Research in linguistics at UNSW examines the basic properties of human language and explores what the study of language can tell us about the brain, the mind, society, history and communication, especially among people from different cultural and language backgrounds.

Our research programs combine theoretical and applied research with a strong focus on addressing current issues in contemporary speech communities. We work across diverse disciplines (theoretical linguistics and its applications, sociology, anthropology, education, psychology and cognitive science) and provide supervision in interdisciplinary teams.

Research focus

Linguistics at UNSW spans four broad research programs addressing critical issues related to linguistic diversity. Some of our work under the theme of Linguistic Diversity and the Human Mind (LDHM) incorporates the study of language structure and typology. We aim to understand the unity and diversity of languages by investigating their internal structure including their sound system, word and sentence structure, and meaning.

The second major theme, Linguistic Diversity and Migration (LDM) addresses critical issues of language and migration with a specific focus on disadvantaged groups such as refugees. This research aims to identify sources of language-based disadvantage and promote linguistic diversity, including the maintenance of heritage (immigrant) languages in Australian society and beyond.

The third major theme, Linguistic Diversity and Intercultural Communication (LDIC), works with pragmatic theory to explore communication issues in diverse intercultural and linguistic contexts, including the use of humour.

The fourth major theme is Linguistic Diversity and Second Language Learning (LDL2L) which addresses current issues of language learning, bilingualism, educational linguistics and language policy. We address critical issues in second language development ranging from the investigation of the bilingual mind to examining the earliest stages of the second language acquisition of linguistic structures.

Staff strengths & accomplishments

Linguistics at UNSW has a strong community focus and targets public awareness of linguistic diversity and its implications for individuals and communities. Our research informs public policy about language and migration, contributes to the development of language acquisition theory and the understanding of meaning-making in intercultural contexts. Our staff members have engaged in diverse projects funded by the Australian Research Council and other prestigious funding schemes. 

Dr Anikó Hatoss has studied the intergenerational transmission of heritage languages in diverse communities such as Hungarians, Germans, South Africans and Sudanese in Australia. Her latest research monograph uses theories of globalization to explore language use, identity and narratives of displacement as voiced by Sudanese refugee-background Australians. 

Dr Debra Aarons has published in the area of Sign Language syntax and sociolinguistics, working with Deaf Communities in the USA and South Africa. She currently investigates humorous phenomena to explore our tacit knowledge of the language we use. She also analyses standup comedy as an influential form of social critique. 

Dr Mengistu Amberber’s main research interests include lexical semantics and the semantics-syntax interface with particular reference to transitivity alternations and complex predicates. He works mainly on Amharic and other related Ethiopian languages. 

Dr Hugues Peters’s research focuses on the syntax of French and the acquisition and teaching of French as a foreign language. 

Dr Efrosini Deligianni’s expertise is in historical linguistics and diachronic typology with special reference to Greek. Her latest research focuses on the intersections between language and sociocultural identity. 

Dr Seong-Chul Shin works on applied and educational linguistic research in areas such as error analysis in L2 Korean and heritage language, language policy and curriculum planning, language maintenance and use, and translation issues. 

A/Prof James Lee conducts research in the area of second language acquisition with an emphasis on the second language processing of linguistic structures. His latest research monograph explores the development of the accusative pronoun system in second language learners of Spanish. His current research with Dr Stephen Doherty uses eye-tracking methodology to determine changes in cognitive processing that result from explicit instruction in a second language.