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Round two outcomes of the New Initiative and Transdisciplinary Grant Scheme

Date: 2 November 2015

Successful applicants for round two of the New Initiative and Transdisciplinary Grant Scheme have been announced. The grant showcases some of the extraordinary projects that are members are busy working on and which might not otherwise attract funding from traditional sources. (Scroll down for the full list.)

Bridging processing and learning: the influence of affect processing on infant word learning

Gabrielle Weidemann (WSU); with Paola Escudero (WSU)

Babies are active language learners, constantly attending to various cues in the environment that aid learning. One specific cue that babies are sensitive to is emotion conveyed in the facial and voice expressions of adults. However, do these emotional cues help them acquire their native language? If so, exactly how do these cues assist? Is the benefit specific to positive emotion, which is commonly present in IDS, or are all emotions beneficial? In this project we will link social cues to language acquisition, and find out how emotional components of interaction affect word learning.

Shifting perspectives and cross-pollinating research on contact languages in Northern Australia

Greg Dickson (UQ); with Felicity Meakins (UQ), Sophie Nicholls (WSU), Carmel O'Shannessy (U-Mich), Denise Angelo (ANU), Samantha Disbray (CDU), Caroline Jones (WSU) & Jane Simpson (ANU)

This project develops new methodologies that scale-up studies of variation in Kriol and other contact varieties spoken in northern Australia. It creates an artificial fieldsite with speakers of Kriol and other contact varieties from the north, replicating the contact language profile of northern Australia in a single small-scale workshop, in which variation is approached from emic perspectives. The workshop, conducted in the heart of Kriol country in Katherine (Northern Territory), is transdisciplinary, involving research from three CoEDL programs Shape (corpus building, multi-varietal documentation), Learning (language acquisition and socialisation) and Evolution (sociolinguistic variation). It takes CoEDL "into the field”, enhances CoEDL research with a fertile environment for cross-pollinating research and raises the involvement of Indigenous co-researchers and research participants to a new level.

Workshop series – Making ‘Harlie the Chatbot’ accessible

David Ireland (UQ); with Janet Wiles (UQ)

Our team has developed a smartphone application that emulates phone calls from ‘Harlie the Chatbot’, an artificial conversation agent. Within the context of regular phone chats, Harlie can remotely collect specific data (e.g. voice samples) over time from populations of interest. Harlie’s ‘brain’ is modifiable. Different brains can be uploaded into the application to address a variety of needs. This project delivers a series of workshops during which interested researchers and clinicians will be guided to create their own ‘brains’ for the Harlie application, tailoring the content and response pattern of the chatbot to their specific field of interest.

Language description in the 21st century: presentation via web browsers

Simon Musgrave (Monash University); with Nick Thieberger (UoM)

Published language descriptions are complex academic texts which are forbidding to non-specialists (and sometimes even to experts). This research will contribute to making language description more accessible by presenting the material in a web browser. The technology of the World Wide Web makes it possible to easily navigate the rich interconnections between the different parts of a description (texts, recordings, dictionary and grammar) and to allow users to define their own pathways through the closely linked sections of the description.

Arandic Dictionaries Audio Pilot

Mark Harvey (University of Newcastle); with Rachel Nordlinger (UoM)

This pilot project aims to test methodologies for the incorporation of audio into existing dictionary resources for the Arandic languages of Central Australia. Having access to audio as a standard component of dictionary resources is important, especially for small, endangered language communities. The project team will work with speakers of Alyawarr and Anmatyerr to record audio for a selected subset of 200 dictionary entries. The team will evaluate the most efficient methodologies for the incorporation of audio into existing dictionary resources and for the generation of phonetic transcriptions of the audio for phonetic analysis.

Neural entrainment to speech rhythm

Varghese Peter (WSU); with Paola Escudero (WSU)

Recent research has shown that oscillations in the brain function to segment the continuous speech into syllable-sized units through a process known as neural entrainment. However the picture is not clear because the unit of segmentation depends on the rhythm of the particular language. This study investigates whether neural entrainment is language specific in adult listeners of three rhythmically different languages (English, French and Japanese) and whether infants also have language specific neural entrainment.

Picture-Naming, Synonymy and Language Divergence in Bilinguals

T. Mark Ellison (ANU); with Paola Escudero (WSU)

A researcher gives you a card and asks you to name what’s on it – in English. You say banana. There’s no alternative. Another picture: do you choose aubergine or eggplant? If you’re a French-English bilingual, aubergine may seem more French than English. What do you do? Past picture-naming studies have used pictures like banana – avoiding choice – and report that shared words are favoured. Studies with choice show shared words are avoided. This project extends picture-naming to cases like aubergine; understanding bilingual processing better may tell us whether bilingualism makes languages more or less alike.

How Culturally-Dependent are Gestural and Vocal Iconicity?

Nicolas Fay (UWA); with Kim Sterelny (ANU)

Imagine language was wiped out. Which communication modality is best suited to language creation? In the study proposed, people from different cultures (Vanuatu, Australia) will try to communicate a range of different meanings using gesture or non-linguistic vocalization, and without using their existing language. Their signs will be recorded and people from the same/different culture will try to guess the meaning. We predict that communication success will be higher 1) for gesture and 2) within the same culture. Such findings would support gesture-first accounts of language origins, and the importance of culture to language diversity.


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