Our Research

The Language and Culture Research Centre (LCRC) brings together linguists, anthropologists, educationalists, other social scientists and those working in the humanities, under the leadership of Distinguished Professor Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald and Professor R. M. W. Dixon.

Our research focus

The primary intent of the LCRC is to investigate the relationship between language and the cultural behaviour of those who speak it. It also studies the relations between archaeology, prehistory, human biology, cognition studies and linguistics, based on in-depth empirical investigations of languages and cultures in the tropical areas, including those of the Pacific (especially the Papuan languages of New Guinea), the languages of Amazonia, and of those of Indigenous Australia. We focus on studying the relationship between language and the cultural behaviour of those who speak it, and the relations between human biology, cognition studies and linguistics.

The LCRC is concerned with the fundamental business of linguistics and especially anthropological linguistics — our faculty and research students undertake intensive studies of previously undescribed (or barely described) languages. We also study minority languages, including languages of immigrants, within the context of the majority populations. We work in terms of basic linguistic theory, the cumulative framework which is employed in most linguistic description, providing theoretically-informed grammars and analyses of languages and language areas. Our work has a sound empirical basis but also shows a firm theoretical orientation, seeking for explanation hand-in-hand with description.

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Our Research

We work in terms of basic linguistic theory, the cumulative framework which is employed in most linguistic description, providing anthropologically informed grammars and analyses of languages and linguistic areas. Our work has a sound empirical basis but also shows a firm theoretical orientation, seeking for explanation hand-in-hand with description.

Building on reliable descriptive studies, the LCRC also puts forward inductive generalisations about human languages, cultural practices and cognition. We enquire how a language reflects the environment in which people live, their system of social organisation, food production techniques, and the ways in which a community views the world. For instance, groups living in mountainous terrain often have to specify, for any object, whether it is uphill, downhill or at the same level as the speaker. And if there is a chiefly system, a special term of address may be required for speaking to a high chief, and a different term for a minor chief.

Why are languages the way they are? We seek scientific explanation and motivation, combining the expertise of linguists, anthropologists and social scientists from other domains.

Another focus of study concerns the ways in which languages influence each other. What kind of words, and meanings, are likely to be borrowed between two languages spoken next to each other, and under what social circumstances? Are some kinds of systems particularly open to diffusion, so that they are likely to spread over all the languages in a geographical area, and are other kinds of systems less likely to be diffused?