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Department of Linguistics

Research projects

A multilingual history is a personal story of an individual's lifelong experiences of learning and using languages. The Multilingual Histories project aims to document and analyze the diversity of multilingualism in Australia through narratives of multilingualism. Multilingual histories provide insights into the lived experience of multilingualism; they also contribute to a better understanding of the social histories of languages and language communities.

Multilingual lives
Alice Chik (Educational Studies), Phil Benson (Linguistics), Jill Murray (Linguistics)

Project summary

The Multilingual Lives research project aims to document and analyze the diversity of multilingualism in Australia through language learning histories. Using visual and narrative interview data the project focuses on the experiences of recent and long-term migrants with European and Asian language backgrounds.

Multilingual histories: Reawakening Darug - An oral history project
Phil Benson (Linguistics) (in collaboration with Macquarie Indigenous Strategies Office)

Project summary

Darug is the name currently used to identify the pre-colonial language of the Sydney basin. Disease, killings, and occupation of Aboriginal lands reduced the number of Darug speakers to the point where, by the turn of the 20th century, the language was threatened with extinction. Although Darug is now often described as a 'dead' language, it has survived and is being reawakened through learning and use by people for whom it is a living language.

This oral history project aims to explore issues in the reawakening of Darug. The 19th-century records of the language have been thoroughly researched, but there is little documentation of the revitalization of Darug in modern times. Key issues in this study include (1) present-day speakers' knowledge of Darug, (2) their reasons for learning, using and teaching Darug, (3) teaching and learning processes involved in reawakening the language, and (4) the meanings of knowledge of Darug language for attachment to country and the wider cultural realities of multilingualism in Australia. In addition to developing the international knowledge base on language revitalization, the project aims to contribute to the revitalization of Aboriginal languages in Sydney, by increasing the visibility of Darug and making the experiences of those who value it more widely known.

The Multilingual Schools project aims to develop research to enhance multilingualism and languages education in Australia's schools.

Multilingual teachers for multilingual schools? 
Robyn Moloney and Andrew Giles (Educational Studies)

Project summary

At least one third of university students training to be primary or secondary teachers (pre-service teachers) speak one or more non-English languages. Not surprisingly, this matches the average representation of children in school classrooms learning English as an additional language. While teacher education programs stress the understanding and skills necessary for teaching in diverse classrooms, little attention has been paid to the cultural and linguistic diversity within the pre-service teacher cohort. This study examines fifteen multilingual pre-service teachers' perceptions of their linguistic identity, tertiary studies, experience during practicum teaching and their beliefs about their future teaching career. The findings reveal dynamic, hybrid, empowered multilingual identities within their personal lives. In their university study, however their skills are invisible and unvalued, as no overt links are made between their linguistic identities and their developing professional skills as young teachers.  Experiences during practicum included both valuable linguistic interactions in diverse schools, and feelings of exclusion from the norm in monolingual schools. The pre-service teachers were insightful as to their potential and skills of empathy and linguistic awareness they possessed, which could enhance student learning. The positive opportunities they had to value their multilingual ability, can encourage self-perception as 'multi-dimensional educators'. The study indicates the need, within the limiting discourse of Australian multiculturalism, for Teacher Standards, teacher education and schools to recognise what is currently an invisible and lost potential, for multilingual teachers' abilities to be a teaching and learning resource, in order for them both to achieve an integrated professional identity, and to play a role in supporting student learning outcomes in schools.

Mapping language learner identity development from Year 1 to Year 12.
Robyn Moloney and Alice Chik (Educational Studies)

Project summary

There is very limited understanding of the benefits of foreign language learning in the Australian community. While research has suggested that benefits to the individual include intellectual, cognitive and developmental growth, there has been limited attention to acknowledging identity development in language learners, through a range of developmental stages across primary and secondary school. This study plans to provide case-study evidence of development in language learners, tracking shifts in their sense of identification with their school-learnt language(s), at four points between Year 1 and Year 12, in a Sydney school.

In our case-study school, modern language learning is compulsory from Kindergarten to Year 10, and optional in Year 11 and 12. In addition to focus group discussion, students from Year 1, 5, 10 and 12 will use different media to construct representations of their identity as modern language learners. Through learners' representations and reflections we will map stages of development across 11 years of language learning. The analysis of the representations will be of interest to primary and secondary language educators, parents, language teacher educators, and curriculum developers.

Languages education for a multilingual Australia: Affordances and constraints
Alice Chik (Edcuational Studies), Phil Benson (Linguistics)

Project summary

In view of a drastic fall in the number of students taking foreign languages in Australian schools, this project aims to investigate conceptions, beliefs and practices of foreign and community language learning among students in two age groups (Years 6 and 10). The expected outcome is a preliminary theoretical model of affordances for and constraints on language learning among young people that will provide a firm grounding for future research. The findings will inform Australian Languages Education reform, and promote and maximise the linguistic heritage of NSW.

The Multilingual Cities project aims to develop research based on Sydney's diverse multilingual neighbourhoods, using ethnographic, discourse analysis and visual methods.

Multiculturalism and the multilingual landscape of a Sydney suburb
Phil Benson (Linguistics), Alice Chik (Educational Studies)

Project summary

Located 14km from the Sydney CBD, Eastwood is one of several districts in the city that are attracting attention as representatives of a new model of suburban multiculturalism.  In contrast to the older ethnic enclaves of Chinatown or Little Italy, Eastwood is a middle-class, residential and linguistically diverse suburb, in which 60 per cent of residents have a first language other than English. While representations of multiculturalism in Australia tend to foreground cultural diversity within an essentially English-speaking framework, the linguistic landscape of Eastwood's commercial heart, in which English, Chinese, Korean and Japanese can sometimes be found on a single shop front, foregrounds multilingualism. An in-depth, multi-level analysis of the linguistic landscape of Eastwood explores how multilingualism both indexes the ethnic identities of businesses and multicultural identity of the suburb as a whole and plays important functional roles in mediating social and commercial interaction. The project aims to support an official conception of multicultural Australia that pays more attention to linguistic diversity and language maintenance than it does at present.

Is there a 'multilingual' world?
Alice Chik (Educational Studies)

Project summary

Multilingualism is frequently used as a catch-all phrase by governments and politicians to vaguely index cultural inclusiveness. Over the years, the population censuses persistently show that Australia is a multilingual country, but English is the de facto linguistic experience. Taking the neighbourhood Eastwood, NSW as an example, in which 60 per cent of the population speak a language other than English at home, this study examines the online presences of local official and community stakeholders to establish how 'multilingualism' is constructed, represented and reflected linguistically and semiotically. The preliminary findings suggest significant disparity of representation in favour of monolingualism, or English dominance. The project aims to advocate the active inclusion of multilingualism in online presences of local official and community stakeholders in order to open the dialogue of learning in a multilingual word.

Macquarie University Linguistics has been collaborating with the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) on research and curriculum development projects for more than 30 years. The Migration and Language learning project aims to further research on language development in migration and the kinds of language teaching provision that are most appropriate to new migrants' needs.

Adult Migrant English Program longitudinal study
Lynda Yates (Linguistics)

Project summary

The Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) Longitudinal Study was a two-phase, national, multi-site, qualitative research study funded by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. The aim of the study is to explore the relationship between patterns of language use and language learning in the AMEP among migrants in their first few years of settlement in Australia. The first phase (2008-09) followed 152 new-arrivals (dropping to 125 by the end of the study) for one year as they studied in the AMEP and then moved on to work, further study, and/or other endeavours. In Phase 2 (2011-14), 60 of the original cohort (Cohort A) and a new cohort of 85 migrants (Cohort B) were followed. Data collection for the study involved regular interviews with participants, the collection of teaching materials from their English language classes, and observations and recordings made both inside and outside the classroom.

Modelling Language Development in Migration
Phil Benson and Lynda Yates (Linguistics)

Project summary

The failure of many migrants to achieve full social and economic participation is a significant national and international problem with important consequences for the well being of migrants and their families. English-language skills have been identified as a crucial factor in employability, but we lack a model that explains how and why some migrants develop the skills they need while others do not. This project aims to address this problem through an in-depth investigation of the pre- and post-migration language experiences of professional migrants. The expected outcome is a robust model of language development in migration that will lead to recommendations on language training policy and the practice of language support for new migrants.

Developing pragmatic competence is one of the most challenging aspects of learning a second language. Second language users often retain pragmatic norms of politeness from their first languages, which may lead to problems in intercultural communication but also remain important to speakers' sense of identity. Projects examine issues of pragmatic competence for migrants and Australian-born speakers of heritage languages in social and professionals settings, and to explore their relationships with issues of language identity.

Pragmatic competence and language identity in the Greek diaspora.
Jill Murray (Linguistics)

Project summary

Greek is one of the major heritage languages in Australia, with an estimated 250,000 speakers. However, for some Greek Australians, as grandparents and parents pass away and contacts with their places of origin become less frequent, the opportunities to communicate in Greek are reduced in number and scope. Greeks who are in mixed marriages may find the relevance of their L1 diminished, and their children often grow up with limited opportunities to acquire levels of pragmatic competence that would allow them to comfortably claim bilingual or bicultural identity.

There is a substantial literature on pragmatics in the Modern Greek language, including the negotiation of the communication norms of a positive politeness society, the management and mitigation of face threatening acts, the use of diminutives and terms of endearment and the use of politeness markers and formulae. This study seeks to extend the existing body of knowledge to explore how systems of im/politeness are experienced and managed by heritage speakers of the language, both in communication with other members of the diaspora and with local and/or native speakers they encounter during visits to their parents' country of origin.

In semi-structured interviews of 1- 1.5 hours duration eliciting small narratives of lived experience, Greek-Australian participants were asked to reflect on their experiences in communicating in Greek in a range of interpersonal contexts and the impact these encounters had on their sense of identity and language loyalty.

Through the Looking Glass - Teaching international surgical trainees to reflect on their communicative practice
Peter Roger, Maria Dahm, Lynda Yates (Linguistics), John Cartmill and Kristy Forrest (Australian School of Advanced Medicine)

Project summary

Good communication between patient and health care professional is crucial to patient satisfaction and outcomes. However developing these skills is challenging for students, particularly those for whom English is not a first language. Linguists can provide insights into the subtle and pragmatic aspects of communication, which can facilitate an effective therapeutic relationship. This project seeks to draw on this expertise to provide clinical educators with training to assist them in providing health-care students with feedback, which will facilitate effective communication. This will be achieved by developing an online training module for clinical educators, using a variety of media including video-taped presentation, examination of transcripts, video-taped consultations, power-point and interactive quizzes. The evidence base to support the module will be developed by analysis of videotaped student/patient consultations including supervisor feedback, and from previous research conducted by the investigators (MD, LY, KO, KR). The module will be piloted with clinical supervisors from the Schools of Medicine and Nursing and Midwifery at University of Tasmania (Launceston), and evaluated for impact and outcomes.

Research investigates a variety of issues of multilingualism in the contexts of global capitalism, neoliberalism and the globalization of new media.

Commodification of Multilingual Markets
Jean Cho (Linguistics)

Project summary and publications

The Commodification of Multilingual Markets project aims to explore the ongoing commodification trend of language markets (e.g. translation and interpreting) in the context of capitalism, globalization and neoliberalism.

The Discourse of YouTube: Multimodal text in a global context
Phil Benson
(Informal language learning in social media environments: A YouTube-based study: 
Hong Kong General Research Fund, 2012-2013)

Project summary and publications

The rapid globalization of online social media since the turn of the century has opened up new opportunities for informal language and intercultural learning. Using a multiple case study methodology, this project aimed to identify and investigate evidence for language and intercultural learning among users of YouTube comments. Outcomes of the project include a theoretical framework for understanding relationships between the globalization and translanguaging in social media and methodological frameworks for describing interactional processes in the production of YouTube as text and for analysing evidence of language and intercultural learning in comments on videos.

Benson, P. (to be published in 2016). The Discourse of YouTube: Multimodal text in a global context. London: Routledge.

Benson, P. (2015). Commenting to learn: Evidence of language and intercultural learning in YouTube comments. Language Learning and Technology, 19 (3), 88-105.

Benson, P. (2015). YouTube as text: Spoken interaction analysis and digital discourse. In R. Jones, A. Chik, and C. Hafner (Eds.), Discourse and digital practices practices (pp. 81-96). London: Routledge.

Contact us

Please contact us at


Phil Benson

Alice Chik
Educational Studies

Jean Cho

Robyn Moloney
Educational Studies

Jill Murray

Peter Roger

Anita Szakay

Xu Huiing
International Studies

Linda Yates