International Engagement

Reaching out to and collaborating with diverse communities across the world


Engaging with and integrating diverse international perspectives was central to CoEDL’s mission to transform the science of language into a more interdisciplinary and inclusive field. Many of the Centre’s international collaborations involved sharing language insights across fields and drawing new languages and perspectives into this research.

In its nearly 9 years of operation, the CoEDL community grew into an expansive international network. Eighteen international researchers joined CoEDL as Partner and Associate Investigators, whose expertise CoEDL shared with and beyond its community through various education and outreach activities. CoEDL Alumni deepened the Centre’s international engagement, with 43% of members taking positions overseas after their time with CoEDL.

CoEDL members also engaged with the international community by organising research collaborations and gatherings such as those highlighted below. These linkages allowed CoEDL to present its vision of the language sciences to the world; infused the Centre’s activities with new questions, energy and partnerships; and, through these interactions, ensured the calibre of CoEDL research remained world-leading.

Evolution of Kinship

Kinship is central to human life, bringing together the biological facts of reproduction and relatedness with the social facts of how family relationships are categorised. The intricacy of kinship systems presents opportunities for interdisciplinary inquiry — from genetics to philosophy to anthropology — to examine questions around human cognition, how humans engage in complex reasoning and beyond.

Kinship also plays a role in the language sciences as, for example, a source of data for understanding the relatedness between different languages and the communities that speak them.

From 27 February – 1 March 2019, CoEDL hosted ‘Revisiting the Evolution of Kinship’, an interdisciplinary workshop convened by CI Kim Sterelny, Director Nick Evans and PI Stephen Levison. The gathering brought together international experts to examine the evolution of kinship systems from the pre-human through the early human to attested human societies.

The workshop was notable not only for its disciplinary diversity, but also for drawing a similarly diverse range of international collaborators and participants. Evolutionary and linguistic anthropologist Fiona Jordan (Professor, University of Bristol, United Kingdom) presented on the VariKin project, which studied patterned variation in human kinship systems. Primatologist Joan Silk (Professor Emeritus, University of California, Los Angeles, United States) presented on kin networks in non-human primates and other mammals. Anthropologist Robert H Layton (Professor Emeritus, Durham University, United Kingdom) discussed the emergence of kinship from the social lives of early humans and hominin relatives.

The program also featured papers by Kim, Nick and Stephen, as well as CoEDL members Ron Planer, Patrick McConvell and Francesca Merlan. A core set of the papers appeared in a special issue of Biological Theory in 2021 on the evolution of kinship systems [1].

Vanuatu Languages Conference

In July 2018, CoEDL members participated in the Vanuatu Languages Conference at the Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Sponsored and co-organised by CoEDL, together with institutional partners the University of the South Pacific and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (Jena, Germany), the conference encompassed six days of events.

The conference focused on current and emerging areas of linguistic research in Vanuatu. In true CoEDL fashion, presentations covered a diverse and interdisciplinary range of topics, including language documentation, description and revitalisation; literacy and language material creation; language variation and change; historical linguistics; language acquisition; and the relationship between the language sciences and archaeology, genetics and other fields.

CI Nick Thieberger co-convened the conference with CoEDL Affiliate Mary Walworth, alongside several other CoEDL members — including PIs Miriam Meyerhoff and Russell Gray, Postdoc Rosey Billington and PhD student Marie-France Duhamel — who sat on the scientific and organising committees. The program featured many others from the CoEDL community.

Events began with a symposium on mother tongue education, followed by a day of talks in Bislama — one of the official languages of Vanuatu — during which Nick Thieberger and Miriam Meyerhoff presented. CoEDL Advisory Committee member Ralph Regenvanu opened three days of talks, after which CoEDL members led a training session covering the FieldWorks Language Explorer (FLEx) tool, an open-source desktop application to assist field linguists with analysis; the ELAN annotation tool for audio and visual recordings; and how to make better video recordings for language research and preservation.

The SCOPIC Project

The Social Cognition Parallax Interview Corpus (SCOPIC) project is a cross-linguistic investigation of how social relationships and structures are expressed across languages and what insights the similarities and divergences between different expressions can provide into the scope and evolution of cultural and linguistic diversity. Co-led by CoEDL Director Nick Evans and Postdoc Danielle Barth, the project is a collaboration between researchers from across the world, including Australia, Gemany, Japan and Sweden.

The foundation of SCOPIC is an annotated corpus of languages from every continent of the world. The corpus captures enriched language data gathered through the innovative ‘Family Problems’ task, which involves collaborative problem-solving by a pair or small group of speakers responding to picture cards to form a narrative. This form of data-collection allows different cultural groups to imbue the pictures with their own experiences, concerns and conventions, and stimulates the spontaneous use of previously under-recorded linguistic structures.

A primary challenge for the SCOPIC team was developing a framework to standardise, code and synthesise the linguistic data in the corpus. This task grew more complex as new collaborators with new linguistic data joined the project over the years. Many workshops in Europe, Asia and the Pacific helped to define this framework, allowing vast amounts of data across diverse languages to be organised into comparable domains and analysed.

Notable findings and outputs from the project include a study of the interaction between individual and cross-linguistic differences in how people express themselves [2]. Danielle, Nick and their co-authors argue that typology focusing on cross-linguistic differences can miss the vast differences in meaning-making achieved by individual language users within a given language suggest statistical modelling techniques can help to illustrate inter- versus intra-language diversity.

Other highlights include a special edition of Language Documentation & Conservation on phonetic fieldwork in southern New Guinea [3]; “Social Cognition in Dalabon” by Nick Evans [4]; Understanding Corpus Linguistics by Danielle Barth and CoEDL alumnus and SCOPIC project member Stefan Schnell [5].

Across its international network, SCOPIC has secured funding to support further collaborations. The team also intends to publish the corpus publicly in the coming years.

National symposium on bilingualism

CoEDL partnered with the French Embassy in October 2016 to host a national symposium on bilingualism and multilingualism in schools in the Oceania-Pacific region at the Australian National University in Canberra. This national event attracted domestic and international education leaders, including senior public servants from state-level Australian education departments, as well as language academics, school teachers and post-graduate students from across a number of disciplines, and representatives from the Pacific and French Polynesia.

The program was split into two events. The symposium itself focused on bilingualism and multilingualism research and education across three sessions, each organised around a related theme: bilingualism and vernacular languages; bilingualism and European and Asian languages; and bilingualism and neuropsychology.

A series of talks from the team behind Yäku Ga Rirrakay — the Dhuwaya-language app for teaching phonological awareness to school-aged children — touched on the development and delivery of bilingual education at Yirrkala School (Dhäruktja Dhuwala Djambulu-mäypa, Bulal’ Dhukarr/Our Language has Many Layers - Two Learning Pathways, by Affiliates Yalmay Yunupingu and Robyn Beecham); the challenges the National Assessment of Proficiency — Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) presents for the education of Indigenous children in Australia (The Use of NAPLAN in remote Indigenous Schools by CI Gillian Wigglesworth); and development of the app (Technology and Bilingual Education: App development for phonological awareness by CoEDL PhD student Gemma Morales).

Following the symposium, CoEDL Affiliate Joseph Lo Bianco — then Professor of Language and Literacy Education at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education and renowned policy advisor in Australia and internationally — gave a public lecture. Entitled “Securing the Future: Multilingualism as a Social Resource,” the event attracted over 200 attendees. Joe argued in his talk that to ensure security in the region, we need to re-think a number of assumptions, including the naturalisation of monolingualism as a normal state.

Further information

To learn more about these and other CoEDL collabarations, explore the Languages subset of Connections data in map or list form.


Hero image: Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese addresses the crowd gathered at the opening of Fondation Cartier’s exhibition Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori, the first solo international exhibition of an Australian Indigenous artist, for which CoEDL Director Nick Evans (pictured top centre with members of the Gabori family) advised. Image: Valentin le Cron /Fondation Cartier.

Image 1: Attendees of the ‘Revisiting the Evolution of Kinship’ workshop, gathered in Canberra in 2019. Image: CoEDL.

Image 2: Participants of the Vanuatu Languages Conference. Image: CoEDL.

Image 3: The SCOPIC team photographed in 2019. Image: CoEDL.

Image 4: Attendees gathered in the venue foyer at the bilingualism symposium. Image: CoEDL.


Evans, Nicholas, Levinson, Stephen, and Kim Sterelny. 2021. Kinship revisited. Biological Theory. 16 (3): 123–126. doi: 10.1007/s13752-021-00384-9. Thematic Issue on Evolution of Kinship Systems.

Barth, Danielle, Evans, Nicholas, Arka, I Wayan, Bergqvist, Henrik, Forker, Diana, Gipper, Sonja, Hodge, Gabrielle, Kashima, Eri, Kasuga, Yuki, Kawakami, Carine, Kimoto, Yukinori, Knuchel, Dominique; Kogura, Norikazu; Kurabe, Keita; Mansfield, John; Narrog, Heiko; Pratiwi, Desak Putu Eka, van Putten, Saskia, Senge, Chikako, and Olena Tykhostup. (2021). Language vs individuals in cross-linguistic corpus typology. Language Documentation & Conservation Special Publication 25, Doing corpus-based typology with spoken language data: State of the art. Edited by Geoffrey Haig, Stefan Schnell, and Frank Seifart, pp. 179 – 232. http://hdl.handle.net/10125/74661

Lindsey, Kate and Dineke Schokkin. 2021. Language Documentation & Conservation Special Publication 24, Phonetic fieldwork in southern New Guinea. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. https://hdl.handle.net/10092/102825

Barth, Danielle, and Nicholas Evans. 2021. "Social cognition in Dalabon". In The Social Cognition Parallax Interview Corpus (SCOPIC), 22-84. Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press.

Danielle Barth, and Stefan Schnell. 2022. Understanding Corpus Linguistics. London: Routledge.