Prof Alexandra Y Aikhenvald Distinguished Professor Research Leader (People and Societies of the Tropics)

Picture of Dist.Prof. Aikhenvald


Building A4, Cairns Campus


+61 (07) 4042 1117




Postal Address:

Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald, PhD, DLitt, FAHA
Distinguished Professor & Research Leader (People and Societies of the Tropics)
The Cairns Institute

James Cook University
PO Box 6811
Queensland 4870

When Distinguished Professor Sasha Aikhenvald was working in the East Sepik province of New Guinea she was fascinated to discover that the asset most prized by the people of the province was their name. In East Sepik, her name was important and valuable, but when she wanted to enrol in the classics department of Moscow State University in the old Soviet Union, her Jewish surname made her unacceptable.

Instead she chose linguistics for its mathematical rhythms, crossword puzzle complexities and cultural idiosyncrasies. The decision was the catalyst for a prolific body of research that included Berber languages of North Africa and Hebrew but focused on tropical languages, predominantly those of Amazonia, the Papuan languages of New Guinea and Aboriginal Australia.

Qualifications, Memberships and Consultancies


  • Department of Structural and Applied Linguistics, Philological Faculty, Moscow State University: BA in Linguistics 1978; MA in Linguistics 1979 (thesis topic: 'The relative Clause in Anatolian Languages')
  • Institute of Oriental Studies of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Moscow: PhD in Linguistics, 1984 (thesis topic 'Structural and Typological Classification of Berber Languages')
  • La Trobe University, 2006: Doctor of Letters by examination of published work: four books and 14 papers.

Membership of Learned Societies

  • Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities (elected 1999)
  • Member of Linguistic Society of America, since 2001; elected Honorary Member 2008 (there are about 40 Honorary members spread over 25 countries)
  • Member of Societas Linguistica Europea, since 1990
  • Member of The Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas, since 1990
  • Member of the Linguistic Association of Brazil (ABRALIN), since 1992
  • Member of the Australian Linguistic Society, since 1994
  • Member of the Association for Linguistic Typology, since 1995
  • Member of Linguistic Society of Papua New Guinea, since 1997
  • Member of the American Anthropological Association (AAA), since 2007
  • Member of SALSA (Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America), since 2007

Membership of Editorial Boards and other

  • Consulting editor, Studies in Language;
  • Guest Editor for two special issues of Sprachtypologie und Universalienforschung, and for one issue of Linguistics of Tibeto-Burman Area;
  • Co-editor of the series Explorations in Linguistic Typology, Oxford: Oxford University Press;
  • Member of editorial boards for various journals, including Studia Linguistica, Journal of Linguistic Diversity, Language Documentation and Conservation, Language Compass, Journal of Language Contact,and book series Structural and Functional Linguistics (John Benjamins, Amsterdam);
  • Member of the Executive Committee of the Association for Linguistic typology.

Research Interests

  • The relationship between language and culture, and the ways in which language reflects cultural stereotypes
  • Languages and cultures of Papua New Guinea, with a special focus on the Manambu language and the Ndu language family, from the East Sepik Province
  • Language and cultures of Lowland Amazonia, focussing on languages from Arawak family, the largest familyspanning South and Central America, in particular Tariana, Bare, (Warekena of Xie and Baniwa of Icana
  • The way languages influence each other in language contact, with a particular focus on language contact in Amazonia, and in the Sepik River Basin
  • Analysis of categories of human languages, including classifiers and genders, the ways in which languages express information source, serial verbs, and many more

Selected Publications

2000 Classifiers. A Typology of Noun Categorization Devices Oxford University Press: Oxford, xvii, 535 pp. Paperback edition 2003.

2002. Language Contact in Amazonia. Oxford: Oxford University Press. xxv, 363 pp.

2003. A grammar of Tariana, from northwest Amazonia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. xxiv, 705 pp. Paperback reissue 2006.

2004. Evidentiality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.xxvii, 452 pp. Paperback edition 2006.

2008. The Manambu language, from East Sepik, Papua New Guinea. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 702+xxxv.

2010. Imperatives and Commands. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 500+xxiii.

Aikhenvald and Dixon, 2011, Language at Large. Essays in Syntax and Semantics. Leiden Brill, 606+ xiii


Currently Supervising

Chia-jung Pan

Dineke Schokkin

Sihong Zhang

Yankee Modi

Hannah Sarvasy

Mikko Saliminen

Juliane Boettger

and as second-named supervisor:

Daniela Vavrova (Prof Ton Otto as first supervisor)

Emma Scott (Dr Robin Rodd as first supervisor)

Joshua Milne (Assoc Prof Pauline Taylor as first supervisor)