developer at University of Sydney, 2016]

Robert Amery         1998. Warrabarna Kaurna, University of Adelaide. (primary supervisor Peter Mühlhäusler) [Senior lecturer, University of Adelaide 2007]

I Wayan Arka          1997 From Morphosyntax to Pragmatics in Balinese: a Lexical-Functional approach.  University of Sydney.  (primary supervisor William Foley) [Associate Professor, CAP, ANU, 2016]

Yoshiko Sheard      1995 Phrase structure in Japanese.  Australian National University (primary supervisor Avery Andrews)

completed MPhil theses

Philippa Horton      2000         Determiners and Complementizers in Cook Islands Maori

Grete Dalmi            1995         Hungarian infinitival constructions.   (primary supervisor, co-supervisor William Foley)

Mark Richards         1994         Developing language teaching materials for Mangarrayi

I Wayan Arka          1994         Morpholexical aspects of the -kan causative in Indonesian. (co-supervisor with William Foley)

Pamela Leung       1994         Conjunctive relations in Chinese. (primary supervisor, co-supervisor James Martin)

William Palmer      1992         Commonality and distinctiveness: towards a theory of morphemics.   

Completed MA thesis

Chul-Hwa Chung    2011         Agreement in Kuot


Return to top

Updated:  15 July 2020 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers