Welcome to John Mansfield in our NCCR!
As of August 1st, linguist John Mansfield will be joining the University of Zurich and the NCCR Evolving Language as a assistant professor of anthropological linguistics. “My subject of interest is the diversity of the world’s languages and especially the processes of linguistic change that lead to their differences”. During his 9-year career at the University of Melbourne, he specialized in Northern Australian Aboriginal languages.
One of John’s favorite findings from his own research is his discovery of how vocabulary is borrowed between Aboriginal languages and English. “Even among Aboriginal groups who don’t speak much English, new vocabulary is integrated as part of language change. At the same time, exchange of vocabulary between Aboriginal languages is strictly regulated. It’s a fascinating evolution!” The meaning of words can also change radically when they are borrowed.
In the past, John has already collaborated with people associated with the NCCR Evolving Language. In 2017, he participated in a study about the structure of the world’s language alongside Balthasar Bickel and Sabine Stoll. “We showed that there is a pattern across languages where inflections from the same categories (e.g., for verb tense or subject) tend to be in the same positions of words.”
Recently, he’s been interested in linguistic divergence, meaning how a dialect differentiates itself progressively and becomes a whole new language. “There are thousands of languages across the world, so it’s interesting to know how this diversity came to be.” He plans to pursue this investigation within the NCCR. “There are even some similarities between Swiss-German and Australian Aboriginal language ecologies, so it will be interesting to learn about this!”
Moving from Australia to Switzerland, he will miss the beautiful biodiversity of his homeland dearly. “But I’m excited to see the mountains and the lakes of Switzerland, as well as to collaborate with researchers from all over the world!”