The Building Blocks of Language Sciences

CoEDL research outputs in support of language use, education, preservation and maintenance


CoEDL’s mission to transform the language sciences demanded that its members take a critical look at aspects of their disciplines and rethink not only how to do this research, but how to pass on their findings to the next generation of scholars, to language speakers and to the general public. Making this transfer of knowledge interesting and accessible was a priority and the examples highlighted below give insight to how CoEDL achieved this.

From the reference books at the heart of language and its study to digestible, student-oriented textbooks, to resources reflecting the creative traditions behind language, these materials translate CoEDL research in new ways and for new audiences.

In addition to the resources listed below, CoEDL members produced over 1100 media commentaries and appearances, including at least 25 articles for the Conversation. Alongside the Centre’s teaching, education and outreach efforts, these materials ensured CoEDL research reached scholars at all levels as well as language communities and the public.

Grammars and dictionaries

Reference grammars and dictionaries are the building blocks of linguistics.

Grammars seek to explain the workings of a language, especially the thousands of grammatical rules and the ways they interact to construct an infinite number of sentences. Writing a grammar is an immense intellectual effort, involving extensive data-gathering, organisation, analysis and time, often including fieldwork in remote communities.

A priority of linguistics is to have quality grammars of every human language, as some of the most challenging phenomena in language science may be present in just one or two languages. Under a quarter of Pacific languages have some form of grammatical description and many of the world’s 7000 languages are unlikely to be spoken beyond this century [1 – 3]. Documenting these languages is therefore urgent for cultural preservation and linguistic inquiry.

For these reasons, charting the full design space of language was central to CoEDL’s mission. By late 2022, CoEDL researchers had produced 19 grammars, 3 more than proposed. These grammars come from leading publishers and received significant prizes, such as the Georg von der Gabelentz award, won in 2022 by CoEDL PhD graduate Christian Dohler for his grammar of Komnzo.

Dictionaries are similarly central outputs of linguistic and cultural documentation. Communities value them as a symbol of the importance of their language; as tools for learning, maintaining and revitalising language and ecological and cultural knowledge; and for facilitating work in other areas, like land management.

In collaboration with communities, CoEDL produced dictionaries in over ten Australian Indigenous languages (several supported by institutional partner AIATSIS) and four Pacific languages, as well as flora and fauna vocabulary books from languages of the region.

A Dictionary of Nafsan, South Efate,Vanuatu: M̃p̃et Nafsan Ni Erakor A dictionary of Umpithamu
A documentation and description of Yelmek A grammar and lexicon of Yintyingka
A Grammar of Bilinarra: An Australian Aboriginal Language of the Northern Territory A Grammar of Coastal Marind
A Grammar of Komnzo A Grammar of Kunbarlang
A Grammar of Lopit: An Eastern Nilotic Language of South Sudan A Grammar of Nungon: A Papuan Language of Northeast New Guinea
A Grammar of Paku: A Language of Central Kalimantan A Grammar of Paluai: The Language of Baluan Island, Papua New Guinea
A Grammar of Yélî Dnye: The Papuan Language of Rossel Island A Grammatical Description of Warlmanpa: A Ngumpin-Yapa Language Spoken around Tennant Creek (Northern Territory)
A Yali (Angguruk) – German Dictionary: Wörterbuch Yali (Angguruk) – Deutsch Alyawarr to English dictionary
Etnobotani: Pengetahuan lokal suku Marori di Taman Nasional Wasur Merauke Grammar, dimension and deixis in Phola, a Tibeto- Burman language of China
Gurr-goni to English dictionary Jingulu and Mudburra Plants and Animals: Biocultural Knowledge of the Jingili and Mudburra People of Murranji, Marlinja, Warranganku (Beetaloo) and Kulumindini (Elliott), Northern Territory
Kaurna Warrapiipa, Kaurna Dictionary Mawng Dictionary
Mudburra to English Dictionary Nen Dictionary
Ngarinyman to English Dictionary Nominal and Pronominal Morphology of Ngardi: A Ngumpin-Yapa Language of Western Australia
Rescuing a Language from Extinction: Documentation and Practical Steps for the Revitalisation of (Western) Yugur Rote-Meto Comparative Dictionary
Temporal, Aspectual and Modal Expression in Anindilyakwa, the Language of the Groote Eylandt Archipelago, Australia The Core of Mangarla Grammar
The Dhurga Dictionary and Learners' Grammar: A south-east coast, NSW Aboriginal language The Ngkolmpu Language with Special Reference to Distributed Exponence
Verbal Morphology and Syntax of Mudburra: An Australian Aboriginal Language of the Northern Territory Wambaya, Gudanji, Binbinka and Ngarnka Plants and Animals: Aboriginal Biocultural Knowledge from Gulf of Carpentaria and the Barkly Tablelands, North Australia
Warlpiri Encyclopaedic Dictionary: Warlpiri yimi-kirli manu jaru-kurlu
Handbooks and textbooks

Contributing to handbooks and textbooks was an important way CoEDL redefined the field. Surveys of the language sciences through handbooks can transform scholarly practice by building shared understandings and providing new benchmarks for best practice methods. Textbooks reset how language science students and scholars see the discipline and areas within it by condensing insights and findings into a conceptual schema of questions and methods within which new research is situated.


Centre researchers produced at least seven textbooks, while well over 50 CoEDL members have contributed to at least six handbooks, either by writing chapters or by editing entire volumes. These titles are listed in the table below.

Australian English: Pronunciation and Transcription Introducción a la lingüística hispánica (3rd ed.)
Lexical-Functional Grammar: An Introduction Oxford Guide to Australian languages
Oxford Guide to the Papuan Languages Second Language Speech: Theory and Practice
The Languages and Linguistics of Australia: A Comprehensive Guide The Languages and Linguistics of New Guinea: A Comprehensive Guide
The Oxford Handbook of Polysynthesis The Routledge Handbook of Historical Linguistics
Understanding Corpus Linguistics Understanding linguistic fieldwork
Words of Wonder: Endangered Languages and What They Tell Us (2nd ed.)
Capturing oral and creative traditions

Language conveys culture across time through story, song and commentaries on other forms of creativity like art. These creative expressions also drive language change and were therefore a focus of CoEDL research and archival work.

Examples from across Australia and the Pacific, many co-authored by speakers and art practitioners, include:

  • Jennifer Green’s landmark book Drawn From the Ground [4], the first account of story-telling to bring together speech, song, sand-drawing and gesture in a single time-linked analysis
  • The Western Desert verbal arts texts from Affiliates Inge Kral, Jennifer Green and Elizabeth Ellis In the Time of Their Lives [5], which draws on recordings of Ngaatjatjarra verbal art, recognised in the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World register, and i-Tjuma [6]
  • The bilingual books on Gurindji oral history by Erika Charola and CI Felicity Meakins Yijarni: True Stories from Gurindji Country [7] and Mayarni-Kari Yurrk: More Stories from Gurindji Country [8]
  • The Warlpiri history film Kaja-warnu-jangka by Maxwell Walma Tasman Japanangka and AI Carmel O’Shannessy

  • April Pengart Campbell and collaborators’ book Mer Angenty-warn alhem: travelling to Angenty country [9], featuring Anmatyerr and Warlpiri singers and speakers
  • Nicholas Evans’ piece [10] linking Sally Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Gabori’s art and her Kayardilt language for the 2022 exhibition of her art at the Fondation Cartier in Paris
  • Five unique commentaries on First Nations songs, their creation, language, circulation and processes of re-learning this knowledge from archives [11 – 15]
  • Azeb Amha and collaborators’ discussion of the intriguing phenomenon of naming people by tunes in the Oyda and Yopno communities of Papua New Guinea [16]
  • Documentation of Tekná (song-tales) of Kayan people of Sarawak, Indonesia by Rosalind Wan and collaborators [17]


Further information

Much of this linguistic data is also captured in corpus and PARADISEC archive collections. Other products of CoEDL research — including a full list of publications — are listed in the Selected Highlights page.

To learn more about other research projects, explore the Connections data in map or list form.


Hero image: A collection of CoEDL publications. Image: CoEDL.

Image 1: The Mudburra dictionary team: (front L – R) Pompey Raymond, Shannon Dixon, Warren Snowdon, Ray Dixon (back L – R) Eleanor Dixon, Jenny Green, Felicity Meakins, Rob Pensalfini, Rebecca Green and Amanda Hamilton-Hollaway. Image: CoEDL.

Image 2: CoEDL members at the launch of Understanding Linguistic Fieldwork, including (L – R) Advisory Committee Chair Tony Woodbury, Research Fellow Elizabeth Ellis, Research Fellow Jennifer Green, CI Felicity Meakins and Affiliate Myfany Turpin. Image: CoEDL.

Image 3: Ros Russell of the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Committee (centre) with Research Fellows Jennifer Green (left), Inge Kral (second left), Deputy Director Jane Simpson (second right) and Nick Evans (right) holding the Memory of the World certificates of inscription. Photo: CoEDL.


[1] Bromham Lindell, Dinnage Russell, Skirgård Hedvig, Ritchie Andrew, Cardillo Marcel, Meakins Felicity, Greenhill Simon, and Xia Hua. 2022. Global predictors of language endangerment and the future of linguistic diversity. Nature Ecolology & Evolution. 6(2):163-173. doi: 10.1038/s41559-021-01604-y. Epub 2021 Dec 16. Erratum in: Nat Ecol Evol. 2022 Feb 3.

[2] Seifart, Frank, Evans, Nicholas, Hammarstrom, Harold, and Stephen Levinson. 2018. Language documentation twenty-five years on. Language. 94(4): e324–e345. https://doi.org/10.1353/lan.2018.0070

[3] Evans, Nicholas. 2022. Words of Wonder: Endangered Languages and What They Tell Us. Wiley-Blackwell. https://www.wiley.com/en-au/Words+of+Wonder%3A+Endangered+Languages+and+What+They+Tell+Us%2C+2nd+Edition-p-9781119758778

[4] Green, Jennifer. 2014. Drawn from the Ground: Sound, Sign and Inscription in Central Australian Sand Stories. Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139237109.

[5] Kral, Inge, and Elizabeth Ellis. 2020. In the Time of Their Lives. UWA Publishing, https://uwap.uwa.edu.au/products/in-the-time-of-their-lives

[6] Kral, Inge, Green, Jennifer, & Lizzie Marrkilyi Ellis (eds.) 2020. I-Tjuma: Ngaanyatjarra Stories from the Western Desert of Central Australia. UWA Publishing https://uwap.uwa.edu.au/products/i-tjuma.

[7] Meakins, Felicity, and Erika Charola. 2016. Yijarni: True Stories from Gurindji Country. Aboriginal Studies Press. http://www.aiatsis.gov.au/node/25813.

[8] Charola, Erika, and Felicity Meakins. 2016. Mayarni-Kari Yurrk: More Stories from Gurindji Country. Batchelor Press. http: //www.batchelorpress.com/node/326.

[9] Campbell, April Pengart, Long, Clarrie Kemarr, Green, Jennifer, and Carew, Margaret. 2015. Mer Angenty-warn alhem: travelling to Angenty country. Batchelor: Batchelor Press. http://batchelorpress.com/node/297

[10] Evans, Nicholas. 2022. The eye of the dolphin: Sally Gabori and the Kaiadilt vision. In Sally Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Gabori. Paris: Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain. Pp. 13-32.

[11] Wafer, Jim, and Myfany Turpin. 2017. Recirculating Songs: Revitalising the Singing Practices of Indigenous Australia. ANU Asia-Pacific Linguistics. http://hdl.handle.net/1885/132161.

[12] Harris, Amanda, Linda Barwick, and Jakelin Troy. 2022. Music, Dance and the Archive. Sydney University Press. https://sydneyuniversitypress.com.au/products/180357.

[13] Bracknell, Clint. 2020. Maya Waabiny: Mobilising Song Archives to Nourish an Endangered Language. Humanities Australia. 11 (1): 9–27. https://www.humanities.org.au/issue-item/humanities-australia-no-11-2020/

[14] O’Keeffe, Isabel. 2016. Multilingual Manyardi/Kun-Borrk: Manifestations of Multilingualism in the Classical Song Traditions of Western Arnhem Land. University of Melbourne PhD Thesis. https: //minerva-access.unimelb.edu.au/items/3769d6eb-dc24-5fa2-aa26-8d1815e002a7.

[15] Turpin, Myfany, and Felicity Meakins. 2018. Songs from the Stations: Wajarra as Sung by Ronnie Wavehill Wirrpa, Dandy Danbayarri, Topsy Dodd Ngarnjal. Sydney University Press. https: //www.newsouthbooks.com.au/books/songs-stations/

[16] Amha, Azeb, Slotta, James, and Hannah Sarvasy. 2021. Singing the individual: Name tunes in Oyda and Yopno. Frontiers In Psychology. 12: 1-7. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.667599

[17] Wan, Roselind; Sumathi Renganathan; and Inge Kral 2018 . “Tekná – a Vanishing Oral Tradition among the Kayan People of Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. Indonesia and the Malay World. 46(135): 218–34, https: //doi.org/10.1080/13639811.2018.1457617.

Kral, Inge, Green, Jennifer and Elizabeth Marrkilyi Ellis. 2019. Wangkarra: Communication and the Verbal Arts of Australia’s Western Desert. International Journal of Intangible Heritage. 14: 33–47. https://www.ijih.org/volumes/article/837.

Thieberger, Nick. 2018. Towards an online museum of languages: Digitising records of the world’s 7,000 languages. Museums Galleries Australia Magazine. 26(2): 52-55.

Hendery, Rachel, Burrell, Andrew and Nick Thieberger. 2019. “Glossopticon: Visualising Archival Data.” 2019 23rd International Conference in Information Visualization – Part II. IEEE. pp. 100–03. https://doi.org/10.1109/IV-2.2019.00029.