The Wellsprings of Linguistic Diversity

The Wellsprings of Linguistic Diversity was a five year Laureate project awarded by the Australian Research Council to Professor Nicholas Evans within the School of Culture, History and Language in the College of Asia and the Pacific, at the Australian National University. The project ran from 2014 to 2019.

The project sought to address fundamental questions of linguistic diversity and disparity through an analysis of linguistic variation and change. The project addressed a crucial missing step in existing linguistic research by addressing the question of what drives linguistic diversification so much faster in some societies than in others. It did so by undertaking intensive, matched case studies of speech communities across Australia and the Pacific, allowing researchers to detect variations in languages as they occur and compare the amounts and types of variation found in different sorts of settings, with a particular focus on small-scale multilingual speech communities. It aimed to generate an integrated model of language variation and change, building in interactions between social and linguistic processes. The research findings offered insights into the enormous diversity of human experience, vital for fields as diverse as cognitive science, human evolutionary biology, anthropology and archaeology.

Our team worked on sites in Australia (Western Arnhem Land and Cootamundra), Vanuatu (South Pentecost), Papua New Guinea (Morehead District, Western Province), and Samoa, as well as linked Latin American sites in the Peruvian Amazon and the Andean foothills of Bolivia.

The full project description is available here.

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