About

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.

Interests
Research
  • 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
Research Disciplines
Socio-Economic Objectives
Honours
Fellowships
  • 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
Other
  • 2010 to 2013 - Alexander von Humboldt Research Award
Publications

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
Books
Book Chapters
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ResearchOnline@JCU stores 117+ 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 - Discovery - Projects

The integration of language and society

Indicative Funding
$340,666 over 4 years
Summary
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.
Investigators
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)
Keywords
evidentiality; society and language; genre; linguistic structure

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
Summary
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 Universitat zu Koln)
Keywords
Language; Amazonian Languages; Taboo; secret code; african languages; Papuan Languages

Australian Research Council - Discovery - Australian Laureate Fellowships

How gender shapes the world: a linguistic perspective

Indicative Funding
$2,416,141 over 6 years
Summary
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.
Investigators
Alexandra Aikhenvald (College of Arts and Society & Education)
Keywords
Linguistic typology; gendedr; male and female speech

Australian Research Council - Discovery - Projects

How Languages Differ and Why

Indicative Funding
$350,000 over 3 years
Summary
Each language is always in a state of flux. Changes may be due to regularising its internal composition, borrowing words or structural patterns from another language of which its speakers have some knowledge or developing some new linguistic tool which reflects an important aspect of life-style (e.g. a set of polite pronouns for use in an evolving social hierarchy). We look at which linguistic features are most likely to be borrowed, which are most likely to be retained, and the reasons for this. We will examine the nature of linguistic diversity, with special focus on Papua New Guinea, Amazonia and north-east Queensland. The results will be significant for understanding inter-ethnic communication, and the nature of human cognition.
Investigators
Alexandra Aikhenvald and Robert Dixon (College of Arts and Society & Education)
Keywords
Language NG; Linguistic Diversity; Linguistic Division

Australian Research Council - Linkage - Projects

Land, language and heritage

Indicative Funding
$299,451 over 4 years
Summary
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.
Investigators
Robert Dixon and Alexandra Aikhenvald (College of Arts and Society & Education)
Keywords
Dyirbal language; Australian languages; language documentation; language and knowledge; Aboriginal empowerment
Supervision

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.

Current
  • A Grammar of Meriam Mir (PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • A Grammar of Murui, a Witotoan Language of Northwest Amazonia. (PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • A Comprehensive Descriptive Grammar of White Hmong (PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • A Grammar of the Brokpa Language (PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • A descriptive grammar of a previously unknown language from Papua New Guinea (PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • A Comprehensive Grammar of Eastern Muya, an Undescribed Tibeto-Burman Language (PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • A Descriptive Grammar of Piaroa, a Previously Undocumented Language from Venezuela (PhD , Primary Advisor)
Completed
Data

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

Collaboration

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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