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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

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.

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

A MQNS funded project to build a video corpus of Gija conversation. 

  • Acquiring Kinship Terminology in an Australian Aboriginal Community.

This project investigates how Murrinhpatha speaking children acquire the lexicon and grammar of kinship. (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. (ARC Discovery project DP110100961, with Jill Wigglesworth, Barbara Kelly, Rachel Nordlinger).


Research student supervision

Available for supervision

External positions

Associate Secretary, Australian Linguistic Society

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Conversational Interaction in Aboriginal and Remote Australia

Blythe, J., Mushin, I., Stirling, L., Gardner, R., MQRES, M. & MQRES (International), M. (.


Project: Research

Research Outputs

Acquiring the lexicon and grammar of universal kinship

Blythe, J., Tunmuck, J., Mitchell, A. & Rácz, P., 31 Mar 2020, (Accepted/In press) In : Language.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Geospatial natural language in Indigenous Australia: research priorities

    Palmer, B., Blythe, J., Gaby, A., Hoffmann, D. & Ponsonnet, M., 2019, Proceedings of the Workshop on Speaking of Location 2019: communicating about space. Stock, K., Jones, C. B. & Tenbrick, T. (eds.). Regensburg, Germany: CEUR Workshop Proceedings, Vol. 2455. p. 17-27 11 p. (CEUR Workshop Proceedings; vol. 2455).

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contribution

    Open Access
  • 6 Downloads (Pure)

    Egocentric and allocentric learning of social-indexical meaning in American English, Datooga, and Murrinhpatha

    Rácz, P., Mitchell, A. & Blythe, J., 2018, CogSci 2018: Proceedings of the 40th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Rogers, T., Rau, M., Zhu, J. & Kalish, C. (eds.). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society, p. 2303-2308 6 p.

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contribution

    Open Access
  • Genesis of the trinity: the convergent evolution of trirelational kinterms

    Blythe, J., 2018, Skin, kin and clan: the dynamics of social categories in Indigenous Australia. McConvell, P., Kelly, P. & Lacrampe, S. (eds.). Canberra: ANU epress, p. 431-471 41 p.

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

    Open Access
    8 Downloads (Pure)

    Gija plants and animals: Aboriginal flora and fauna knowledge from the east Kimberley, north Australia

    Purdie, S., Patrick, P., Nyadbi, L., Thomas, P., Fletcher, D., Barrett, G., Ramsey, M., Watbi, D., Martin, M., Thomas, M., Thomas, M., Widalji, P., Kofod, F., Thomas, S., Mung Mung, P., Peters, R., Blythe, J. & Wightman, G., 2018, Batchelor; Palmerston: Northern Territory Government - Department of Environment and Natural Resources. 251 p. (Northern Territory Botanical Bulletin; no. 47)

    Research output: Book/ReportBook