Survival of Languages


Twenty First Annual Darwin College Lecture Series 2006


Lecture 3   :   3 February

Peter Austin

School of Oriental & African Studies London



Across the world minority languages are under threat from larger regional and global languages as communities shift their preferences in favour of what they perceive as economically, politically and socially more powerful tongues. In the process languages become endangered as children are no longer learning them -- eventually such threatened languages can and do disappear. This lecture will address a number of issues: What are the factors that determine a language's survival? Are all smaller languages doomed to replacement by a few larger stronger ones? If a language is endangered is there anything that can be done to ensure that it does survive and does not become extinct?


Peter Austin joined SOAS in October 2002 after having held a Humboldt Prize at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Frankfurt. He was previously Foundation Professor of Linguistics at the University of Melbourne (1996-2002) and has held visiting appointments at Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics Nijmegen, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, University of Hong Kong, and Stanford University. He studied at the Australian National University, completing a BA with first class Honours in Asian Studies (Japanese and Linguistics) in 1974, and a PhD in 1978 on the Diyari language spoken in the far north of South Australia. He taught at the University of Western Australia (1978), held a Harkness Fellowship for post-doctoral at UCLA and MIT (1979-80), and in 1981 set up the Department of Linguistics at La Trobe University. Peter's research interests cover descriptive, theoretical and applied linguistics. He has extensive fieldwork experience on Australian Aboriginal languages (northern New South Wales, northern South Australia, and north-west Western Australia) and has co-authored with David Nathan the first fully page-formatted hypertext dictionary on the World Wide Web, a bilingual dictionary of Gamilaraay (Kamilaroi), northern New South Wales, as well as publishing seven bilingual dictionaries of Aboriginal languages. Since 1995 he has been carrying out research on Sasak and Sumbawan, Austronesian languages spoken on Lombok and Sumbawa islands, eastern Indonesia. His theoretical research is mainly on syntax and focuses on Lexical Functional Grammar, morpho-syntactic typology, computer-aided lexicography and multi-media for endangered languages. He has also published on historical and comparative linguistics, typology, and Aboriginal history and biography. 

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