Past research projects

The academic staff of The School of Languages and Linguistics undertake many research projects and have been awarded many research grants. Details of past research projects can be found in this section

  • Aboriginal Child Language Project 1 (ACLA1) (2004-2007)

    Professor Gillian Wigglesworth, Patrick McConvell and Associate Professor Jane Simpson

    ACLA1 was funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant. The project investigated the type of input children receive in multilingual environments that include a traditional language, a contact variety of English and code-mixing between languages and speech styles. It involved case studies of three Aboriginal communities.

    ACLA1 website

  • Aboriginal Child Language Project 2 (ACLA2) (2011-2015)

    Professor Gillian Wigglesworth and Associate Professor Jane Simpson

    ACLA2 identified how well Indigenous Australian children manage the major change from a home environment, in which Standard Australian English is not the dominant code, to the school environment, in which it is the main code. This allowed us to determine whether, and to what extent, the different codes the children bring from home, and the demands made of them in the school, affect their ability to manage and fully participate in the school environment.

    ACLA2 website

  • Accent and Identity in Regional Victoria (2012)

    Local dynamics, local histories and social structure

    Dr Debbie Loakes
    Early Career Researcher Grants Scheme, The University of Melbourne

    This project continued Loakes' research on sound change in Australian English. This project looked specifically at the merger of /el/-/æl/ and related phenomena, and addressed sociophonetic aspects of production and perception in five Victorian locations.

  • A Difficult Marriage (2004-2006)

    Gender, politics and the romance in literary accounts of German unification

    Professor Alison Lewis
    ARC Discovery Project (2004-2006)

    This project focused on the interrelationship between gender, politics and the romance in literary accounts of German unification. Through an exploration of how the political "marriage" between East and West Germany, with its conventionalised gender roles, is mapped onto literary marriages, the project examined the challenges and opportunities that unification has afforded men and women. It yielded insights into the ways in which unification has rewritten the scripts for femininity and masculinity and forced a transformation of intimacy. Its findings enhanced knowledge of gender relations in post-communist Europe and the relationships between gender, the nation and modernity.

  • Address in some Western European Languages (2003-2006)

    Assoc. Professor Catrin Norrby, Dr Leo Kretzenbacher, Dr Jane Warren, Professor Michael Clyne
    ARC Discovery Project (2003-2006)

    This project aimed to develop a unified model of address usage within a small group of related languages: French, German and Swedish. Each of these languages can be loosely characterised as providing a different sociolinguistic type within the European context. Specifically, this project investigated the extent to which recent sociopolitical events and changes have impacted on language by examining how the unmarked choice of address pronouns (ie the pronoun chosen more normally) has changed since World War II, and comparing across the three languages. Comparisons were also made with English and between nations using the same language.

    Address in some Western European Languages

  • A comparison of two models (2008-2009)

    Advising students of diagnostic writing assessment outcomes

    Assoc. Professor Ute Knoch
    NACADA Research Support Program Grant

    Renewed interest has surfaced in diagnostic assessment, however very little work has focused on the optimal way of advising students of their diagnostic assessment outcomes (except Knoch, 2007a, 2007b, 2007c). It could however be argued that the feedback profiles and the way these are presented to test takers are a crucial aspect of the diagnostic assessment cycle (eg Alderson, 2005). The aim of this study was therefore is to establish what types of diagnostic feedback on academic English writing performance are considered feasible and useful by advising staff, students and raters at a large university with a high proportion of international students with English as an additional language (EAL).

  • A longitudinal study of the interaction of home and school language in three Aboriginal communities (2008-2014)

    Professor Gillian Wigglesworth and Dr Jane Simpson
    ARC Discovery Project DP0877762

    The importance of language skills cannot be underestimated, and contribute to 'a healthy start to life'. In multilingual Indigenous communities, children must negotiate the complexities of different languages used for different purposes. This project will provide detailed insights into how children manage differences between home and school language, the kinds of problems they encounter when they enter the school system, and how their languages develop over the first four crucial years of school which provide the foundation for the children's future education. Their ability to manage the language of school underpins their ability to lead successful and engaged lives as adults.

  • AusTalk (2011-2016)

    An audio-visual corpus of Australian English

    Dr Deborah Loakes, Professor Janet Fletcher, Professor John Hajek

    AusTalk is a large state-of-the-art database of modern spoken Australian English from all around the country. Recorded between June 2011 and June 2016, the final database contains full audio-visual data for 861 adult speakers (with age ranging from 18 to 83) from 15 different locations in all Australian states and territories, representing the regional and social diversity and linguistic variation of Australian English, including Australian Aboriginal English. Each speaker was recorded for one hour on three separate occasions to sample their voice in a range of scripted and spontaneous speech situations at various times.


  • Autism and written narrative (2006-2009)

    Discourse analysis and the characterisation of higher level language disorder phenotypes

    Professor Lesley Stirling and Dr Graham Barrington. Research associate: Ms Susan Douglas
    ARC Discovery Grant (2006-2009)

    This project surveyed written narrative capability in high-functioning autistic children attending mainstream schooling overseen by the Catholic Education Office, Victoria. It benefited from a unique collaboration between the fields of linguistics, cognitive science and community child health. It was innovative in its focus on written narrative and its use of techniques from the study of discourse to analyse narrative structure, marking of perspective, and the representation of mental states of characters. It led to a better understanding of characteristic language behaviours in children with autism, and to improved language and literacy interventions. It had theoretical significance for discourse theory and cognitive science.

  • Children's Perspectives On Growing Up Multilingual At Warruwi Community (2011-2014)

    Dr Ruth Singer
    Two Faculty of Arts research grants and an Early Career Researcher grant, The University of Melbourne

    Warruwi Community, Arnhem Land is one of very few places in Australia where children grow up speaking more than one traditional Indigenous language. This project investigated language use at Warruwi Community through biographical interviews, participant observation and the analysis of multilingual conversations. The project examined the relationships between Indigenous languages at Warruwi Community to identify how so many small languages are maintained in this community. Although the set of languages spoken at Warruwi Community has changed since White contact, the way that multilingualism is practiced seems to reflect long standing practices underpinned by persisting language ideologies and attitudes to multilingualism.

    The project looked at three age groups: adults, school children 6-10 years and adolescents 15-18 years. This study showed how strong indigenous languages have been maintained within multilingual communities so that we can work out how better to support Indigenous languages. The study also contributed to international debates around the nature of language change in small, highly multilingual communities, which are thought to have been the norm throughout most of human history

  • Construct validity in the IELTS academic reading test (2008-2009)

    A comparison of reading requirements in IELTS test items and in university study

    Tim Moore, Janne Morton and Steve Price
    Research Grant (IELTS)

    The study was concerned with the issue of test development and validation as it relates to the IELTS Academic Reading Test. Investigation was made of the suitability of items on the test in relation to the reading and general literacy requirements of university study. This was researched in two ways - through a survey of reading tasks in the two domains, and through interviews with academic staff from a range of disciplines. Tasks in the two domains were analysed using a taxonomic framework, adapted from Weir and Urquhart (1998), with a focus on two dimensions of difference: level of engagement, referring to the level of text with which a reader needs to engage to respond to a task (local vs global); type of engagement referring to the way (or ways) a reader needs to engage with texts on the task (literal vs interpretative). The analysis found evidence of both similarities and differences between the reading requirements in the two domains.

  • Diagnosing cross-cultural communicative ability in English as a second language to improve language learning and social integration (2010-2013)

    Associate Professor Catherine Elder and Assoc. Professor Carsten Roever
    ARC Discovery Project DP1094277

    Cross-cultural communication skills are central for Australia's 130,000 new migrants and 450,000 international students from non-English speaking countries (2007 numbers), and lack of communication skills is a major stumbling block for these populations. This project was beneficial to both groups, as it allowed training providers to diagnose areas for improvement and implement appropriately targeted cross-cultural communication training. This facilitated students' and migrants' integration and their success in Australian academic and professional settings. The project significantly enhanced Australia's standing in cross-cultural communication research.

  • Doing great things with small languages (2009-2014)

    Assoc. Professor Nick Thieberger and Professor Rachel Nordlinger

    Linguists routinely record minority endangered languages for which no prior documentation exists. This is vitally important work which often records language structures and knowledge of the culture and physical environment that would otherwise be lost. However, while it is typical for the interpretation and analysis of this data to be published, the raw data is rarely made available... How do we embed theoretical research work in responsible fieldwork so that we can create good primary data for long-term reuse by the speaker communities we work with and by other researchers? How can we build shared digital infrastructure to support collaborative research, both within Australia and internationally?

    Doing great things with small languages website

  • Framework development for video-mediated L2 listening assessments

    Assoc. Professor Paul Gruba
    School of Languages and Linguistics - Grant in Aid

    The aim of this project was to develop a framework for the use of digital video media as a mode of presentation in second language (l2) listening assessments. Significantly, building baseline research in this area contributes to nascent efforts to design video-mediated listening tasks, understand candidate use of technology-mediated assessment instruments, and develop models of video-mediated listening comprehension.

  • He's not heavy, he's my brother (2013-2016)

    The acquisition of kinship terminology in a morphologically complex Australian Language

    Dr Joe Blythe
    Discovery Early Career Researcher Award

    Of the 250+ Aboriginal languages spoken pre-contact, only 18 are still being learned by children. One of these is Murrinhpatha. Extended family networks lie at the nexus of the social universe and of Murrinhpatha's very complex grammar. This project investigated how children acquire the grammar and lexicon of kinship. It furthered the continuity of Murrinhpatha and other strong languages by investigating the attainment of grammatical and social competence, thus placing Australia at the forefront of kinship acquisition, morphologically complex language acquisition and scientifically targeted language maintenance.

  • Iwaidja and other endangered languages of the Coburg Peninsula

    Professor Nicholas Evans, Professor Hans-Juergen Sasse (Universitat zu Koln, Germany)
    Volkswagen Foundation Grant

    Iwaidja is a seriously endangered Australian language spoken by around 200 people in the Coburg Peninsula, Northern Territory, Australia, and adjoining islands. This project documented Iwaidja in a wide range of settings, paying particular attention to traditional hunting, fishing and gathering ecological custodianship, kinship and geneaology, clans and social structure, knowledge of country and traditional sites, oral history, mythology and traditional song styles. To document traditional knowledge in these areas, relevant specialists worked alongside the core team of linguists and native language consultants.

  • Language acquisition of Murrinhpatha (LAMP) (2011-2015)

    From little things, big things grow: How children learn a morphologically complex Australian indigenous language

    Professor Rachel Nordlinger, Dr Barbara Kelly, Professor Gillian Wigglesworth and Dr Joe Blythe

    Language acquisition of Murrinhpatha: this project provided a detailed study of the acquisition of Murrinhpatha (Wadeye, NT), based on the language of Murrinhpatha speaking children from 2-6 years. Although much is known about how children acquire languages such as English, there is very little research that examines how children acquire a complex polysynthetic language like Murrinhpatha. The findings from this project had implications for the understanding of how acquisition processes are created through linguistic complexity, cognitive constraints and social interaction and how these processes differ across children acquiring radically different language types.

    From little things, big things grow website

  • Learning to talk whitefella way

    Assoc. Professor Brett Baker and Dr Rikke Bundgaard-Nielsen (UWS)
    ARC Discovery Project DP130102624

    Learning to speak a new language requires the learner to notice the difference between his/her own speech sounds and those of the new language. But what if the learner already uses most of the words of the new language? This is the case for 20,000 remote Indigenous children and adults, speaking Kriol, a language historically based on contact between Indigenous people and English-speaking newcomers, producing a language different to both. The words are mostly derived from English, but many of the grammatical meanings mirror those in the Indigenous languages. There have also been effects on the way that Kriol is pronounced: it has inherited features of both English and the Indigenous languages' sound systems.

    This project provided the first description of the sound system of Kriol based on rigorous phonological and acoustic analysis. Based on what was find out about its sound system, the project studied Kriol speakers' perception of sounds and words of English and Kriol. In the short term, this enabled us to pre-empt problems that Kriol-speaking children might have in learning Standard Australian English, because of the differences between the two languages. More generally, the study helped us to understand the cognitive mechanisms involved in learning new languages and in particular the role of the lexicon in this process.

  • Literary practices in the professional workplace (2012-2013)

    Implications for the IELTS General Training reading and writing tests

    Tim Moore, Janne Morton, Dave Hall, Chris Wallis

    This project was concerned with construct validity as it relates to the Project: IELTS General Training module. It investigated the nature of literary practices in a range of professional workplace settings by surveying and interviewing employers/supervisors working in a number of professions as well as conducting an analysis of texts that new graduates need to read and produce in the workplace. The project considered the implications of findings for the design of the IELTS General Training Reading and Writing components.

  • Narrative art (2011-2013)

    Multimodal documentation of speech, song, sign, drawing and gesture in Arandic storytelling traditions from Central Australia

    Dr Jennifer Green
    ELDP Individual Postdoctoral Fellowship IPF0173

    In Central Australia the expressive potentials of verbal and visual art forms are combined in multimodal narratives that incorporate speech, song, sign language, gesture and drawing. These stories are a highly valued yet endangered part of the traditions of Central Australian peoples. The project took a multimodal and multidisciplinary approach to the documentation of stories from the Arandic language group - a group of closely related languages spoken by about 5,500 people. It provided a significant record of these narrative practices and provided rich data sets for analyses that enhance our understanding of how multimodal communicative systems work.

  • Making the Case (2010-2015)

    The Case Study Genre in Sexology, Psychoanalysis and Literature

    Assoc. Professor Birgit Lang, Dr Katie Sutton and Professor Joy Damousi
    ARC Discovery Project DP1093819

    "Making the Case" provided the first genre-based history of the case study by analysing the changing relationship between medical, psychoanalytic, and literary case studies. The project employed an interdisciplinary and transnational framework to investigate how the case study shaped 19th and 20th century notions of the sexual self. Up until this date there had been no full-scale scholarly investigation of the evolution of the case study across the various disciplines. The research team argued that the case study was the means of an interdisciplinary debate through which sexologists, writers, and psychoanalysts collectively engaged in the construction of knowledge.

  • New methodologies for representing and accessing resources on endangered languages: a case study from South Efate (2004-2006)

    Assoc. Professor Nick Thieberger
    ARC Discovery Project DP0450342

    Linguists produce material which has immense cultural significance as it is often the only record of endangered cultures. With new technologies come new ways of working with indigenous languages. This project developed an innovative methodology for documenting and archiving data from a language of the Pacific. It did this by linking a dictionary, texts, audio, video, images and a grammar in order to facilitate presentation of both the data and its analysis to speakers, fellow linguists, and the general public. The methodology developed during this project resulted in innovative linguistic data management techniques conformant to emerging international standards.

  • Paradise lost - Utopia reclaimed (2004-2006)

    Writing the wrongs of French exploration in the Antipodes

    Assoc. Professor Jacqueline Dutton
    ARC Discovery Project DP0451385

    When France's attempts to claim regions of Australia failed, the dream of an Antipodean paradise was lost. In its breach rose a new utopian frontier. Paradoxically, this anticipatory perspective revives a form of utopianism previously established in classical French-Australian writings. Whether framing an ideal France australe or criticising a non-utopian British reality, the ongoing role of utopianism in French-Australian (post)colonial discourse may be analysed as a case study for cross-cultural encounters. The findings, published in English and French monographs, opened up new methods for understanding Australia's past, present and future relations with one of its major cultural influences.

  • Reciprocals across languages (2003-2005)

    Professor Nicholas Evans

    Reciprocity lies at the heart of social organisation and human evolution, and the world's 5000 languages all represent distinct solutions to the problem of how to represent and reason about reciprocity, using the resources of grammar, lexicon, prosody, gesture, and inference from context. This project examined how reciprocity is expressed, and the different subtypes of reciprocal meaning, by carrying out detailed linguistic fieldwork on fourteen little-known languages of Australia and its region.

    Reciprocals across languages website

  • Sharing access and analytical tools for ethnographic digital media using high speed networks (2005-2006)

    Assoc. Professor Nick Thieberger; Professor Rachel Nordlinger; Professor Gillian Wigglesworth, Professor John Hajek et al
    ARC Special Research Initiatives E-Research SR0566965

    This project developed a collaborative distributed research environment for humanities research based on ethnographic audiovisual media by bringing together cutting-edge researchers to provide practical solutions to impediments to progress in both ICT and humanities areas. Testbed data was large audiovisual corpora collected by Australian-based e-humanities research projects. The project adapted and implemented web tools for collaborative access to these corpora, building on software developed by CSIRO's Annodex, DSTC's Vannotea and the ANU Internet Futures project, and took advantage of Australia's world-class storage and networking capacity. Interactive use of data is essential for advancing humanities research.

  • Secret Lives and the Lives of Secrets (2012-2015)

    Secret Police Narratives

    Professor Alison Lewis
    ARC Discovery Project DP120101152

    Using the Stasi as a case study this project investigated how state secrets are mediated through language and lives are written and policed through the genre of the secret police file. It traced the life of the secret from when it was still a secret in a secret police file, concealed in the archive, through to its afterlife in victim and perpetrator testimonials as well as in fiction. The study was significant for the contribution it made to our understanding of processes of transitional justice in post-communist contexts and our appreciation of the far-reaching power of state and personal secrets.

  • Stories around a sand space (2011-2013)

    Multimodal interaction in Central Australian Aboriginal sand drawing narratives

    Dr Jennifer Green
    ARC Discovery Project Fellowship DP110102767

    Central Australian Aboriginal sand stories are a unique form of storytelling that incorporates speech, song, gesture, signs and drawn graphic symbols. This project enhanced our understandings of these narrative traditions and provided insight into the complexities of multimodal communicative systems as they are used in day‑to‑day interactions.

  • Structure and meaning in three Australian Languages (2011-2013)

    Professor Janet Fletcher, Dr Marija Tabain (La Trobe) and Dr Ruth Singer
    ARC Discovery grant

    The tone or melody of a sentence can communicate different kinds of meaning, yet this important aspect of spoken language is still poorly understood for Australian Indigenous languages. In fact most of our linguistic models of speech communication are based on a handful of the world's languages. This project redressed this imbalance by showing how the Australian languages Mawng, Bininj Gun-wok and Pitjantjatjara use intonation in different contexts and situations. A second outcome of the project was a revision of current intonational typology to take into account the unique pronunciation features of Australian languages. This project also found out more about how intonation is used to express information structure in Mawng, in combination with word order and other strategies.

  • Talking about Place (2010-2014)

    Tapping Human Knowledge to Enrich National Spatial Data Sets

    Professor Lesley Stirling et al
    ARC Linkage Project LP100200199

    Place descriptions are a common way for people to describe a location, but no current tools are smart enough to understand them. Emergency call centres are risking lives, address problems cost billions per year (USPS), and users of navigation or web services are frustrated. This project possessed an interdisciplinary approach to automatically interpret human place descriptions. It developed novel methods to capture place names with their meaning for smarter databases and automatic interpretation procedures. The acquired knowledge is be an important step forward for Australia's data custodians and for users. Australia's location information industry gained a significant advantage in a highly competitive global market.

  • The assessment of receptive traditional language skills in indigenous children (2007-2008)

    Professor Gillian Wigglesworth, Dr Jane Simpson and Ms Karin Moses
    Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) Research Grant G2007/7273

    This project developed a test for assessing how well Indigenous children understand Indigenous language at the age of five. It piloted the test in one Aboriginal community to assess whether the test could be extended for use in other communities and for other age groups.

  • The role of feedback in second language learning processes (2004-2006)

    Assoc. Professor Neomy Storch and Professor Gillian Wigglesworth
    ARC Discovery Project DP0450422

    Teachers spend an inordinate amount of time providing feedback to second language learners on their written work. This research investigation had two stages. Stage one examined the effectiveness of different kinds of feedback, the extent to which learners take notice of the feedback, and the extent to which learners are able to incorporate the feedback into their developing second language systems both in the short term, and the longer term. The second stage investigated the success with which the findings from the first stage could be transferred into the classroom context.

  • The meaning of love (2008-2013)

    Love narratives in contemporary German literature since 1990

    Professor Alison Lewis and Dr Andrew Hurley
    ARC Discovery Project DP0880004

    This study of love in contemporary German literature led to deeper insights into intimacy in one of our major European trading partners, as it undergoes a period of economic uncertainty and social change. The project enhanced our understanding of the varied ways in which individuals, as well as national literatures in the western tradition, respond to the challenges of globalisation. Through examining the semantics of modern love and what love means to different sections of society (friendship, passion, marriage, sex etc.) in a contemporary European culture that bears many similarities to our own, this project brought benefits to Australians' understanding of how the meaning of love evolves over time.

  • The wellsprings of linguistic diversity (2014-2018)

    Laureate Professorship awarded to Professor Nicholas Evans, ANU; Dr Ruth Singer, Research Fellow

    The project moved the field of linguistic diversity in a bold new direction which is likely to mark a turning point in the way we study language, variation, diversity and change. Australia has had a world-leading reputation as the "dawn-land of today's linguistics" for its work on little-known languages, but by now the approaches it grew famous for in the 1980s and 1990s have been widely adopted worldwide and it is time to innovate in new ways. This project renewed Australia's leading reputation in linguistics by asking questions which are at the same time central and neglected, about the causes of linguistic diversity and disparity and why they vary sporadically in different parts of the world. To answer them, the project expanded the methods and foci of language documentation to look at variation, and combine them with powerful computational modelling to see how actually attested variation and change across individuals scales up to the diversification of whole languages under different patterns of intermarriage and multilingual engagement.

  • Towards improved healthcare communication (2009-2013)

    Development and validation of language proficiency standards for non-native English speaking health professionals

    Professor Tim Mcnamara et al
    ARC Linkage Project LP0991153

    Strong English communication skills among non-native English speaking health professionals are critical to the quality of healthcare. In Australia these skills are assessed using the officially-recognised Occupational English Test (OET). However, the passing standards on this test set by professional registration bodies are not evidence-based. This project brought together linguists, clinical educators from medicine, nursing and physiotherapy and our Partner Organisation, the Occupational English Test Centre to research the criteria used in routine evaluations of clinical communication skills in the workplace and apply these in formulating appropriate proficiency standards for the health profession.

  • Towards improved quality of written patient records (2013-2016)

    Language proficiency standards for non-native speaking health professionals

    Assoc. Professor Ute Knoch and Professor Tim Mcnamara et al

    ARC Linkage Project LP130100171

    This project focused on the quality and safety of healthcare in Australia and improved the screening of written communication of overseas trained non-native English speaking health professionals. Strong written communication skills among overseas trained doctors and nurses are critical to the quality of patient records and safe patient care. In Australia, these skills are assessed using the Occupational English Test (OET), administered by the OET Centre, our partner organisation. This study researched writing practices in hospitals, identifying doctors' and nurses' criteria used to evaluate effective records, and then applied these criteria to the OET to set more profession-oriented passing standards on the OET written assessment. This wasachieved by bringing together a multi-disciplinary team including applied linguists, clinical educators, the OET Centre, and three partner hospitals.

  • Web 2.0 Authoring Tools in Higher Education Learning and Teaching (2009-2011)

    New Directions for Assessment and Academic Integrity

    Dr Celia Thompson et al
    Australian Learning And Teaching Council Priority Projects Program PP9-1350

    This collaborative project involved a team of 7 researchers from The University of Melbourne, Monash University, and RMIT University. The project examined how lecturers assess students' Web 2.0 activities in higher education. In university learning and teaching there is growing encouragement for students to use so-called Web 2.0 forms of authoring or content creation, also known as social software - eg blogging/microblogging, audio/video podcasting, social bookmarking, social networking, virtual world activities, and wiki writing. In a Web 2.0 environment users can easily publish and share their work, connect with an extended community, and comment on other users' contributions. Commentators have offered numerous pedagogical rationales for using Web 2.0 in higher education. To date, however, little attention has been given to issues relating to the assessment of students' social web activities - and the unique challenges that this form of assessment may create for academic integrity, standards, and assessment practices.

    Web 2.0 Authoring Tools website

  • What makes a multilingual community? (2014-2017)

    The life of languages at Warruwi community

    Dr Ruth Singer

    ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) DE140100232

    This project improved our understanding of the social and cultural practices that support multilingualism. It also contributed to the development of methodologies that do not make a priori assumptions about the relevance of particular social categories and language ideologies. The book will be the most detailed account of egalitarian multilingualism yet, adding to the slim literature on this type of societal multilingualism. Together with journal articles, it will provide evidence urgently needed for debates around the creation and maintenance of linguistic diversity. The 100 hours of carefully collected, annotated and archived data from the project was be a significant record of at least four endangered Australian Indigenous languages.