Formal/Experimental Methods and In-depth Description of Australian Indigenous Languages (Femidal)

IRP Femidal (2021-2025)

Project Coordinator:
Dr Patrick CAUDAL
LLF, CNRS & U. Paris UMR 7110

Coordinator partner:
Ass.Prof Brett BAKER
SOLL, The University of Melbourne


The CNRS-INSERM IRP FEMIDAL (Formal/Experimental Methods and In-depth Description of Australian Indigenous Languages) is a collaborative research program bringing together Australian academics from Europe and Australia working on formal and experimental linguistics, and/or Indigenous Australian languages. While members of the project belong to a dozen different research institutions, FEMIDAL is spearheaded by the Laboratoire de Linguistique Formelle (UMR CNRS 7110) at the Université de Paris, and the School of Languages and Linguistics at the University of Melbourne, its coordinators being Dr Patrick CAUDAL (CRHC, LLF, CNRS & U. Paris) and Ass.Prof. Brett BAKER. The project capitalizes on a long-standing scientific collaboration, as several international projects focusing on the theoretical and formal study of Australian languages have jointly involved the LLF and several Australian partners of the consortium. It mainly focuses on theoretical, formal and experimental approaches to the typologically remarkable morpho-semantic complexity inherent to the Australian linguistic phylum.

Missions and research themes

The project aims at contributing to developing joint descriptive and theoretical / formal / experimental works on Australian languages, especially non-Pama-Nyungan languages spoken in Northern Australia, and to strengthen existing links between French / European and Australian institutions in this domain. Non-Pama-Nyungan languages, and Australian languages in general, possess many typologically rare and complex features, and are also critically endangered. They can be therefore regarded as a priority for linguistic research, be it descriptive, theoretical or typological. The coming decade will be our last opportunity to study many of those highly complex, and scientifically revealing languages for bettering our understanding of language as a universal human ability.

Our research activities are mainly dedicated at documenting, analyzing and construing theoretical, experimental and formal models for under-described Indigenous languages spoken in Australia. Not only will they contribute to bolstering our knowledge of these typologically remarkable languages, but they will also have practical benefits for communities associated with the studied languages, in the middle to long run.

Direct benefits comprise helping preserving key knowledge related to (often critically) endangered languages and generally documenting not only linguistic phenomena, but also ethnolinguistic matters of cultural significance – project outcomes (including scholarly publications such as sketch grammars, theoretical articles, etc., but also field recordings and annotated corpora) will of course be made available to the relevant communities in various forms (both as printed and electronic material). FEMIDAL will thus indirectly benefit said communities by developing linguistic and ethnolinguistic resources upon which revitalization programmes and other types of cultural development programmes will be able to capitalize.

Main objectives and research themes of project

  • Capacity-building among Australianists in terms of formal and experimental practices notably relating to theoretical semantics and pragmatics

  • Promote descriptive knowledge of Australian languages and detailed descriptive/field work practices among formal experimental semanticists and pragmaticists alike

  • Foster deeper, mutually beneficial scientific connections between French and Australian research bodies & universities, in terms of knowledge transfer, training, and generally added scientific value to the work at hand (including through the promotion of joint PhD and postdoc supervision / cotutelles)

  • Pave the way for novel cooperation agreements between some leading Australian universities in our field (e.g. Western Sydney University, Newcastle University and the University of Western Australia) and the CNRS.

Main themes addressed in the project are:

  • complexity in inflectional morphology (including distributed exponence, and periphrastic morphology) and the morphology / semantic interface

  • formal and experimental semantics & pragmatics in the field

  • word formation processes and lexical complexity, including discontinuous forms

  • areal typology, especially for tense, aspect, modality, evidentiality, and event description-related categories, regardless of part-of-speech categories

Institutions and laboratories involved


  • Laboratoire de Linguistique Formelle, UMR 7110, CNRS & Université de Paris (Patrick Caudal CRHC (coord.), Olivier Bonami (PR), Barbara Hemforth (DR), Ira Noveck (DR), Berthold Crysmann (CRHC), David Guerrero-Beltran (PhD student), Marie Legentil (PhD student)


  • School of Languages and Linguistics, The University of Melbourne (Ass. Prof. Brett Baker (coord.), Prof. Rachel Nordlinger, Prof. Lesley Stirling, Dr. Ruth Singer)

  • Australian National University, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific (Prof. Nicholas Evans), ANU College of Arts and Social Science/ School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics (Prof. Jane Simpson)

  • Western Sydney University, School of Humanities and Communication Arts (Ass. Prof. Robert Mailhammer)

  • School of Humanities and Social Science, The University of Newcastle, (Assoc. Prof. Mark Harvey, Daniel Krausse (PhD student)

  • School of Social Sciences, The University of Western Australia (Ass. Prof Marie-Eve Ritz, Ass. Prof. Maïa Ponsonnet)

Participants in external institutions (Europe/Australia)

  • Prof. Eva Schultze-Berndt, School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, The University of Manchester

  • Dr. James Bednall (Lecturer), Top End Language Lab/Batchelor Institute, Charles Darwin University, Australia

  • Dr. Marie-Elaine van Egmond (Lecturer), Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, Germany

  • Dr. Stef Spronck (Postdoctoral researcher), The University of Helsinki, Finland

Some key publications

  • Alpher, Barry, Nicholas Evans & Mark Harvey. 2003. Proto-Gunwinyguan verb suffixes. In Pacific Linguistics.
  • Baker, Brett & Mark Harvey. 2003. Word Structure in Australian Languages. Australian Journal of Linguistics. Routledge 23(1). 3–33.
  • Baker, Brett & Mark Harvey. 2010. Complex predicate formation. In Mengistu Amberber, Brett Baker & Mark Harvey (eds.), Complex Predicates: Cross-linguistic Perspectives on Event Structure, 13–47. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Baker, Brett & Mark Harvey. 2020. Anti-scope prefix order and zero-marked obliques: Unusual outcomes of a grammaticalization pathway. Diachronica 37(2). 133–177.
  • Caudal, Patrick, Alan Dench & Laurent Roussarie. 2012. A semantic type-driven account of verb-formation patterns in Panyjima. Australian Journal of Linguistics 32(1). 115–155.
  • Crysmann, Berthold & Olivier Bonami. 2016. Variable morphotactics in Information-based Morphology. Journal of Linguistics 52(2). 311–374.
  • Evans, Nicholas. 2003a. Bininj Gun-wok: a pan-dialectal grammar of Mayali, Kunwinjku and Kune. Australian National University, Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  • Evans, Nicholas (ed.). 2003b. The non-Pama-Nyungan languages of northern Australia: comparative studies of the continent’s most linguistically complex region. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, Australian National University.
  • Harvey, Mark & Robert Mailhammer. 2017. Reconstructing remote relationships: proto-Australian noun class prefixation. John Benjamins Publishing.
  • Mailhammer, Robert & Patrick Caudal. 2019. Linear Lengthening Intonation in English on Croker Island: identifying substrate origins. JournaLIPP 6. 40–56.
  • Nordlinger, Rachel & Patrick Caudal. 2012. The Tense, Aspect and Modality system in Murrinh-Patha. Australian Journal of Linguistics 32(1). 73–113.
  • Noveck, Ira. 2018. Experimental Pragmatics: The Making of a Cognitive Science. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Ritz, Marie-Eve, Alan Dench & Patrick Caudal. 2012. Now or Then? The clitic -rru in Panyjima: Temporal properties in discourse. Australian Journal of Linguistics 32(1). 41–72.
  • Ritz, Marie-Eve & E. Schultze-Berndt. 2015. Time for a change? The semantics and pragmatics of marking temporal progression in an Australian language. Lingua 166. 1–21.
  • Schultze-Berndt, Eva. 2017. Shared vs. primary epistemic authority in Jaminjung/Ngaliwurru. Open Linguistics 2017(3).
  • Stirling, Lesley. 2012. Tense/Aspect Shifting in Kala Lagaw Ya Oral Narratives. Australian Journal of Linguistics 32(1). 157–190.