I am an evolutionary linguist, with a background in language description, linguistic typology, and phylogenetics. My current research focus is on the evolutionary processes acting within language and between language and culture.
This research programme spans the the evolutionary history of languages, the evolutionary dependencies between different aspects of language, and the cultural factors which shape the evolution of language.
- For an example of a phylogenetic analysis of evolutionary dependencies between linguistic features, see our paper Evolved structure of language shows lineage-specific trends in word-order universals and commentary.
- For an example of an ecological approach to linguistic diversity, a big team of us working on the NESCent project Modeling the diversification of human languages published a review paper Towards a mechanistic understanding of linguistic diversity.
I have a long term research interest in linguistic isolates: the Papuan languages of Melanesia and the Paleosiberian languages of the Russian Arctic, but―because of my interest in reconstructing evolutionary processes―now spend more time thinking about language families, especially Austronesian, Indo-European and Aslian/Austroasiatic.
- If you're interested in learning about phylogenetic inference in linguistics, I have published a basic introduction in the Routledge Handbook of Historical Linguistics (Bowern and Evans 2014). Here is a preprint.
- I participated in a phylogeographic analysis of Indo-European, published as Bouckaert et al. 2012, which has reinvigorated the debate on Indo-European origins.
- Along with colleagues Niclas Burenhult and Nicole Kruspe from Lund University we have published a series of papers on Aslian prehistory: Dunn et al. 2011, Burenhult et al. 2011 and Dunn et al. 2013.
- But it's not all trees: in 2011 Ger Reesink, Ruth Singer and I published an analysis of the linguistic prehistory of Sahul using admixture models.
- The first results of the Evolution of Semantic Systems project (with Asifa Majid and Fiona Jordan are available, with a paper on semantic systems in closely related languages.
Other affiliations and roles
- Editorial boards of The Journal of Language Evolution, Linguistics and Asia-Pacific Language Variation.
- Board member of the Hugo Valentin Centre, Uppsala University
- Professorial Fellow in the Language Evolution and Computation Research Unit, University of Edinburgh. (2014-2016)
- Marc Tang (current)
- Niklas Edenmyr (current)
- Mervi de Heer (cosupervisor; main supervisor Rogier Blokland)
- Olle Kejonen (cosupervisor; main supervisor Rogier Blokland)
- Vishnupriya Kolipakam (graduated 2018, dissertation A holistic approach to understanding pre-history)
- Annemarie Verkerk (graduated 2014, dissertation The Evolutionary Dynamics of Motion Event Encoding)
- Stuart Robinson (graduated 2011, dissertation Split Intransitivity in Rotokas, a Papuan Language of Bougainville)
- Claudia Wegener (graduated 2008, dissertation subsequently published A grammar of Savosavo)