Nicholas Evans

Nicholas Evans
Australian National University | ANU · Department of Linguistics

About

127
Publications
50,438
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4,497
Citations
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March 2008 - present
Australian National University
Position
  • Laureate Professor

Publications

Publications (127)
Article
Full-text available
Language documentation faces a persistent and pervasive problem: How much material is enough to represent a language fully? How much text would we need to sample the full phoneme inventory of a language? In the phonetic/phonemic domain, what proportion of the phoneme inventory can we expect to sample in a text of a given length? Answering these que...
Chapter
Since the famous exchange of letters between Darwin and Schleicher, the parallels between evolutionary processes in the biological and linguistic spheres have been evident. In this paper, I present a coevolutionary approach to language evolution, both in the early phase during which hominins evolved language and in subsequent phases during which hu...
Article
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Although many hypotheses have been proposed to explain why humans speak so many languages and why languages are unevenly distributed across the globe, the factors that shape geographical patterns of cultural and linguistic diversity remain poorly understood. Prior research has tended to focus on identifying universal predictors of language diversit...
Article
This discussion note reviews responses of the linguistics profession to the grave issues of language endangerment identified a quarter of a century ago in the journal Language by Krauss, Hale, England, Craig, and others (Hale et al. 1992). Two and a half decades of worldwide research not only have given us a much more accurate picture of the number...
Article
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Engagement systems encode the relative accessibility of an entity or state of affairs to the speaker and addressee , and are thus underpinned by our social cognitive capacities. In our first foray into engagement (Part 1), we focused on specialised semantic contrasts as found in entity-level deictic systems, tailored to the primal scenario for esta...
Article
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Accounts of language evolution have largely suffered from a monolingual bias, assuming that language evolved in a single isolated community sharing most speech conventions. Rather, evidence from the small-scale societies who form the best simulacra available for ancestral human communities suggests that the combination of small societal scale and o...
Article
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Human language offers rich ways to track, compare, and engage the attentional and epistemic states of interlocutors. While this task is central to everyday communication, our knowledge of the cross-linguistic grammatical means that target such intersubjective coordination has remained basic. In two serialised papers, we introduce the term ‘engageme...
Chapter
This article examines quantification in Nen, a Papuan language of the Yam family (aka Morehead-Maro family) from Southern New Guinea. Nen counts some 400 speakers, most living in the single village of Bimadbn. Typologically, Nen is an SOV language with ergative case-marking, agreement on the verb for up to two arguments, and a split in verbal agree...
Article
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Nen (ISO 639–3 code: nqn) is the easternmost language of the Yam (Morehead-Maro) family of Southern New Guinea. This family is one of over forty maximal genetic groupings in New Guinea, and is currently not relatable to any other language family in New Guinea or elsewhere. As with other aspects of their grammar, the phonology of the Morehead-Maro l...
Research
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Handout from paper presented at LFG04 conference, Christchurch, New Zealand, 2004
Research
Handout from paper presented at LFG04 conference, Christchurch, New Zealand, 2004
Chapter
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Article
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Until very recently the investigation of the material culture of Australian Aboriginals was seen as peripheral to other areas of anthropology, particularly those focused on social organisation, religion, economics and the arts. This study presents insights into the nature of the contemporary 'traditional' material culture of the Iwaidja people of t...
Chapter
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Religion may be one factor that enabled large-scale complex human societies to evolve. Utilizing a cultural evolutionary approach, this chapter seeks explanations for patterns of complexity and variation in religion within and across groups, over time. Properties of religious systems (e.g., rituals, ritualized behaviors, overimitation, synchrony, s...
Article
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This chapter argues that an evolutionary cultural approach to language not only has al-ready proven fruitful, but it probably holds the key to understand many puzzling aspects of language, its change and origins. The chapter begins by highlighting several still common misconceptions about language that might seem to call into question a cultural ev...
Chapter
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The study of linguistic diversity, and the factors driving change between language states, in different sociocultural contexts, arguably provides the best arena of human culture for the application of evolutionary approaches, as Darwin realized. After a long period in which this potential has been neglected, the scene is now set for a new reconnect...
Article
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Though it draws on the grammatical metaphor of person (first, third, second) in terms of representations, Schilbach et al.'s target article does not consider an orthogonal line of evidence for the centrality of interaction to social cognition: the many grammatical phenomena, some widespread cross-linguistically and some only being discovered, which...
Chapter
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The complexity of representing the words and thoughts of others and relating them to the perspective of ourselves and our interlocutors lies at the heart of our ability to coordinate, distinguish, and calibrate the jostling versions of a partly shared social world. The chapter provides a canonical typology of different types of quotation. There are...
Article
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Cultures are built on social exchange. Most languages have dedicated grammatical machinery for expressing this. To demonstrate that statistical methods can also be applied to grammatical meaning, we here ask whether the underlying meanings of these grammatical constructions are based on shared common concepts. To explore this, we designed video sti...
Article
How similar are reciprocal constructions in the semantic parameters they encode? We investigate this question by using an extensional approach, which examines similarity of meaning by examining how constructions are applied over a set of 64 videoclips depicting reciprocal events (Evans et al. 2004). We apply statistical modelling to descriptions fr...
Article
This paper argues that the language sciences are on the brink of major changes in primary data, methods and theory. Reactions to ‘The myth of language universals’ ([Evans and Levinson, 2009a] and [Evans and Levinson, 2009b]) divide in response to these new challenges. Chomskyan-inspired ‘C-linguists’ defend a status quo, based on intuitive data and...
Article
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Las construcciones diádicas denotan pares o grupos unidos por relaciones sociales del tipo ‘(par de) hermanos/vecinos’, ‘padre e hijo’. Pueden estar formadas por derivación morfológica, ser raíces léxicas inanalizables o sintagmas. Hasta hace poco tiempo este fenómeno había escapado a una sistematización tipológica y la información disponible sugie...
Article
Radiocarbon dates from three Kaiadilt Aboriginal sites on the South Wellesley Islands, southern Gulf of Carpentaria, demonstrate occupation dating to c.1600 years ago. These results are at odds with published linguistic models for colonisation of the South Wellesley archipelago suggesting initial occupation in the last 1000 years, but are consonant...
Article
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This article examines the interactions between reduplication, sound change, and borrowing, as played out in the Iwaidja language of Cobourg Peninsula, Arnhem Land, in Northern Australia, a non-Pama-Nyungan language of the Iwaidjan family. While Iwaidja traditionally makes use of (various types of) right-reduplication, contact with two other left-re...
Article
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Talk of linguistic universals has given cognitive scientists the impression that languages are all built to a common pattern. In fact, there are vanishingly few universals of language in the direct sense that all languages exhibit them. Instead, diversity can be found at almost every level of linguistic organization. This fundamentally changes the...
Article
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Our response takes advantage of the wide-ranging commentary to clarify some aspects of our original proposal and augment others. We argue against the generative critics of our coevolutionary program for the language sciences, defend the use of close-to-surface models as minimizing crosslinguistic data distortion, and stress the growing role of stoc...
Article
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Southern New Guinea languages possess unusual senary systems, used for yam-counting. This article demonstrates the common presence of cognate base-6 numeral systems with monomorphemic power terms up to 66, with attestation across the major branches of the Morehead-Upper Maro group. Kanum, related to the Morehead-Upper Maro family, has cognate forms...
Book
The next century will see more than half of the world's 6,000 languages become extinct, and most of these will disappear without being adequately recorded. Written by one of the leading figures in language documentation, this fascinating book explores what humanity stands to lose as a result. Explores the unique philosophy, knowledge, and cultural...
Chapter
Outwitting the Conquering BarbariansDying a Second DeathThe Keys to DeciphermentReading the Clear Dawn: Mayan Then and NowReleased by Flames: The Case of Caucasian AlbanianZoquean Languages and the Epi-Olmec ScriptDarkening PagesFurther reading
Chapter
The Careless ScribesBack to the Old Wording: How the Comparative Method WorksEvery Witness Has Part of the StorySynchrony's Poison Is Diachrony's MeatBy the Waters of Lake ChadLoanwords as Complication and ResourceThe Linguistic Lens on the PastFurther reading
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Language Diversity and Human DestinyLanguage Diversity through Time and SpaceWhere the Hotbeds AreThe Wellsprings of Diversity in Language, Culture, and BiologyWords on the LandFurther reading
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The Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis and Its PrecursorsHow Closely CoupledMove This Book a Bit to the SouthThe Flow of Action in Language and ThoughtBlicking the Dax: How Different Tongues Grow Different MindsLanguage and Thought: A Burgeoning FieldFurther reading
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The Unbroken CodeSounds OffKnowing the Giving from the GiftThe Great Chain of BeingFurther reading
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Extraordinary LanguageCarving with the GrainImprobable Bards and Epic Debates: the Singers of MontenegroThe Case of Khlebnikov's GrasshopperUnsung Bards of the New Guinea HighlandsNo Spice, No SavorThe Great Semanticist Yellow Trevally FishAn Oral Culture Always Stands One Generation Away from ExtinctionFurther reading
Data
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Lardil is traditionally spoken by the people of Mornington, Sydney and Wallaby Islands. Lardil have always lived on Mornington Island and the language is well documented, however some words have not yet been recorded as is seen with the fish names below.
Data
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The Kayardilt language is traditionally spoken by the Kaiadilt people of the South Wellesley Islands, a group which includes Bentinck, Sweers, Fowler and Allen Islands. The Kaiadilt have lived on Mornington Island since the 1940s, when missionaries moved them, but today many are returning to their home country.
Article
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This article uses instrumental data from natural speech to examine the phenomenon of pause placement within the verbal word in Dalabon, a polysynthetic Australian language of Arnhem Land. Though the phenomenon is incipient and in two sample texts occurs in only around 4% of verbs, there are clear possibilities for interrupting the grammatical word...
Article
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National Foreign Language Resource Center
Article
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This chapter discusses a particular type of deponency that is found in several languages of the Iwaidjan family and involves pseudo-argument affixes on the verb. The chapter focuses on two closely related languages, Iwaidja and Ilgar/Garig, which share about eighty percent vocabulary. The uses of agreement of the pseudo-argument, the standard use o...
Article
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Reciprocals are characterized by a crossover of thematic roles within a single clause. Their peculiar semantics often creates special argument configurations not found in other clause types. While some languages either encode recipro-cals by clearly divalent, transitive clauses, or clearly monovalent, intransitive clauses, others adopt a more ambiv...
Article
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Song brings language and music together. Great singers are at once musicians and wordsmiths, who toss rhythm, melody and word against one another in complex cross-play. In this paper we outline some initial findings that are emerging from our interdisciplinary study of the musical traditions of the Cobourg region of western Arnhem Land, a coastal a...
Article
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This paper presents a set of hypotheses to explain the cultural differences between Aboriginal people of the North and South Wellesley Islands, Gulf of Carpentaria and to characterise the relative degree and nature of their isolation and cultural change over a 10,000-year time-scale. This opportunity to study parallelisms and divergences in the cul...
Article
Dalabon, typically for a polysynthetic language, only employs subordinate clauses with low frequency (less than 5% in the corpus surveyed). Despite this, it has a number of formally distinct subordinate clause types, which are described in this paper. Pronominal prefixes to the verb have special subordinate forms, possibly deriving from a reanalysi...
Article
Dalabon, typically for a polysynthetic language, only employs subordinate clauses with low frequency (less than 5% in the corpus surveyed). Despite this, it has a number of formally distinct subordinate clause types, which are described in this paper. Pronominal prefixes to the verb have special subordinate forms, possibly deriving from a reanalysi...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Earlier impressionistic analyses of Dalabon indicate that the grammatical word is often realized as either an accentual or an intonational phrase, followed by a pause. Unusually, it can also be interrupted by a silent pause, with each section being potentially (although not necessarily) realized as separate intonational phrases. Our analyses of pau...
Article
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Is the Australian linguistic area, because of its unique history, one in which the established methods of historical and comparative linguistics have limited appropriateness? Do neighboring languages in this situation come to share an "equilibrium level" of 50 percent basic vocabulary regardless of their degree of genetic relatedness? Is the Pama-N...
Article
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1. Introduction: Our three commentators raise such a host of deep and interesting issues that we cannot hope to answer them all within the time and space at our disposal. To begin with, we would like to thank them for pushing us to articulate the reasons for our arguments more clearly, and for getting us to spell out a number of assumptions and int...
Article
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Mundari, an Austroasiatic language of India (Munda family), has often been cited as an example of a language without word classes, where a single word can function as noun, verb, adjective, etc. according to the context. These claims, originating in a 1903 grammar by the missionary John Hoffmann, have recently been repeated uncritically by a number...
Article
Full-text available
Earlier impressionistic analyses of Dalabon indicate that the grammatical word is often realized as either an accentual phrase, or an intonational phrase, followed by a pause. Unusually, it can also be interrupted by a silent pause, with each section being realized as separate intonational phrases. Our results support these earlier impressions, alt...
Chapter
http://fieldmanuals.mpi.nl/volumes/2004/reciprocals/ (Supplementary material)
Article
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Using Australian languages as examples, cultural selection is shown to shape linguistic structure through invisible hand processes that pattern the unintended outcomes (structures in the system of shared linguistic norms) of intentional actions (particular utterances by individual agents). Examples of the emergence of culturally patterned structure...
Article
‘that rarity, nouns…, those most reluctant agreers, aggreeing in case, of all categories’ (Plank 1995: 32) In this paper I describe a number of agreement-type phenomena in the Australian language Kayardild, and assess them against existing definitions, stating both the boundaries of what is to be considered agreement, and characteristics of prototy...
Article
The intonational typology of two Northern Australian languages, Dalabon and the Kundedjnjenghmi dialect of Bininj Gun-wok, suggests that these languages can be analyzed within the autosegmental-metrical framework of intonation as having two kinds of intonational events that serve to demarcate the boundaries of intonational phrases: pitch accents an...
Article
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Mayali has four genders and five morphological classes, with formal identity between the gender prefixes and four of the morphological class prefixes. Gender and morphological class are assigned according to different but largely overlapping semantic principles. We analyze these partially overlapping systems within the NETWORK MORPHOLOGY framework;...