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.