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Personal profile


Joe Blythe is an Interactional Linguist specialising in Australian Indigenous languages.  He conducts field research on the Murrinhpatha language of the Northern Territory and on the Gija and Jaru languages from northern Western Australia.

Joe is interested in the relationships between linguistic structure and social action, and what these relationships reveal about social cognition and culture. He is concerned with how interlocutors coordinate with each other in making themselves understood, and in how they package their talk, gaze and gestures, etc., as moves directed towards interactional goals. He is especially interested in what social interaction reveals about why words and constructions are structured the way they are. Thus, do particular structures reveal affordances for delivering particular actions? Are these structures better adapted than alternative structures for delivering the desired actions? Can constraints on language use be observed to be driving structural and semantic change?

Research interests

  • Australian Aboriginal Languages
  • Conversation Analysis and Interactional Linguistics
  • Gesture
  • Kinship
  • Child Language Acquisition
  • Language Evolution

Currently funded research projects

An ARC Discovery Project, DP180100515: Dr Joe Blythe, Associate Professor Ilana Mushin, Professor Lesley Stirling, Associate Professor Rod Gardner

The CIARA project will provide the first large-scale exploration of conversational style in Australia. The project investigates everyday conversation, comparing social interaction across different languages, cultures and geographic locations. Using modern Conversation Analytic/Interactional Linguistic techniques, we aim to re-examine claims that Aboriginal Australians conduct conversations in different ways to Anglo-Australians. We will record and transcribe Australian English multiparty conversations in remote Kimberley and rural Victorian towns, and compare these with multiparty conversations conducted in four endangered Aboriginal languages (Gija, Jaru, Garrwa and Murrinhpatha) and in Kriol, from remote communities in WA and the NT. These corpora will provide a new evidence-base for investigating Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal conversational norms and contribute to the scientific study of social interaction.

  • OzSpace: Landscape, language and culture in Indigenous Australia

An ARC Discovery Project, DP200101079: Associate Professor Bill Palmer, Associate Professor Alice Gaby, Dr Joe Blythe, Dr Maïa Ponsonnet

This project aims to determine how culture and social diversity interact with landscape in representing physical space in the minds and grammars of speakers of Australian Indigenous languages. The project will conduct the first Australia-wide survey of Indigenous spatial description correlated with landscape, and the first large-scale investigation of diversity in spatial behaviour among individuals within communities. The findings are expected to inform crucial debates on the formative role of landscape in language, and advance our knowledge of human spatial cognition. It will collect completely new experimental and natural data in six endangered languages, with significant benefits for the maintenance of Indigenous languages and cultures.

Previously funded research projects

  • Multiparty conversation in Gija, an endangered language of the East Kimberley, WA

Originally funded by an MQNS funded project to build a video corpus of Gija conversation. The project continues as the CIARA project.

  • Acquiring Kinship Terminology in an Australian Aboriginal Community.

This project investigates how Murrinhpatha speaking children acquire the lexicon and grammar of kinship. (originally funded by an ARC DECRA project DE130100399)

  • Language Acquisition of Murrinhpatha

This project studies the acquisition of the polysynthetic language Murrinhpatha (Wadeye, NT) by children from 2-6 years. (originally funded by an ARC Discovery project DP110100961, with Jill Wigglesworth, Barbara Kelly, Rachel Nordlinger).


Research student supervision

I am availalable for supervision of student projects focusing on Indigenous languages and/or social interaction



In session 1 Joe convenes LING2213 Australia's Indigenous Languages and co-convenes LING1121 Language Myths and Realities.

In Session 2 he convenes LING3383 Morphosyntax of the World's Languages

External positions

Associate Secretary, Australian Linguistic Society


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Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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