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Dr Bill Palmer

Senior Lecturer

School of Humanities and Social Science (Linguistics)

The power of words

A dedicated team of Newcastle linguists is committed to studying the practical, scientific and cultural significance of dying local languages.

the power of faith 

"Understanding language is important to understanding what characterizes us as humans," says Palmer, the leader of the Endangered Languages Documentation, Theory and Application research program and a Senior Lecturer in the School of Humanities and Social Science.

"Language is something all humans are born with a capacity to develop - children learn language without effort - so it is fundamental thing that is unique to humans."

Palmer and his colleagues are interested in the 94 per cent of the world's 7,000 languages that are spoken by just six per cent of the global population.

"The big languages will still be around in 100 years' time but many of the thousands of very small languages may well not be around, so we are in a race against time to document them and study their significance," he says.

"It is estimated that between 50 and 90 per cent of languages spoken today will die in the next century. Basically, if children don't acquire a language then it dies in that generation.

"In Australia it is believed there were about 260 indigenous languages at the time of white settlement. There are still over 100 but only about 18 of them are spoken by the current generation of children. So in the space of one generation we face the loss of more than 80 of those remaining languages."

Why should we worry about the loss of languages spoken in some cases by only a single village in a small country? Palmer says there are several reasons, apart from the overarching scientific value of studying language.

"Some researchers are interested in language endangerment for what you might call the philanthropic reason that it is an important cultural thing, that there is cultural identity and ethnic identity invested in language, so they should be at least documented for future generations of the community, even if the language cannot be preserved," he says.

"Another reason is that there is a lot of traditional knowledge enshrined in local language that risks being lost when the language dies.

"I have read that something like 75 per cent of plant-based pharmaceuticals were discovered by people talking to traditional healers and drawing on the terminology in their indigenous languages.

"So another good reason to study endangered languages relates to the sum total of human knowledge, which is impoverished by the loss of human languages."

Palmer says researchers often spend up to a year living with villagers in areas where languages are endangered. That attention can itself elevate the status of local languages and convince people that they have something worth saving.

He says many villages where there are endangered languages have to balance the competing interests of preserving local culture and fostering a more global outlook that will give their children a greater chance of success in the wider world.

The Endangered Languages research program now has more than 15 researchers now working across Australia, the Pacific Islands, Africa, Central Asia and Saudi Arabia.

Find out more about the Endangered Languages Documentation, Theory and Application research program

The Power of Words

The power of words

A dedicated team of Newcastle linguists is committed to studying the practical, scientific and cultural significance of dying local languages.

Read more

Career Summary

Biography

* Linguistics Discipline Convenor * Program Leader, Endangered Languages Documentation, Theory and Application Group * Linguistics Research Higher Degree and Honours coordinator

Research Expertise
Austronesian and non-Austronesian Pacific languages- particularly the Oceanic languages of the Solomon Islands and Bougainville, Linguistic typology, Syntax- particularly argument structure and coding, Linguistic and nonlinguistic spatial behaviour and spatial cognition and the relationship between language and thought, Phonology- particularly reduplication and stress. 


Qualifications

  • PhD, University of Sydney
  • Master of Arts, University of Sydney

Keywords

  • Language
  • Linguistic structures

Fields of Research

Code Description Percentage
200499 Linguistics not elsewhere classified 100

Professional Experience

UON Appointment

Title Organisation / Department
Senior Lecturer University of Newcastle
School of Humanities and Social Science
Australia

Academic appointment

Dates Title Organisation / Department
1/01/2011 -  Editorial Board - Mouton de Gruyter series Pacific Linguistics Mouton de Gruyter series Pacific Linguistics
Australia
1/01/2008 -  Lecturer University of Newcastle
School of Humanities and Social Science
Australia
1/01/2007 -  Membership - Linguistics Society of America Linguistics Society of America
United States
1/01/2005 -  Membership - The Association for Linguistics Typology The Association for Linguistics Typology
Australia
1/01/2004 -  Membership - Linguistics Association of Great Britain Linguistics Association of Great Britain
United Kingdom
1/01/2003 - 1/01/2004 Lecturer University of Leeds
Department of English Language & Linguistics
United Kingdom
1/01/2002 - 1/12/2002 Research Fellow/Lecturer The University of New South Wales
Department of Linguistics
Australia
1/01/2001 - 1/12/2001 Research Fellow/Lecturer The University of Melbourne
Department of Linguistics
Australia
1/01/2000 - 1/12/2000 Lecturer University of Western Sydney
Division of Languages & Linguistics
Australia
1/01/1997 - 1/12/1999 Lecturer University of the South Pacific
Pacific Languages Unit
Vanuatu
1/01/1993 - 1/01/1997 Lecturer The University of Sydney
Department of Linguistics
Australia
1/01/1990 -  Membership - Australian Linguistics Society Australian Linguistics Society
Australia

Awards

Recognition

Year Award
1994 Frank Coaldrake Scholarship
University of Sydney
1993 Peter Lawrence Memorial Scholarship
University of Sydney
1992 Peter Lawrence Memorial Scholarship
University of Sydney
1992 Australian Postgraduate Award (APA)
University of Sydney
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Grants and Funding

Summary

Number of grants 13
Total funding $863,029

Click on a grant title below to expand the full details for that specific grant.


20161 grants / $200,000

Faculty matching funding for UON PRC Scheme 2016/17 - Centre for 21st century Humanities$200,000

Funding body: University of Newcastle - Faculty of Education and Arts

Funding body University of Newcastle - Faculty of Education and Arts
Project Team

Prof Hugh Craig; Prof Lisa Adkins; A/Prof Ros Smith; Prof Roland Boer; Prof Philip Dwyer; Dr Bill Palmer; A/Prof Mark Harvey; Prof Victoria Haskins; Prof Lyndall Ryan.

Scheme Faculty funding
Role Investigator
Funding Start 2016
Funding Finish 2017
GNo
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON N

20141 grants / $90,000

Endangered Languages Documentation, Theory and Application$90,000

Funding body: University of Newcastle - Faculty of Education and Arts

Funding body University of Newcastle - Faculty of Education and Arts
Project Team Doctor Bill Palmer, Associate Professor Mark Harvey, Associate Professor Aashild Naess, Doctor Catriona Malau
Scheme Research Programme 2014
Role Lead
Funding Start 2014
Funding Finish 2016
GNo G1400925
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON Y

20132 grants / $9,241

IGS0220 Materials in Ratsua and the dialects of Hahon, two virtually undocumented endangered Oceanic language of northern Bougainville.$7,741

Funding body: The Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project

Funding body The Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project
Project Team Doctor Bill Palmer
Scheme Small Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2013
Funding Finish 2014
GNo G1300992
Type Of Funding International - Competitive
Category 3IFA
UON Y

Austronesian Formal Linguistics Association 20, Arlington USA, 17-19 May 2013$1,500

Funding body: University of Newcastle - Faculty of Education and Arts

Funding body University of Newcastle - Faculty of Education and Arts
Project Team Doctor Bill Palmer
Scheme Travel Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2013
Funding Finish 2013
GNo G1300646
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON Y

20122 grants / $314,267

Thinking and talking about atolls: the role of environment in shaping language and our understanding of physical space.$312,767

Funding body: ARC (Australian Research Council)

Funding body ARC (Australian Research Council)
Project Team Doctor Bill Palmer, Dr Alice Gaby
Scheme Discovery Projects
Role Lead
Funding Start 2012
Funding Finish 2014
GNo G1100293
Type Of Funding Aust Competitive - Commonwealth
Category 1CS
UON Y

Austronesian Formal Linguistics Association XIX, Academia Ninica, Taipei, Taiwan, 26 - 30 June 2011$1,500

Funding body: University of Newcastle - Faculty of Education and Arts

Funding body University of Newcastle - Faculty of Education and Arts
Project Team Doctor Bill Palmer
Scheme Travel Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2012
Funding Finish 2012
GNo G1200562
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON Y

20111 grants / $25,000

Using spatial language on atolls to understand how the environment shapes the way humans think about the physical world and their place in it. $25,000

Funding body: University of Newcastle

Funding body University of Newcastle
Project Team Doctor Bill Palmer
Scheme Near Miss Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2011
Funding Finish 2011
GNo G1001036
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON Y

20101 grants / $195,698

Documenting Ririo and Papapana: the two most highly endangered Northwest Solomonic languages$195,698

Funding body: University of London School of Oriental and African Studies

Funding body University of London School of Oriental and African Studies
Project Team Doctor Bill Palmer
Scheme The Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project
Role Lead
Funding Start 2010
Funding Finish 2012
GNo G0190543
Type Of Funding International - Non Competitive
Category 3IFB
UON Y

20091 grants / $1,500

Eleventh International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics, Aussois, 22-26 June 2009$1,500

Funding body: University of Newcastle - Faculty of Education and Arts

Funding body University of Newcastle - Faculty of Education and Arts
Project Team Doctor Bill Palmer
Scheme Travel Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2009
Funding Finish 2009
GNo G0190243
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON Y

20084 grants / $27,323

Expressing spatial relations in atoll-based communities: findings from Kiribati and the Marshall Islands$10,761

Funding body: University of Newcastle - Faculty of Education and Arts

Funding body University of Newcastle - Faculty of Education and Arts
Project Team Doctor Bill Palmer
Scheme Pilot Project Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2008
Funding Finish 2008
GNo G0189384
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON Y

Expressing spatial relations in atoll-based communities: findings from Kiribati and the Marshall Islands$9,112

Funding body: University of Newcastle

Funding body University of Newcastle
Project Team Doctor Bill Palmer
Scheme Pilot Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2008
Funding Finish 2008
GNo G0189054
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON Y

Northwest Solomonic Materials$5,750

Funding body: University of Newcastle

Funding body University of Newcastle
Project Team Doctor Bill Palmer
Scheme New Staff Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2008
Funding Finish 2008
GNo G0189027
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON Y

Linguistics Association of Great Britain Meeting 2008, University of Essex, Colchester, UK, 10/9/2008 - 13/9/2008$1,700

Funding body: University of Newcastle

Funding body University of Newcastle
Project Team Doctor Bill Palmer
Scheme Travel Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2008
Funding Finish 2008
GNo G0189317
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON Y
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Research Supervision

Number of supervisions

Completed4
Current6

Total current UON EFTSL

PhD3

Current Supervision

Commenced Level of Study Research Title Program Supervisor Type
2017 PhD Complex Predicates in Australian and Oceanic Languages PhD (Linguistics), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle Principal Supervisor
2017 PhD The Syntax of Embedded Clauses and Pronominalisation in Jordanian Spoken Arabic PhD (Linguistics), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle Principal Supervisor
2014 PhD Documenting the Manihiki Language PhD (Linguistics), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle Co-Supervisor
2014 PhD A Grammar of Kui PhD (Linguistics), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle Principal Supervisor
2014 PhD Morphosyntactic Alignment in Mono-Alu (Oceanic) PhD (Linguistics), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle Principal Supervisor
2013 PhD Thinking and Talking About Atolls: Spatial Reference in Marshallese PhD (Linguistics), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle Principal Supervisor

Past Supervision

Year Level of Study Research Title Program Supervisor Type
2016 PhD A Grammar of Nese PhD (Linguistics), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle Co-Supervisor
2015 PhD Topics in the Grammar of Zahrani Spoken Arabic PhD (Linguistics), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle Principal Supervisor
2015 PhD A Grammar of Papapana with an Investigation Into Language Contact and Endangerment PhD (Linguistics), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle Principal Supervisor
2014 PhD Effects of Acculturation Factor on Saudi Arabian English Language Learners: A Contextual Comparison Study PhD (Linguistics), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle Co-Supervisor
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News

Atolls, Arkansas and how the place you live shapes your language

August 22, 2017

How does the physical environment you live in impact on the language you use to describe it?

Sabrina Meier

UON Linguistics researchers awarded prestigious scholarships

May 9, 2017

Three Endangered Languages Documentation, Theory and Application (ELDTA) research program PhD students from the University of Newcastle have been successful in winning scholarships from the Australian Linguistics Society (ALS). The funding will be used to research and help maintain some of the world’s most endangered languages in Australia, Indonesia and the Solomon Islands.

ELDP Grants

Researchers work to save languages from extinction

October 2, 2014

The University of Newcastle has been awarded three grants from the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (ELDP), UK, to assist in the documentation of endangered Pacific languages.

ELDP Grant success

UK grants to assist severely endangered languages

September 26, 2014

The University of Newcastle (UON) has been awarded three grants from the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (ELDP), UK, to assist in the documentation of endangered Pacific languages.

University of Newcastle linguistics in top 100 world-wide

Linguistics breaks into world’s top 100

March 25, 2014

Three Faculty of Education and Arts disciplines have climbed in the most recent QS World University Rankings by Subject list. Linguistics is the star performer, increasing its ranking by 21 places to break the top 100 and rank at 88 in the world.

Dr Bill Palmer

Position

Senior Lecturer
School of Humanities and Social Science
Faculty of Education and Arts

Focus area

Linguistics

Contact Details

Email bill.palmer@newcastle.edu.au
Phone (02) 4921 5157

Office

Room MC116
Building McMullin Building
Location Callaghan
University Drive
Callaghan, NSW 2308
Australia
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