When Distinguished Professor Sasha Aikhenvald was working in the East Sepik province of New Guinea she was fascinated to discover that the asset most prized by the people of the province was their name. In East Sepik, her name was important and valuable, but when she wanted to enrol in the classics department of Moscow State University in the old Soviet Union, her Jewish surname made her unacceptable.

Instead she chose linguistics for its mathematical rhythms, crossword puzzle complexities and cultural idiosyncrasies. The decision was the catalyst for a prolific body of research that included Berber languages of North Africa and Hebrew but focused on tropical languages, predominantly those of Amazonia, the Papuan languages of New Guinea and Aboriginal Australia.

  • The relationship between language and culture, and the ways in which language reflects cultural stereotypes
  • Languages and cultures of Papua New Guinea, with a special focus on the Manambu language and the Ndu language family, from the East Sepik Province
  • Language and cultures of Lowland Amazonia, focussing on languages from Arawak family, the largest familyspanning South and Central America, in particular Tariana, Bare, (Warekena of Xie and Baniwa of Icana
  • The way languages influence each other in language contact, with a particular focus on language contact in Amazonia, and in the Sepik River Basin
  • Analysis of categories of human languages, including classifiers and genders, the ways in which languages express information source, serial verbs, and many more
  • 2015 - Fellow of Queensland Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • 2008 - Honorary member of Linguistic Society of America
  • 1999 - Fellow of the Academy of the Humanities
  • 2010 to 2013 - Alexander von Humboldt Research Award

These are the most recent publications associated with this author. To see a detailed profile of all publications stored at JCU, visit ResearchOnline@JCU. Hover over Altmetrics badges to see social impact.

Journal Articles
Book Chapters

ResearchOnline@JCU stores 160+ research outputs authored by Prof Alexandra Aikhenvald from 2003 onwards.

Current Funding

Current and recent Research Funding to JCU is shown by funding source and project.

Australian Research Council - Linkage - Projects

Speaking Hmong in diaspora: language contact, resilience, and change

Indicative Funding
$493,980 over 4 years
The project aims to investigate the how the Hmong language survives in the diaspora, with special focus on how the language transforms itself depending on the environment it finds itself in. We focus on the structure and maintenance of Hmong within the immigrant community in North Queensland across several generations of speakers, within the context of multilingual repertoires involving Australian English and Lao. The outcomes will reveal the processes and results of language change such as the emergence of a new blend of Green and White Hmong. The project will provide significant benefits for the maintenance of diasporic Hmong within a larger context of multilingual immigrant communities.
Alexandra Aikhenvald, Nerida Jarkey and Robert Dixon (College of Arts, Society & Education and The University of Sydney)
Hmong language; language maintenance; Hmong culture; Hmongic languages; Language Documentation; pedagogical grammar

Australian Research Council - Discovery - Projects

The integration of language and society

Indicative Funding
$340,666 over 4 years
All human societies show pervasive similarities and all languages share recurrent features. Reaching beyond these, the project aims to study (a) substantial social and life-style differences, and (b) particular features of language structure, seeking associations between these. Viewing society and language as an integrated whole, the project team will focus on areas in PNG, Africa, East Asia, Amazonia and Australia, studying related groups in contrasting physical and social environments. Inductive generalisations concerning significant associations between societal and language parameters (eg varying techniques of address relating to articulated kin systems, and social hierarchy) aim to provide insight into the human dynamic.
Alexandra Aikhenvald, Robert Dixon and Nerida Jarkey in collaboration with Maarten Mous and Anne Storch (College of Arts, Society & Education, Universiteit Leiden, Universitat zu Koln and The University of Sydney)
evidentiality; society and language; genre; linguistic structure

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

Language emergence in multilingual contexts

Indicative Funding
$25,000 over 2 years
As European colonisation spread around the world, European languages infiltrated numerous areas, giving rise to new language varieties. Bringing indigenous people from various language groups together ? on plantations, in missions and boarding schools ? has resulted in creating new forms of dominant languages for inter-group communication, among them European-based Creoles (such as Tok Pisin, the English-based Creole, and the previously undescribed Unserdeutsch, a creolized variety of German, in PNG). New blended languages emerge, as communities come to live together. We focus on areas of high linguistic diversity covering New Guinea, Amazonia, and East Asia, in the context of multilingual situations.
Alexandra Aikhenvald, Luca Ciucci, Katarzyna Wojtylak, Nathan White and Junwei Bai in collaboration with Peter Maitz, Siegwalt Lindenfelser, Lena-Marie Schmidkunz, Katharina Neumeier and Salome Lipfert (College of Arts, Society & Education and Universitat Augsburg)
Creole language; Papuan languages; languages of East Asia; new languages; Hmong language; Unserdeutsch

Australian Research Council - Discovery - Australian Laureate Fellowships

How gender shapes the world: a linguistic perspective

Indicative Funding
$2,416,141 over 7 years
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.
Alexandra Aikhenvald (College of Arts and Society & Education)
Linguistic typology; gendedr; male and female speech

Advisory Accreditation: I can be on your Advisory Panel as a Primary or Secondary Advisor.

These Higher Degree Research projects are either current or by students who have completed their studies within the past 5 years at JCU. Linked titles show theses available within ResearchOnline@JCU.

  • The Hmong language of North Queensland (PhD , Primary Advisor/AM/Adv)
  • A Grammar of the Brokpa Language (PhD , Primary Advisor/AM/Adv)
  • My journey towards language: An Autoethnography of Wakka Wakka Reclamation (Masters , Secondary Advisor)
  • A Comprehensive Grammar of Doromu-Koki (PhD , Primary Advisor/AM/Adv)
  • A Comprehensive Grammar of Tiang (PhD , Primary Advisor/AM/Adv)

These are the most recent metadata records associated with this researcher. To see a detailed description of all dataset records, visit Research Data Australia.


The map shows research collaborations by institution from the past 7 years.
Note: Map points are indicative of the countries or states that institutions are associated with.

  • 5+ collaborations
  • 4 collaborations
  • 3 collaborations
  • 2 collaborations
  • 1 collaboration
  • Indicates the Tropics (Torrid Zone)

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