Cultural & Linguistic Transformations Projects

    Our goal is to support cultural expression, creativity, identity and the preservation and documentation of tropical cultural and linguistic heritage.

    Language projects


    Australian Research Council - Centres of Excellence

    ARC Centre of Excellence of Australian Origins and Transformations

    Indicative Funding: $4,914,000 over 7 years (administered by University of Wollongong)

    This Centre will create a world-class interdisciplinary research programme to understand Australia's unique biodiversity and heritage. The Centre will track the changes to Australia's environment to examine the processes responsible for the changes and the lessons that can be used to continue to adapt to Australia's changing environment. The Centre will support connections between the sciences and humanities and train future generations of researchers to deal with future global challenges and inform policy in an interdisciplinary context.

    Investigators: Richard Roberts, Susan O'Connor, Jennie Lawson, Zenobia Jacobs, Timothy Cohen, Simon Haberle, Michael Bird, Sean Ulm [Cairns Institute Theme Leader & Fellow], Chris Turney, Martin Nakata, Darren Curnoe, Alan Cooper, Corey Bradshaw, Laura Weyrich, Bruno David, Lynette Russell, Barry Brook and Chris Johnson in collaboration with Brit Asmussen, Chantal Knowles, Robin Torrence, Michael Slack, Jean-Jacques Delannoy, Matthew Leavesley, Gifford Miller, Stephan Stephan and Michael Storey (University of WollongongAustralian National University, College of Science & Engineering, College of Arts, Society & Education, The University of New South Wales, Aust Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Centre, University of AdelaideMonash UniversityUniversity of TasmaniaQueensland MuseumAustralian MuseumScarp Archaeology Pty LtdUniversite de SavoieUniversity of Papua New GuineaUniversity of Colorado - BoulderMax Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and Natural History Museum of Denmark)


    Australian Research Council - Discovery - Future Fellowships

    Developing accurate trans-holocene coastal and ocean chronologies: Resolving fundamental problems in the dating of marine shell in the tropics

    Indicative Funding: $699,593 over 5 years

    Archaeological and quaternary science in tropical Australasia is heavily reliant on radiocarbon (14C) ages on marine materials. However, radiocarbon ages obtained on marine samples are not directly comparable to contemporaneous terrestrial samples owing to variability in the way 14C is distributed in marine environments (the 'marine reservoir effect'). Marine reservoir effects are highly variable and can introduce uncertainties of up to several hundred years into ages obtained on marine samples, creating a key obstacle for advancing archaeological, sea-level and climate change research. This project establishes a reliable model of marine reservoir effects across tropical Australasia that can be used to calibrate marine 14C ages.

    Investigators: Sean Ulm [Cairns Institute Theme Leader & Fellow] (College of Arts and Society & Education)


    ARC Laureate Fellowship

    How gender shapes the world: A linguistic perspective

    Indicative funding: $2,416,141

    Gender pervades every aspect of life and of living. An understanding of its nature is central to many disciplines. The way gender is articulated shapes the world of individuals, and of the societies they live in. Study of Social Gender and Linguistic Gender offers a unique window into how humans construct representations of the world and encode them in their languages This project puts forward an innovative research program, systematically investigating gender expression and related socialization across languages and cultures, focusing on key Australian immigrant communities and our strategic neighbour New Guinea. The cutting-edge program will advance cross-cultural understanding and enhance capacity building within Australia and beyond.

    Chief Investigator: Alexandra Aikhenvald

    Collaborating School/Institution: The Cairns Institute; School of Arts & Social Sciences


    ARC Discovery Project (DP170100918)

    The integration of language and society

    Indicative funding: $411,000

    This project aims to seek associations between social and life-style differences and language structure. All human societies show pervasive similarities and all languages share recurrent features. Viewing society and language as an integrated whole, the project will study related groups in contrasting physical and social environments in PNG, Africa, East Asia, Amazonia and Australia. Inductive generalisations about associations between societal and language parameters (e.g. varying techniques of address relating to articulated kin systems and social hierarchy) aim to provide insight into the human dynamic. Findings should benefit programmes for cultural awareness, language teaching and revitalisation and understanding of multicultural situations.

    Chief Investigators: Alexandra Aikhenvald, RMW Dixon, Professor Maarten Mous (Leiden University); Professor Dr Anne Storch (University of Cologne); Dr Nerida Jarkey (University of Sydney)


    ARC Discovery Project (DP130101361)

    How languages differ and why

    Indicative funding: $355,002

    When languages interact, they become similar in certain ways. This project will explore the reasons for this, by examining why there are many languages of diverse structures in certain regions, focussing on New Guinea, Amazonia and north-east Queensland. The project will assist with understanding how language helps and hinders inter-ethnic communication.

    Chief Investigators: Alexandra Aikhenvald, RMW Dixon, Lourens de Vries, Willem F Adelaar

    Collaborating Schools/Institutions: School of Arts & Social Sciences; The Cairns Institute; Free University of Amsterdam; University of Leiden


    ARC Discovery Project (DP110102291)

    Objects of possession: Artefact transactions in the Wet Tropics of North Queensland, 1870-2013

    Indicative funding: $350,000

    The project’s research into artifact collecting will provide Indigenous peoples, museum curators and other community members with important insights into the history of Indigenous cultures in the Wet Tropics region. Our project will contribute to the development of innovative ways of presenting Indigenous peoples’ connections with their cultural heritage.

    Chief Investigators: Rosita Henry [Cairns Institute Fellow], Russell E McGregor, Michael A Wood, Shelley M Greer, Ton Otto

    Collaborating School: School of Arts & Social Sciences; The Cairns Institute


    ARC Linkage Project (LP110100658)

    Land, language and heritage

    Indicative funding: $304,724

    Building on academic work by RMW Dixon and educational initiatives by Ernie Grant, this large- scale cooperative initiative will produce comprehensive documentation of the Jirrbal Aboriginal tribe from North Queensland, in written, audiovisual and web-based form. It embraces traditional culture, recent history and language adaptation, enhancing the work of Partner Organisation, Echo Creek Cultural Centre, in the cross-cultural training it provides. The project is cast within the framework of the Holistic Approach (linking land, language and heritage), integrating and promoting indigenous knowledge. We work towards the empowerment of Indigenous Australians, reaffirmation of their identity and sustainable use of traditional environment.

    Chief Investigators: RMW Dixon, Alexandra Aikhenvald

    Collaborating School/Organisation: School of Arts & Social Sciences; The Cairns Institute; Echo Adventure and Cultural Camp

    ASSOCIATED PROJECTS

    The Ndu languages of New Guinea 

    The project investigates the structure and the spread of the Ndu languages of the East Sepik, PNG, the biggest language family in the Sepik area.

    The project will result in a number of grammars of Ndu languages, and an account of their migrations and history.

    Chief Investigator: Alexandra Aikhenvald

    Collaborating School: School of Arts & Social Sciences; The Cairns Institute

    The Tariana language revival (Amazonas, Brazil) 

    This is an on-going project focussing on description and maintenance of the Tariana language, the major Arawak language in the multilingual Vaupés area of Amazonia.
    The project provides continuous benefit to the community by producing grammatical studies, pedagogical materials, dictionaries and support for language maintenance and revival.

    Chief Investigator: Alexandra Aikhenvald

    Collaborating School/Institution: School of Arts & Social Sciences; The Cairns Institute; The Association of the Tariana of the Upper Rio Negro


    Australian Research Council - Discovery - Future Fellowships (FT110100587)

    Digital relations: New media in Arnhem Land

    Indicative funding: $267,451 over 2 years

    This project develops scholarship of contemporary indigenous culture with a complex, interdisciplinary investigation of the ways in which new media are employed in remote indigenous communities. The sophistication with which Yolngu use technology to creatively participate in new global circuits of identity and meaning will be explored in this multi-sited, participatory study. Using digital technologies to collaboratively forge new forms of scholarship and critical reflection, this research will generate international research partnerships and community-based collaborations, leading to high profile scholarly outputs that reveal how these emergent forms and practices refigure the ambitions of a contemporary indigenous society.

    Investigator: Jennifer Deger [Cairns Institute Fellow & Theme Leader]


    Australian Research Council

    The Deep History of Sea Country: climate, sea level and culture

    Indicative funding: $60,000 over 3 years administered by Flinders University

    This is a pioneering, multi-disciplinary study of submerged landscape archaeology in Australia designed to investigate the records of the now-submerged Pilbara coast (spanning 50,000 to 7000 years ago). Information from drowned contexts will help address critical debates in Australian prehistory relating to past sea-level rise, population resilience, mobility, and diet. The project integrates cultural and environmental studies and contributes a unique southern hemisphere insight into world prehistory through material analysis and an adaptation of method from the world's only confirmed submarine middens. A suite of cutting edge marine and aerial survey techniques will be developed to investigate physical and cultural submerged landscapes.

    Chief Investigators: Jonathan Benjamin, Sean Ulm [Cairns Institute Theme Leader & Fellow], Peter Veth, Jorg Hacker and Michael O'Leary with the help of Geoffrey Bailey and Mads Holst (Flinders University, College of Arts, Society & Education, The University of Western Australia, Curtin University of Technology, University of York and Aarhus Universitet)


    Universities Australia and German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) - Australia-Germany Joint Research Cooperation Scheme

    Creativity in language: Secret codes, special styles and linguistic taboos

    Indicative funding: $25,000 over 2 years

    Each language has a rich aesthetic texture. Alongside the everyday language style, there can be: (a) special speech styles employed in the poetry of songs; (b) special modes of speech used for ritual communication, in male and female initiation, mourning, and within important activities such as hunting or fishing; (c) respectful registers used in the presence of those relatives with whom one is not allowed to communicate directly; and (d) in-group modes of speech for particular age groups (youth languages), and play languages. The formal and the semantic aspects of special linguistic styles and secret languages reveal the mechanisms—and the limits—of linguistic creativity of speakers. The kinds of special codes reflect the speakers' social and cultural environment, including relationships between kin groups, the roles of men and women within a society, and societal practices. The project aims at providing a systematic examination of special codes, based on their functions and context of use, and how they relate to the everyday language styles. The project focuses on little-known languages from areas of substantial linguistic diversity in New Guinea, Amazonia, Aboriginal Australia, and Africa. The results will advance our understanding of the nature of language creativity and human cognition.

    Investigators: Alexandra Aikhenvald in collaboration with Anne Storch, Katarzyna Wojtylak, Nicola Piper, Ryan Pennington, Nico Nassenstein, Andrea Wolvers and Angelika Mietzner (College of Arts, Society & Education and Universität zu Köln)


    Australian Institute of Nuclear Science & Engineering - Postgraduate Research Award

    Fire and Environmental Change in Northern Australia during the Late Holocene

    Indicative Funding: $7,500

    This project addresses the lack of palaeoenvironmental and palaeofire records available for northern Australia. I will analyse both micro-(<125micron) and macroscopic (>125micron) charcoal from sediment cores collected from lacustrine sites in Cape York and Arnhem Land. I will also analyse modern charcoal collected in fire traps placed during fieldwork to create a modern analogue. Collaboration with AINSE/ANSTO will result in a high-resolution chronology for each site, with implications for the wider region.

    Investigators: Emma Rehn, Michael Bird, Cassandra Rowe, Sean Ulm [Cairns Institute Theme Leader & Fellow] and Craig Woodward (College of Science & Engineering, College of Arts, Society & Education and The University of Queensland)


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