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Staff profile: Matthew Carroll

Australian National University, Nicholas Evans, Shape

Date: 14 June 2019

Linguists have the unique ability to understand the way language works, but Dr Matthew Carroll has taken this to a whole new level as a scholar of endangered languages in Indonesian Papua. We spoke to Matt about his fieldwork, returning to ANU and the spicy octopus at Chez Kimchi in Canberra.

You graduated from your PhD at ANU in 2017 – what was the highlight of your program?

There were so many highlights, it’s really difficult to choose from, like conducting fieldwork in Papua, to presenting at top morphology conferences in Europe and attending the Linguistic Society of America summer school in Michigan. One thing worth mentioning were our annual team meetings.

My PhD was part of a broader project to describe and document the languages of southern New Guinea an area, at the time, largely unknown to linguists. We would have all these amazing people together for three or four really intense days of discussion, collaboration and catching up. Since we were all working on similar problems in different languages, getting together to discuss them was always extremely fruitful. 

As a PhD student you’ve done fieldwork in Indonesian Papua. What’s your favourite part of doing fieldwork there?

I have to say that my absolute favourite part of fieldwork is the nerdy part, i.e. the joy of linguistic discovery. When you are in the field working on undocumented language every day you get to learn something new as piece by piece the language starts to take form in your mind and field notes. Saying that, I can't leave out the privilege it is to get to know the awesome people who take you into their homes and patiently try to share their language with you.

Now you’re back at ANU, working under Nick Evans, who was one of your PhD supervisors. What’s it like coming back to work with Nick?

It's amazing actually. Nick is so full of passion and energy for language and linguistics while also maintaining scientific rigour to his work. 

Nick and I, along with our colleague Christian Döhler, have been slowly working out the linguistic history of the Yam languages (a family of languages in southern New Guinea), and it’s great to able to together to work on that more regularly. 

What’s your favourite place to eat in Canberra?

Chez Kimchi in Civic. The spicy octopus hotpot is fantastic. 

What are you most looking forward to in your new role?

Finding more out about Yei, the last branch of the Yam family. At present all we have, really, is a list of a few hundred words and handful of verbal paradigms, my project is document the language across the six or so villages where it is spoken. We are hoping it will be the puzzle piece which helps us unlock what is going on across the entire family.

Having completed his PhD at The Australian National University  in 2017, Matt undertook a prestigious Newton International Fellowship in the United Kingdom. He has now returned to work with his old PhD supervisor, Professor Nick Evans, as a Postdoctoral Fellow. Matt will be delivering a seminar on multiple exponence and morphological redundancy on Wednesday 26 June. He is plunging headlong into his work, teaching a field methods intensive course over winter at ANU. 

(This article was first published by the ANU College of Asia & The Pacific.)

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