Seed Funding

Ensuring the transformation of the language sciences continued beyond CoEDL


A priority of the Centre’s mission to transform the science of language was ensuring this transformation continued beyond CoEDL. Seed funding allowed CoEDL to support over 80 projects that reached new audiences and shared the Centre’s commitment to innovative and collaborative research on language.

The benefits of this seed funding were numerous. In some cases, CoEDL-funded projects became catalysts for the research to receive further funding from other sources. They provided our postdocs and early career researchers opportunities to expand their research portfolios and practice grant applications. The projects also allowed these researchers to explore avenues for their research beyond CoEDL, ensuring that members of the Centre community were supported in and prepared for the next steps of their career.


Two funding schemes organised most of this seed funding. The Transdisciplinary and Innovation (TI) program supported collaboration at all levels, with a focus on innovative projects that linked research across disciplines in new and unexpected ways. The Language Documentation (LD) scheme was established to allow for broader support of language research and preservation. Special funding rounds also provided seed funding to projects that similarly embodied the Centre’s principles

Below are four examples of the research that began under the Centre’s funding schemes.

Psycholinguistics in remote Papua New Guinea

CoEDL members Hannah Sarvasy and Alba Tuninetti travelled to Papua New Guinea in June 2019 to conduct cutting-edge research that bridged several streams of linguistics inquiry. Supported by Transdisciplinary and Innovation (TI) funding, the team would combine linguistic fieldwork, language description and remote community collaboration with psycholinguistic studies of how the brain processes language.

Their research focused on the Nungon language and community located in the village of Towet in the Saruwaged Mountains. Nungon speakers use lengthy sentence structures called clause chains and switch-reference markers — a grammatical feature requiring speakers to announce in advance whether the subject of the next, unspoken, clause will differ from the current clause. Due to the cognitive complexity of thinking several steps ahead to speak in this way, Alba and Hannah believed that Nungon speakers might process sentences differently compared to English speakers.

To study this, the team would take mobile electroencephalograph (EEG) and eye-tracking machines to Towet — one of the first projects to take such technology to a remote field location. Alba and Hannah collected data from 45 participants in their two-week trip, while research assistants from the Nungon community helped with consent forms, interviews and setting up the EEG machines for each participant.

“We were able to integrate purely lab-based psycholinguistic approaches with the description and documentation of a remote language community,” said Hannah. “We hope that combining forces will help answer questions about the universality or generalisability of cognitive mechanisms to under-studied language groups.”

The idea for their collaboration first sprouted at the Centre’s annual conference — CoEDLFest — in 2016. Hannah was a postdoc at the Centre’s Australian National University node and had previously published a grammar detailing the linguistic structures of Nungon and conducted longitudinal research on children learning the language. Alba came from a psychology background and was a CoEDL postdoc in psycholinguistics at the Western Sydney University node.

Sign language documentation

CoEDL member Lauren Reed received Language Documentation (LD) funding in 2019 to further her research on signed language in Papua New Guinea by working with the Deaf community in Port Moresby.

Papua New Guinea is one of the world’s most linguistically diverse nations; while Centre researchers and the broader linguistic community have worked extensively with communities of PNG to document spoken languages, comparatively less is known about the country’s signed languages. Having spent three years studying sign in the Western Highlands of PNG as a research student, working alongside Chief Investigator Alan Rumsey and his collaborators, Lauren used the LD funding to further the documentation and analysis of PNG sign systems.

There are two signing systems in Papua New Guinea. PNG Sign Language (PNGSL) developed out of an Australian sign system called Signed English, which was introduced to PNG in 1990. The second system — Culture Sign, or aksen in Tok Pisin — is an indigenous signing system that varies immensely.

“Some of the signs are widely used throughout the region and beyond while others are specific to particular networks,” Lauren explained. “The various local communicative repertoires vary widely in how elaborate and stable they are.”

For her LD project, Lauren worked with sign users in Port Moresby. Although the community is small—totally around 100 people—they are active advocates for accessible services and education. Their sign use is also complex, varied, and can give important insight to, as Lauren says, “the irrepressible human drive to communicate, and how our desire to make meaning with one another transcends the boundaries of fixed, standardised languages.”

Lauren’s research resulted in several publications and presentations at international symposia and a video corpus of some 100 hours of signed language use, which can be used as a standard of comparison by which to study the complexity and evolution of PNG sign language.

Little Multilingual Minds

Supported by general seed funding for nascent research, the Little Multilingual Minds (LMM) research program fosters childhood multilingualism by promoting the use of heritage and foreign languages in early learning and primary school settings. The project emerged from an investigation of language acquisition and processing in early childhood and involves several CoEDL members, including Chief Investigators Paola Escudero and Jill Wigglesworth, Affiliates John Hajek and Chloe Diskin-Holdaway and alumna Gloria Pino Escobar.

Through a nation-wide survey, the team found that many first-generation migrant parents are hesitant to pass on their first, heritage language to their children [1]. Their concerns included speaking a non-societally dominant language — that is, in Australia, a language other than English — at home would give their children a foreign accent. This isn’t the case; in fact, especially once a child begins schooling, their accent is generally shaped by the society they live in. Moreover, maintenance and knowledge of heritage languages may suffer when most instruction and interaction is in English.

LMM was therefore created to support communities, communicate the evidence and benefits around multilingualism and encourage children to use their heritage language(s).

The program works within existing early education, preschool and after-school care settings and is based on the premise that children learn and maintain languages best through play and enriching social activities. The LMM team co-designed a pilot program with its first partner, a Spanish bilingual childcare centre in Sydney. This developed into a flexible language exposure program, adaptable to every language in the world.

LMM now provides public community lectures, workshops and information sessions to explain the program objectives to parents, to develop new partnerships and to share the advantages of LMM in maintaining and nurturing the benefits of multilingualism. These benefits can include intercultural experience and appreciation, higher levels of empathy, easier learning of additional languages later in life and helping delay the onset of dementia and cognitive decline.

LMM is now available in three program streams — targeting early learning, primary, and outside school hours care settings — and is spreading across Australia. In 2021, the team partnered with the community organisation and early learning centre in Melbourne to create and deliver LMM in Vietnamese. In 2022, we started a collaboration with the University of Adelaide and two early learning centres in Adelaide to develop and deliver LMM in Mandarin. These new partnerships mean LMM is closer to fulfilling its vision of enabling Australian children’s education in heritage languages and providing opportunities for monolingual children to learn a foreign language.

Linguistics Roadshow

The Linguistics Roadshow was an education and outreach initiative aimed at high-school students and developed by CoEDL members Katie Jepson, Jill Vaughan and Rosey Billington. Supported by TI funding, the team developed a travelling interactive workshop designed to showcase regional and global linguistic diversity and introduce students to the science of studying language.

The Roadshow travelled to high schools in rural and regional locations where students have more limited opportunities to discover linguistics. Beginning with a pilot program in 2015, Katie, Jill and Rosey developed content for two-hour workshops — including an interactive talk, hands-on activities, and a showbag of extra materials — which they delivered to three secondary schools in the Wimmera region of Victoria, Australia.

“The goal is for the various materials to be continually improved but also to have local relevance for each round of visits,” the team explained.

The team therefore updated and refined their materials in 2016 before taking the Roadshow to Broome, Western Australia, where they visited two schools and were invited to speak at a writer’s festival and the Broome Public Library. In 2018, the Roadshow then headed to Mildura in north-western Victoria, and met with students from one high school and three primary schools.

Beyond engaging with students and teachers, the Roadshow has received interest from the media and the general public through its website resources and other online materials. For example, maps of lexical variation in Australia received much attention, “indicating that there is a great deal of interest in these topics and a desire for good information about them,” they said.

In this respect, Katie, Jill and Rosey hope that the Linguistics Roadshow has not only raised the profile of linguistics in Australia through showcasing the study of language as a fun and exciting field, but also demonstrated the importance of outreach to the linguistics community.

“We hope that the project has provided some encouragement to CoEDL members and the wider linguistics community to consider ways their work might be presented to broader audiences and strategies for engaging with educational communities.”


Further information

CoEDL concluded the TI and LD funding schemes in 2020, having awarded over $1.1 million to support 81 projects since the funding programs began in 2015. A full list of these projects is available on the Selected Highlights page.

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


Hero image: Hannah Sarvasy and Alba Tuninetti on fieldwork in Towet, Papua New Guinea. Image: CoEDL/Hannah Sarvasy/Alba Tuninetti.

Image 1: Hannah Sarvasy and Alba Tuninetti confer while star Research Assistant Lyn Ogate runs a participant in the eye-tracking study. Image: CoEDL/Hannah Sarvasy/Alba Tuninetti.

Image 2: Lauren Reed with members of the PNG Deaf Association. Image: Lauren Reed.

Image 3: The Little Multilingual Minds Logo. Image: LMM.

Image 4: The Linguistics Roadshow team (L – R): Katie Jepson, Jill Vaughan and Rosey Billington. Image: Linguistics Roadshow/CoEDL.