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Department of Linguistics

Dr Joe Blythe

ARC DECRA Fellow in Linguistics

BA (Hon) UWA, PhD (University of Sydney)

Joe Blythe is an Interactional Linguist specialising in Australian Indigenous languages. He has held post-doctoral fellowships at the Australian National University, the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics (Nijmegen) and the University of Melbourne. 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

  • 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)

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).

Previous research projects

A typological study of language use in informal conversation conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. The study compares other-initiated repair, recruitments and place reference in 9 languages from 5 continents.

  • AUSTKIN: Tracing change in family and social organization in Indigenous Australia, using evidence from language. A comparative study of Australian Aboriginal kinship systems.
  • Murrinhpatha Song Project: Documentation and maintenance of three traditional song repertories from Wadeye, NT



In press

Blythe, J (in press). 'Genesis of the trinity: The convergent evolution of trirelational kinterms'. In P McConvell, P Kelly & S Lacrampe (eds.), Skin, kin and clan: The dynamics of social categories in Indigenous Australia. Canberra: ANU EPress.

Forshaw, W, L Davidson, B Kelly, R Nordlinger, G Wigglesworth and J Blythe (in press). "The Acquisition of Murrinh-Patha (Northern Australia)." In the Handbook of Polysynthesis, edited by M Fortescue, M Mithun, and N Evans. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Blythe, Joe; Mardigan, Kinngirri Carmelita; Perdjert, Mawurt Ernest; & Stoakes, Hywel (2016). Pointing out directions in Murrinhpatha. Open Linguistics (2):132-159.


Blythe, J (2015). 'Other-initiated repair in Murrinh-Patha'. Open Linguistics, 1. 283-308. doi:10.1515/opli-2015-0003.

Dingemanse, Mark, Sean G. Roberts, Julija Baranova, Joe Blythe, Paul Drew, Simeon Floyd, Rósa Gísladóttir, et al. 2015. Universal Principles in the Repair of Communication Problems. PLoS One 10(9). 1-15. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0136100.


Dingemanse, M,  J Blythe, & T Dirksmeyer (2014). 'Formats for other-initiation of repair across languages:  An exercise in pragmatic typology'. Studies in Language, 38(1), 5-43.

Kelly, B, G Wigglesworth, R Nordlinger & J Blythe (2014). 'The acquisition of polysynthetic languages'. Language and Linguistics Compass, 8(2), 51-64.


Blythe, J (2013). 'Preference organization driving structuration: Evidence from Australian Aboriginal interaction for pragmatically motivated grammaticalization'.  Language, 89(4), 883-919.

Enfield, NJ, M Dingemanse, J Baranova, J Blythe, P Brown, T Dirksmeyer, P Drew, S Floyd, S Gipper, R Gísladóttir, G Hoymann, KH Kendrick, SC Levinson, L Magyari, E Manrique, G Rossi, L San Roque, & F Torreira (2013). 'Huh? What? - A first survey in 21 languages'. In M Hayashi, G Raymond & J Sidnell (eds), Conversational repair and human understanding, 343-80. Cambridge: CUP.


Blythe, J (2012). 'From passing-gesture to 'true' romance: Kin-based teasing in Murriny Patha conversation'. Journal of Pragmatics, 44(4), 508-528.


Blythe, J (2011). 'Laughter is the best medicine: Roles for prosody in a Murriny Patha conversational narrative'. In B Baker, I Mushin, M Harvey & R Gardner (eds), Indigenous language and social identity: Papers in honour of Michael Walsh, 223-236. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.


Blythe, J (2010). 'Self-Association in Murriny Patha conversation'. I Mushin & R Gardner (eds.). Studies in Australian Indigenous Conversation. A special edition of Australian Journal of Linguistics, 30(4), 447-469.

Blythe, J (2010). 'From ethical datives to number markers in Murriny Patha'. In R Hendery & J Hendriks (eds.), Grammatical change: Theory and description, 157-184. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.


Blythe, J (2009). 'Prosodic person reference in Murriny Patha reported interaction'. In D Barth-Weingarten, N Dehé, & A Wichman (eds.), Where prosody meets pragmatics: Research at the interface, 23-52. Bingley, UK: Emerald.


Barwick, L, A Marett, J Blythe & MJ Walsh (2007). 'Arriving, digging, performing, returning: an exercise in rich interpretation of a djanba song text in the sound archive of the Wadeye Knowledge Centre, Northern Territory of Australia.' In RM Moyle (ed), Oceanic encounters: Festschrift for Mervyn McLean, 13-24. Auckland: Research in Anthropology and Linguistics Monographs.


Blythe, J & G Wightman (2003). 'The role of animals and plants in maintaining the links'. In J Blythe & R McKenna Brown (eds.), Maintaining the links: Language, identity and the land. Seventh conference presented by the Foundation for Endangered Languages, 69-77. Broome, Western Australia: FEL.


Blythe, J & F Kofod (2002). 'Literature for the semi-literate: Issues for emerging literacies in the Kimberley region of North-Western Australia'. In R McKenna Brown (ed.), Endangered languages and their literatures: Proceedings of the sixth FEL Conference, 66-76. Antigua, Guatemala: FEL.


Blythe, Joe (2001). Yuwurriyangem Kijam: a Phrasebook of the Kija Language. Halls Creek: Kimberley Language Resource Centre.

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