ECDI Update: May 2022 activities

This is a monthly update about the Evolution of Cultural Diversity Initiative (ECDI) activities and upcoming events.




  • For those who were unable to attend the recent SYNAPSE seminars, the recordings are now available on YouTube:
    • “The disease spread like fire among flax” (Thomson 1859). Questioning in the 21st Century the timing, magnitude and consequences of Pacific depopulation following European contacts by Christophe Sand –


Workshops & Conferences

Workshop on Population Movements, Language Contact in East Asia and Southeast Asia, and Evolutionary Linguistics

8-11 June 2022

The purpose of this workshop is to assess the extent to which layers of population movements and language contacts in East and Southeast Asia (ESEA) can account for the specificities of language evolution in the region. The workshop is organized by the University of Chicago, University of Hong Kong and Chinese University of Hong Kong and cohosted by Salikoko S. Mufwene, Virginia Yip, Stephen Matthews and Kofi Yakpo.

Find more information and register here

A session at ESfO will be held 2-5 June 2022 on reconstructing depopulation in the Pacific:

The Oceanic Exchange: disease, depopulation and disruption in the post-contact Pacific

Christophe Sand,, Archaeologist for the New Caledonia Government, Research associate at the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD-Noumea) – UMR SENS

Chris Ballard,, Australian National University

Abstract: Of all the transformations experienced by Pacific societies since the 16th Century, the most consequential was perhaps the encounter with successive movements into the region of new viruses and bacteria. An Oceanic Exchange, paralleling the better-known Columbian Exchange, saw the transfer of commodities, bodies and knowledge out of the region, and the introduction of new crops, technologies, languages and diseases in exchange. Measles, smallpox, influenza, dysentery and tuberculosis were just a few of the epidemic diseases which ravaged Pacific populations, particularly during the hundred years from the 1820s to the 1920s, but earlier in some areas and later in others. For some communities, population losses were in excess of 90% of the pre-contact population, and many have yet to recover to those earlier levels. Religious conversion, political destabilisation, formal colonisation and land grabbing were just some of the consequences facilitated by this collapse in population and ensuing social disruption. This panel will invite specialists from multiple disciplines – including anthropology, archaeology, history, geography and demography – to reflect on recent changes in thinking about the scale and impact of depopulation in the Pacific, including a critical review of earlier tendencies to downplay reports of population loss.


Job opportunities 

Senior Scientist, Evolutional linguistics and cultural evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Applications close 17 June 2022

The Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution (DLCE) at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA) is looking for an outstanding scientist in the fields of evolutionary linguistics and cultural evolution. The ideal candidate would have a programme of innovative research and a combination of quantitative skills and detailed linguistic and/or ethnographic knowledge. The position has a fixed end date of August 31st 2026.

More information here

Short term positions in conservation and biodiversity (ANU) 
We are looking for researchers to work on a project developing new ways of evaluating species extinction risk, incorporating a greater range of biological information to determine current threat status and likely future trajectories for species. The first position focuses on Conservation Biology and the second position on Database management and analysis.  

Positions are for 6 months: June-December 2022.Because of the timeframe, you need to have the right to work in Australia and be able to start as soon as possible.  

Contact Ben Scheele for more information.  

Expressions of interest:  Macquarie University: Three-year part-time postdoctoral position

We are looking for a Post-doctoral Research Associate (0.3 FTE) to work with us on the ARC project “The building blocks of language: Words in Central Australian languages“.  The position would suit someone with 

  • Ph.D. in Linguistics or related area 
  • expertise, or ability to develop expertise in morphophonology and/or morphosyntax 
  • experience in quantitative analysis of linguistic data 

and preferably 

  • experience in design and analysis of experimental language materials 
  • familiarity with indigenous languages of Central Australia 
  • understanding of cultural issues related to indigenous language research 
  • project management experience 

Further information:  Michael Proctor,


Funding opportunities

Support offered for plant entries in Australian languages dictionaries 
Are you compiling a dictionary of an Australian language and need some support with plant/fungus entries? 
I’m a linguist currently working on a project at the Australian National Herbarium (National Collections and Maritime Infrastructure – NCMI) to make its collection more useful to Indigenous communities. One avenue of this is to link Indigenous plant names to vouched specimens in the herbarium.
Plant names do not have one-to-one correspondences across languages and scientific names are somewhat esoteric and are liable to change due to taxonomic reclassification. Likewise, what may be identified as a single species in the Western taxonomy may correspond to different plants in an Indigenous taxonomy.
For example, the Kunwok plant manbardbard refers to grevillea plants that grow in the lowlands, while mandjenkererr refer to grevillea plants in the highlands. Both terms refer to at least two species of grevillea in the Western taxonomy: Grevillea decurrens and G. Heliosperma
Linking a plant name to a physical specimen ensures that despite changes to Western scientific nomenclature or language shift in a community, we have vouched and corroborated connections between plant and knowledge systems. 
If you’re interested in using the National Herbarium or the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) to support your dictionary work, please get in touch! Check out the Noongar Budjar plants and animals encyclopaedia for an example of an ALA/NCMI + language centre collaboration. 
This project is a CSIRO funded post-doc fellowship and will be running until Dec 2023. Email:

Honours project, Ablation study: What level of linguistic detail is needed for word-level modelling? (Australian National University)
As NLP (Natural language processing) tools are expanded to include new languages one of the big bottlenecks is labelled data availability. This issue is particularly acute for low-resource languages. So the question of annotation detail and quality is important. How much detail is needed for supervised learning? Is there a minimum number of labels to capture linguistic patterns? Find more information here


Other opportunities

ANU Press publication series

Carly Schuster,, is looking for pitches for a series with ANU press that would be scholarly anthropology in graphic (ie, illustrated) format. Please get in contact if you think you might have something suitable.


Publications by ECDI

Bedford, S. 2022. Archives, oral traditions and archaeology: Dissonant narratives concerning punitive expeditions on Malakula Island, Vanuatu. In G. Clark and M. Lister (eds). Archaeological Perspectives on Conflict and Warfare in Australia and the Pacific. Pp. 211-225. Terra Australis 54. Canberra: ANU Press.

Bedford, S., M. Spriggs, J. Flexner & A. Naupa. 2022. Grassroots badly burnt: The loss of ni-Vanuatu archaeologists whose careers spanned 50 years. Journal of Pacific Archaeology. 13(1): EPUB: ahead of print.

Bromham, L. 2022. Meaning and Purpose: Using Phylogenies to Investigate Human History and Cultural Evolution. Biological Theory

Evans, N. 2022. Words of Wonder: Endangered Languages and What They Tell Us. 2nd ed. Wiley-Blackwell.

James, Hannah F., Shaun Adams, Malte Willmes, Kate Mathison, Andrea Ulrichsen, Rachel Wood, Antonio C. Valera, Catherine J. Frieman, & Rainer Grün. 2022. “A large-scale environmental strontium isotope baseline map of Portugal for archaeological and paleoecological provenance studies.”  Journal of Archaeological Science 142:105595.

Roberts, P., K. Douka, M. Tromp, S. Bedford, S. Hawkins, L. Bouffandeau, J. Ilgner, M. Lucas, S. Marzo, R. Hamilton, W. Ambrose, D. Bulbeck, S. Luu, R. Shing, C. Gosden, G. Summerhayes & M. Spriggs. 2022. Fossils, fish and tropical forests: Prehistoric human adaptations on the island frontiers of Oceania. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 377: 20200495. 

Sterelny, K. (2022). Ethnography, Archaeology and The Late Pleistocene. Philosophy of Science, 1-39. 


Publications/articles of interest

Frankel, J. & Filer, C. 2022. Prisoners of a distant past? Linguistic diversity and the time-depth of human settlement in Papua New Guinea. World Development. 157: 105921.  

Garg, K., Chattopadhyay, B., Koane, B., Sam, K. & Rheindt, F. 2020. Last glacial maximum led to community-wide population expansion in a montane songbird radiation in highland Papua New Guinea. BMC Evolutionary Biology. 20:82.

Levinson, S. 2022. A Grammar of Yélî Dnye: The Papuan Language of Rossel Island. Pacific Linguistics 666 Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

McConnell, J., et al. 2021. Hemisphere black carbon increase after the 13th-century Maori arrival in New Zealand. Nature. 598.

Climate study linking early Māori fires to Antarctic changes sparks controversy –

The Weirdest People in the World review – a theory-of-everything study –

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