Nicholas Evans' focus is the diversity of human language and what this can tell us about the nature of language, culture, deep history, and the possibilities of the human mind. He is especially interested in the ongoing dialectic between primary documentation of little-known languages, and induction from these to more general questions about the nature of language. His book, Dying Words: Endangered Languages and What They Have to Tell Us, sets out a broad program for the field's engagement with the planet's dwindling linguistic diversity.
He has carried out fieldwork on several languages of Northern Australia and Papua New Guinea, particularly Kayardild, Bininj Gun-wok, Dalabon, Ilgar, Iwaidja, Marrku and Nen, withpublished grammars of Kayardild (1995) and Bininj Gun-wok (2003), and dictionaries of Kayardild (1992) and Dalabon (2004), representing around seven years of living in the above speech communities, learning and recording their languages, as well as working broader issues including Native Title, vernacular language literacy, and indigenous art and music.
His current projects include The Wellsprings of Linguistic Diversity, which will integrate variationist studies across a number of small-scale multilingual speech communities in indigenous Australia, PNG and the Pacific to detect the seeds of macro-diversity in community-level microdiversity, and a new ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, whose goal is to integrate typology and descriptive linguistics, evolutionary approaches, and studies of learning and processing across a wide range of linguistic types with the aim of setting up a new approach to language that places diversity, variation and change at centre stage.
Centenary Medal (2003); Fellow, Australian Academy of the Humanities; Fellow, Australian Social Sciences Academy; Corresponding Fellow, British Academy; Anneliese-Maier Forschungspreis (Alexander vpn Humboldt Stiftung); Ken Hale Award (Linguistics Society of America)