ALT 2017 will feature teach-ins on particular language groups from our region on Monday, December 11, 2017. We will also offer a teach-in on quantitative methodologies on Sunday, December 10. Please find descriptions of the workshops below.

Registrations for teach-ins (and the conference proper) will open in late February 2017. Registration will then be on a first-come, first-serve basis. Teach-ins are covered through the normal conference registration fees, but we will be asking those who register to contribute to catering costs.


December 10, 2017

A crash course on quantitative methods in linguistic typology

D. E. Blasi 1,2 & B. Bickel 1

1: Department of Comparative Linguistics, University of Zürich, Switzerland
2: Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution, MPI for the Science of Human History, Germany

Please note that course is full


The goal of the course is to introduce the fundamental ideas of quantitative thinking for the study of linguistic typology, including both classic concepts of statistical inference and more recent developments from mathematical biology and data science. At the end of the course, participants should have an idea of what methods are available for which problem and where they can learn how to apply and use them in practice.

Structure of the course

Morning course (D. E. Blasi)

  • A bit of history and background: statistics, machine learning and data science
  • Frequentist and Bayesian statistics
  • The regression/classification problem
  • Cluster analysis
  • Model evaluation and comparison
  • Knowledge discovery
  • Correlation and causation

Afternoon course (B. Bickel)

  • The two fundamental problems in statistical inference in typology: Galton’s problem and the range of possible histories
  • Genealogical and areal dependencies between languages
  • Estimates of change and co-evolution
  • Stochastic character mapping and ancestral states
  • Testing evolutionary biases: neutral and non-neutral change
  •  Estimating evolutionary biases in unresolved and unknown phylogenies

December 11, 2017

Australian Languages

Rachel Nordlinger & John Mansfield

University of Melbourne

Hedley Bull 1

In this course we present some of the key typological features of Australian languages, with a particular focus on Murrinhpatha and other languages from the Daly River region. Topics covered include: phonology, noun phrases and nominal classification, complex predicates, argument structure and valency changing, and inflectional categories (pronominal categories, gender and number). We discuss topics with respect to general Australian typology, but also bring into particular focus the Daly linguistic area, which is characterised by morphological and phonological complexities not found in other Australian languages.

All sessions are taught by both instructors.

9:00 – 10:30 Typological overview of Australian languages

We introduce established key features of Australian languages: number of languages and families, contemporary language vitality situation, segmental phonology and syllables, case systems, non-configurationality, inflectional categories and kintax. 

11:00 – 12:30 Daly languages and Murrinhpatha

The Daly languages form a linguistic area with typological features that make them quite distinct from the established Australian norms introduced in the previous session. These features include extra phonological contrasts, more fusional pronominal agreement, nominal classification and extensive use of complex predicates. The most sociolinguistically vibrant language in the Daly is Murrinhpatha, which is spoken by almost 3000 people and continues to be learnt as L1.

13:30 – 15:00 Complex predicates

Complex predicates are used extensively in languages from various parts of Australia. We provide a typological overview before focusing in on Murrinhpatha, where most verbal predicates are complex. The system shows several interesting features including vector and valency semantics, serialised aspect constructions, and complex predicates built on nominal bases. 

15:30 – 17:00 Nominal classification

Some Australian languages have a four-way gender system for nominals. Others demonstrate a dominant pattern of nominal reference using generic–specific lexical pairings (like ‘bird–parrot’). Daly languages show a more elaborate grammaticalised system of 10 or more nominal classsifiers. Every nominal is assigned a semantic noun class (vegetable, liquid, human, animate etc), though some may be productively assigned to more than one class. Classifiers also show some morphosyntactic flexibility in binding to verbs or relative clauses. 


The following works provide good typological overviews of Australian languages. Further references on specific topics will be provided during the course.

Blake, Barry. 1987. Australian Aboriginal grammar. Croom Helm.

Dixon, R.M.W. 1980. The languages of Australia. Cambridge University Press.

Koch, Harold and Rachel Nordlinger (eds). 2014. The languages and linguistics of Australia: A comprehensive guide. DeGruyter.


Austronesian Lanugages

Dineke Schokkin & Mark Donohue

Australian National University

Hedley Bull 3

Austronesian is the world's largest language family in terms of geographical spread, spanning more than half the globe: from Madagascar to Easter Island, and from Taiwan to New Zealand. This vast and diverse language family is also one of the best documented. It includes both major world languages with millions of speakers, like Indonesian and Tagalog, and tiny Oceanic languages spoken on a remote island with only a couple of hundred speakers.

During the teach-in, participants will get a taste of some of the key features of the Austronesian family. Tentative topics include phonology and aspects of morphosyntax that make Austronesian stand out among the world's languages, such as number systems and possessive constructions. In the last session, participants will get their hands dirty uncovering structural characteristics of an Austronesian language from primary data.

  • Morning class 1 (Dineke Schokkin): Introduction to the Austronesian family: history, society, typological splits
  • Morning class 2 (Mark Donohue): Phonology and Austronesian: why we care, and (some of) what there is to care about
  • Afternoon class 1 (Dineke Schokkin): Topics in morphosyntax: nominal possession, serial verb constructions, grammars of space
  • Afternoon class 2 (Dineke Schokkin): Taking a peek at the grammar of an Oceanic language based on primary data

Papuan Languages

Don Daniels, Hannah Sarvasy & Nicholas Evans

Australian National University

Hedley Bull 2

The goal of this day-long teach-in is to introduce you to Papuan languages in four quarter-day sessions. From the over eight hundred languages divided among over forty families and isolates, we focus on three particular language groups – two from the vast Trans-New Guinea Family (Finisterre: Nungon; Sogeram) along and to the north of the central cordillera, and the unrelated Yam family from the southern region – to give you some idea of the huge diversity of languages and issues in Papuan Melanesia.

9:00 - 10:30am: Introduction to Papuan languages, Nick Evans (ANU)

Overview of Papuan languages: extent, setting, phylogenetic and typological diversity, causes of diversification. Paucity of coverage. Some selected features: phoneme inventories, tone, complex tense, epistemic categories (evidentiality, engagement).

11:00am-12:30pm: Nungon grammar highlights, Hannah Sarvasy (ANU)

Discussion of selected details of the grammar of the Finisterre Papuan language Nungon (Sarvasy 2017), including its split number system, the morphological relationship between imperatives and switch-reference markers, and canonical and non-canonical clause chains.

13:30-15:00pm: Diachrony in the Sogeram languages, Don Daniels  (ANU)   

Overview of the Sogeram language family and its diachronic behavior, including changes to switch reference, tense-aspect, and subordination constructions, and discussion of patterns of language diversification.

15:30 – 17:00pm: Nen and the Yam family, Nick Evans   

Introduction to southern New Guinea and the Yam family in a multilingual context. Phonetics and phonology. Verb morphology and semantics. Grammatical relations, morphological ergativity, and split subjects. Distributed exponence. Positional verbs. Subordination strategies. 

5:00-5:30, Hedley Bull 1: Papuanist Book launch (all welcome).


Palmer, Bill. (ed.), The Languages and Linguistics of New Guinea: A Comprehensive Guide. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. 


Many specific references will be given during the course, but in addition to these here are ten classics that are particularly insightful in understanding how Papuan languages work:

Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y. 2012. Round women and long men: shape, size, and the meanings of gender in New Guinea and beyond. Anthropological Linguistics 54: 33-86.

Donohue, Mark. 1997. Tone in New Guinea. Linguistic Typology 1 (3): 347-386

Haiman, John. 1978. Conditionals are topics. Language 54(3). 564–589. doi:10.2307/412787.

Paris, Hannah. 2012. Sociolinguistic effects of church languages in Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 214: 39-66.

Pawley, Andrew. 1987. Encoding events in Kalam and English: Different logics for reporting experience. In Russell S. Tomlin (ed.), Coherence and Grounding in Discourse: Outcome of a Symposium, Eugene, Oregon, June 1984, 329–360. (Typological Studies in Language 11). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Pawley, Andrew. 1993. A language that defies description by ordinary means. In W.A. Foley, ed. The role of theory in linguistic description. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. Pp 87-129.

Reesink, Ger. 1993. ‘Inner speech’ in Papuan languages. Language and Linguistics in Melanesia 24: 217-25.

Roberts, John R. 1990. Modality in Amele and other Papuan languages. Journal of Linguistics 26:363-401.

Roberts, John R. 1997. Switch-reference in Papua New Guinea: A preliminary survey. In A. Pawley (ed.), Papers in Papuan Linguistics 3, 101–241. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.

Sarvasy, Hannah. 2015. Breaking the clause chains: non-canonical medial clauses in Nungon. Studies in Language 39: 664-697.

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University

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