The Centre’s transdisciplinary group of research leaders
A transdisciplinary group of researchers came together to oversee the Centre’s research as Chief Investigators at CoEDL. CoEDL research was organised around four questions or puzzles about language. Uniting research across the Centre were two Programs that focused on revolutionising and improving the systems through which linguistics and adjacent work is practiced.
The team — guided by the leadership duo of Director Nicholas Evans and Deputy Director Jane Simpson — was spread across four universities: The Australian National University, the University of Melbourne, the University of Queensland and Western Sydney University. Nineteen CIs served with CoEDL, coming to the Centre from diverse disciplines, including linguistics, speech pathology, psychology, anthropology, philosophy, bioinformatics and robotics.
Together, this dynamic group ensured CoEDL was well-placed to achieve its goals of investigating and transforming the language sciences.
Nicholas (‘Nick’) Evans was the Director of CoEDL. His central research 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. His 2022 book Words of Wonder: Endangered Languages and What They Tell Us sets out a broad program for the field’s engagement with the planet’s dwindling linguistic diversity. Nick has carried out fieldwork on several languages of Northern Australia and Papua New Guinea, particularly Kayardild, Bininj Gun-wok, Dalabon, Ilgar, Iwaidja, Marrku and Nen, with published grammars of Kayardild (1995) and Bininj Gun-wok (2003), and dictionaries of Kayardild (1992), Dalabon (2004) and Nen (2019, online). Among many other CoEDL endeavours, he led, with Danielle Barth, the SCOPIC Project, a cross-linguistic study of how diverse grammars underpin social cognition.
Jane Simpson was Deputy Director of CoEDL. She has worked with CI Jill Wigglesworth, AI Carmel O’Shannessy and AIATSIS on Indigenous languages, public policy and education. This included creating a group of scholars (Translational Research in Indigenous Languages Ecologies (TRILEC), whose work has resulted in the National Indigenous Languages Report. She also oversaw commissioned policy reports, five ANU doctoral theses and edited books and special journal issues disseminating the findings of younger researchers. Jane engaged with CoEDL’s language documentation program, led by CI Rachel Nordlinger, and archiving and corpus work led by CI Nick Thieberger. This provided inspiration and resources to work with Australian Indigenous communities on projects important to them like the Dhurga dictionary (with CI Caroline Jones), the Warumungu ethnobiology book, the Warlpiri dictionary and the Muruwari pronunciation guide, alongside supporting teaching Indigenous languages at universities.
Anthony Angwin is a speech pathologist and associate professor at the University of Queensland. His research is focused upon two primary themes: 1) technology design to support people living with dementia and aphasia, and 2) investigating the neural substrates of language processing and learning.
Within CoEDL, Anthony provided leadership of the multi-disciplinary Florence project, which aimed to co-design (together with lived experience experts) the development of meaningful technology that would support communication for people living with dementia and their caregivers.
Helen Chenery is an emeritus professor in the area of acquired neurological language disorders. She has researched in the areas of speech pathology, the neurobiology of language, the impact of deep brain stimulation on language and cognition, technology-enabled health innovation, and health workforce reform. Within CoEDL, Helen was a Chief Investigator from 2014 – 2017, during which time she led the Florence Project — an initiative aiming to develop technology to support people living with dementia and their caregivers. She passed the project on to Anthony Angwin after her departure in late 2017.
(Elizabeth) Anne Cutler (1945 – 2022) was a Distinguished Professor at the MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development at Western Sydney University and led CoEDL’s Processing research program. Anne was a pioneer and influential figure in the field of psycholinguistics; her career included positions at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge and the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. Her research was widely regarded and honoured, having received numerous awards and being elected to the Australian Academy of the Humanities, the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, the Royal Academy of Sciences and the Holland Society of Sciences in the Netherlands, and the British Academy and the Royal Society in the United Kingdom.
Paola Escudero is Professor in Linguistics at the MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour, and Development. At CoEDL she solidified her expertise in language learning with many studies conducted with other CoEDL CIs, postdocs and PhD students on how infants, children, and adults learn the building blocks of their first and subsequent languages. Recently, her work with CI Angwin has shown that adults learn more efficiently from written than spoken words using both lab-based, online, behavioural and neurophysiological techniques. CI Escudero’s legacy emerging from her CoEDL work and her Future Fellowship is the Little Multilingual Minds (LMM) research program which provides heritage and second language exposure sessions in early learning and primary school. The offering of LMM in foreign languages across Australia demonstrates the goal of enabling multilingualism in Australia and worldwide is well at reach.
Bethwyn’s research focuses on historical and comparative linguistics and how language can be a window on the linguistic and non-linguistic past. She is particularly interested in what historical linguistics, in conjunction with archaeology and population genetics, can tell us about the past of particular ethnolinguistic groups, as well as about the general processes and mechanisms of linguistic and social change. Beth’s research with CoEDL explored the history of linguistic diversification and contact among Austronesian- and Papuan-speaking groups of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. A major part of this project is the documentation and description of several languages of southern Bougainville, including Nasioi, Torau and Nagovisi. She also collaborated with Simon Greenhill on exploring the links between micro- and macro-level processes of language evolution.
Janet Fletcher is Professor of Phonetics in the School of Languages and Linguistics at the University of Melbourne, Australia. Her research expertise includes phonetic theory and laboratory phonology, with a particular focus on typological differences across intonation systems of under-resourced languages. Her participation in CoEDL has allowed her to expand work on phonetic and phonological variation in Australian languages including Murrinhpatha, and has allowed her to develop a range of new projects on Oceanic languages including Nafsan, Drehu, Tahitian and other French Polynesian languages. She has also participated in sociophonetic projects on Aboriginal English and Indian English.
Simon Greenhill served as a Chief Investigator with the Centre for 2014 and 2015 before taking a position at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. He has a broad interest in linguistic and cultural evolution and human prehistory. His research focuses on three main research themes. First, he has helped pioneer the construction and use of large-scale online databases of linguistic and cultural information. Second, he has been instrumental in developing and applying Bayesian phylogenetic methods to analyse cross-linguistic and cross-cultural data. Third, he has investigated the factors that have shaped the global patterns of linguistic diversity over time.
Caroline and her CoEDL students have researched language learning, teaching and assessment of children from diverse backgrounds — multilingual, lower socioeconomic, and/or Indigenous — in western Sydney, in regional NSW, remote northern Australia, and in Asia-Pacific. Caroline led creation of two MacArthur-Bates communicative development checklists (OZI-SF, ERLI), for monolingual and multilingual use with Australian children aged 0-3 years, now used widely. Caroline has collaborated with CoEDL students, postdocs and staff on accessible and effective resources for revitalisation/reclamation of Indigenous languages, including Listen N Talk shell, WordSpinner software, Ngarinyman dictionary and online talking dictionaries or resources (Ngarinyman, Bilinarra, Gurindji, Mudburra, Dhurga, Dharug and Ngiyambaa).
Evan Kidd is a Professor of Linguistics in the College of Arts and Social Sciences at the Australian National University. His research investigates the cognitive and social processes underlying language acquisition and language processing.
Evan served as a CI with CoEDL from 2014 – 2018. He led the Canberra Longitudinal Child Language Lab project, served on the Education Sub-Committee and continued to collaborate with CoEDL researchers as an Associate Investigator from 2018 – 2022. From 2017 – 2022, Evan maintained his position as Professor of Psychology at ANU while taking up a position as Senior Investigator in the Language Development Department at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. He returned to ANU as Professor of Linguistics in December 2022.
Felicity Meakins (ASSA) is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Queensland. She is a field linguist who specialises in the documentation of First Nations languages in northern Australia and the effect of English on these languages. She has worked as a community linguist as well as an academic over the past 20 years, facilitating language revitalisation programs, consulting on Native Title claims and conducting research into First Nations languages. She has compiled a number of dictionaries and grammars, and has written numerous papers on language change in Australia.
Rachel Nordlinger is the Director of the Research Unit for Indigenous Language at the University of Melbourne. Her research focusses on the description and documentation of Australian Indigenous languages, especially Bilinarra, Wambaya, Gudanji, Murrinhpatha and Marri Ngarr. Rachel is particularly interested in the unique and complex grammatical structures of Australian Indigenous languages, and what they can teach us about the nature of language. During CoEDL, Rachel extended her research into the study of linguistic processing (in collaboration with Prof. Evan Kidd), focussing on the free word order properties of Australian languages and the implications for our understanding of how the grammatical structure of a language affects the way it is planned and processed.
Alan Rumsey is an Emeritus Professor of Anthropology in the School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University. His research fields are Highland New Guinea and Aboriginal Australia, with a focus on relations among language, culture, intersubjectivity, and language socialisation. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities, and past president of the Australian Anthropological Society. His work includes an ARC Discovery project on multimodal and cross-cultural aspects of children’s language socialisation, with a team of ten researchers working in five very different sociocultural settings around the world.
Kim Sterelny’s main research interests are in Philosophy of Biology, Philosophy of the Historical Sciences and Philosophy of the Cognitive Sciences. In the last few years, his main work has been on the evolution of human social life, including language, and of the cognitive capacities that make those lives possible. He is the author of The Representational Theory of Mind, Thought in a Hostile World, The Evolved Apprentice and most recently The Pleistocene Social Contract. He is the co-author of Language and Reality (with Michael Devitt), Sex and Death: An Introduction to Philosophy of Biology (with Paul Griffiths) and from Signal to Symbol (with Ron Planer). In addition to philosophy, Kim spends his time eating curries, drinking red wine, bushwalking, snorkelling and bird watching. Kim has been a Visiting Professor at Simon Fraser University in Canada, at Cal Tech, All Souls College and the University of Maryland, College Park.
Associate Professor Nicholas Thieberger has worked with speakers of Australian languages since the early 1980s. He established the Aboriginal language centre Wangka Maya in Port Hedland in the late 1980s, then worked at AIATSIS building the Aboriginal Studies Electronic Data Archive in the early 1990s. He wrote a grammar of South Efate, a language from central Vanuatu that was the first to link media to the analysis, allowing verification of examples used in analytical claims. In 2003 he helped establish PARADISEC, a digital archive of recorded ethnographic material and is now its Director. He is interested in developments in digital humanities methods and their potential to improve research practice and he is now developing methods for creation of reusable data sets from fieldwork on previously unrecorded languages. He was the Editor of the journal Language Documentation & Conservation (2011-2021). He leads two ARC LIEF projects, one to build a platform for primary sources in Australian languages and the other to renew the way that PARADISEC's collections are stored and served.
Catherine Travis is a variationist sociolinguist whose research addresses the ways in which linguistic and social factors impact language variation and change, in particular in socially diverse communities. She has conducted large-scale projects applying quantitative methods to the study of spontaneous speech data from English and Spanish, and in monolingual and bilingual communities. Most recently she has been undertaking a longitudinal project examining Australian English over time as spoken by ethnically diverse communities across Sydney (Sydney Speaks). Catherine is Professor of Modern European Languages at the ANU and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.
Jill Wigglesworth is Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor of Linguistics and Applied Linguistics at the University of Melbourne. She has researched in first and second language acquisition in monolingual, bilingual and multilingual settings over many years. A major focus of her work focus is in remote Indigenous communities documenting children’s language learning at home and at school, much of it in collaboration with CI Jane Simpson. In leading the Learning program worked she has with members to ensure comparable data collection patterns in the acquisition projects taking place in Australia and Papua New Guinea. She and Professor Anne Cutler jump started a number of CoEDL projects using methodologies from fieldwork and processing research. Her collaboration with Profs Mridula Sharma (Macquarie, Audiology) and Katherine Demuth (Macquarie, CI, Centre in Cognition and its Disorders) assesses Indigenous children’s hearing to determine any relationship to phonological awareness development.
Janet Wiles is a Professor in Human Centred Computing at the University of Queensland. Her multidisciplinary team co-designs language technologies to support people living with dementia and their carers; new tools to enable language communities to develop their own speech recognition systems; and social robots for applications in health, education, and neuroscience. She has 30 years’ experience in research and teaching in machine learning, artificial intelligence, bio-inspired computation, complex systems, visualisation, language technologies and social robotics, leading teams that span engineering, humanities, social sciences and neuroscience.