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 of Arts and 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

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

Lesley Woods  Ngiyampaa Language

James Gray Pintupi Luritja language

Haoyi Li Art and language in Arnhem Land

Anneke Myers Indigenous languages in Hansard

Past student projects

Robert Amery         1998. Warrabarna Kaurna, University of Adelaide. (primary supervisor Peter Mühlhäusler) 

Denise Angelo 2021 Countering misrecognition of Indigenous contact languages and their ecologies

I Wayan Arka          1997 From Morphosyntax to Pragmatics in Balinese: a Lexical-Functional approach.  University of Sydney.  (primary supervisor William Foley) 

James Bednall 2020 (co-tutelle,Université Pari Diderot)  Temporal, aspectual and modal expression in Anindilyakwa, the language of the Groote Eylandt Archipelago, Australia

Lynn Berry              1999  Alignment and adjacency in optimality theory : evidence from Warlpiri and Arrernte (primary supervisor Toni Borowsky)

Joe Blythe              2009    Doing referring in Murriny Patha conversation. Sydney: University of Sydney PhD. [co-supervisor with Linda Barwick and Michael Walsh] 

Cathy Bow 2020 (co-tutelle, Charles Darwin University) Australian Indigenous languages and digital humanities

Lea Brown              2001  A grammar of Nias Selatan (primary supervisor Bill Foley) 

Winnie Chor           2010 Grammaticalization of directional particles in Cantonese [co-supervisor with Derek Herforth, Chinese] 

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

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)[

Johnson Haan        2002 A grammar of Adang (primary supervisor Bill Foley) 

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)

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]

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)

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

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

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]

Sydney Kingstone (2019)  Mapping Australian English: reported, recognised and perceived regional variation

Caroline Lipovsky        2005     Negotiating solidarity: a social-linguistic approach to job interviews (primary supervisor, co-supervisors Alice Caffarel, French Department, and James Martin) 

Alison Mackey        1995    Stepping up the pace.  University of Sydney (co-supervisor Patsy Lightbown). 

John Mansfield. 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]

Ikuko Nakane          2003 Silence in Japanese-Australian Classroom Interaction: perceptions and performance. (primary supervisor Ingrid Piller) 

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] 

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).   

Nicholas Riemer     1999    A study of semantic extension of percussion/impact verbs in English and Warlpiri (primary supervisor, co-supervisor Michael Walsh) 

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

Takahiro Teranishi 2003    Concept formation through iconicity: basic shapes and their related metaphorical extensions in English and Japanese. (co-supervisor Hugh Clarke) 

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

Myfany Turpin             2005    Form and meaning of Akwelye: a Kaytetye women’s song series from Central Australia (co-supervisor with Linda Barwick)

Marie-Elaine van Egmond         2012.  Enindhilyakwa phonology, morphosyntax and genetic position.  (University of Sydney, co-supervisor with Brett Baker)

Xueqing [Norah] Zhong    2019  A dictionary of Yugur, an endangered language of China  

completed MPhil theses

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

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

Philippa Horton      2000         Determiners and Complementizers in Cook Islands Maori

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

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

Mark Richards         1994         Developing language teaching materials for Mangarrayi


Completed MA thesis

Chul-Hwa Chung    2011         Agreement in Kuo


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:  19 September 2021 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers