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Peter Kenneth Austin, often cited as Peter K. Austin, is an Australian linguist, widely published in the fields of language documentation, syntax, linguistic typology and in particular, endangered languages and language revitalisation. After a long academic career in Australia, Hong Kong, the US, Japan, Germany and the UK, Austin is emeritus professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (SOAS), since retiring in January 2019.

Peter Austin
Academic background
Alma materAustralian National University (BA, PhD)
ThesisA grammar of the Diyari language of north-east South Australia (1978)
Academic work
InstitutionsSOAS, University of London


Education and careerEdit

After completing a BA degree with first class Honours in Asian Studies (Japanese and Linguistics) in 1974,[1] Austin earned his PhD with his thesis entitled A grammar of the Diyari language of north-east South Australia at the Australian National University (ANU) in 1978.[2]

He then taught at the University of Western Australia, held a Harkness Fellowship at UCLA and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1979–80, and in 1981 set up the Department of Linguistics at La Trobe University in Melbourne. He held visiting appointments at Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics at Nijmegen, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, University of Hong Kong, and Stanford University, and was Foundation Professor of Linguistics at the University of Melbourne from 1996 to 2002.[1]

He became the Märit Rausing Chair in Field Linguistics[3] in January 2003[1] and then Emeritus Professor in Field Linguistics at SOAS, before retiring in January 2019.[4] Throughout his career, Austin has been deeply involved in work to salvage languages that are otherwise on the verge of extinction.[5]

He worked with Eli Timan on documenting the Judeo-Iraqi Arabic language, and with Sabah Aldihisi on neo-Aramaic ritual language used by the Mandean community of Syria, Iraq and Iran.[1]

As of June 2019, during his retirement, he has been working with colleagues at University of Warsaw and Leiden University on an EU Horizon2020 Twinning collaboration called the Engaged Humanities project.[6] He has also been working with Stefanie Pillai of the University of Malaya, on a research project in Malaysia.[4]


He has done fieldwork on several Australian Aboriginal languages, particularly those from northern New South Wales ( such as Gamilaraay/Kamilaroi), northern South Australia, and north-west Western Australia, publishing several bilingual dictionaries. These included, in collaboration with David Nathan, the first fully page-formatted hypertext dictionary of an Australian language, with the creation of the 1994 Gamilaraay online dictionary.[7][4]


He has worked extensively and intensively on the Dieri (Diyari) language of northern SA. He first learned Diyari in 1974, from a retired cattle station hand, Leslie Russell, whom he encountered in Marree, South Australia. Russell died the following year. Along with Luise Hercus and David Trefry, he did much research on the language in the 1970s. Austin published a grammar of Diyari in 1981.[8]

From 2011 he worked with the Dieri Aboriginal Corporation on revitalisation of the language.[4] In 2013 he published a draft Diyari dictionary, writing in the preface that a companion grammar was also available, and that a text collection was in preparation.[9] In 2014 he published an article "And they still speak Dieri", in which he wrote of the unique place of the language, as the subject of intensive interest by outsiders as well as native speakers for nearly 140 years, and that not only is it not extinct, but it is living and being maintained for the future.[10][11]

Since 2013 Austin has maintained a blog on Diyari.[8] The blog is one of a number of language revitalisation and reclamation activities held in conjunction with the Dieri community.

Austronesian languagesEdit

From 1995, Austin also worked on the Austronesian languages Sasak and Samawa, which are spoken on the islands of Lombok and Sumbawa in the Indonesian archipelago.[4]

He has also published works on historical and comparative linguistics, typology, and Aboriginal history and biography.[4]


In 2002 Austin won the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Humboldt Research Award and in 2010 the Humboldt Prize, allowing him to do perform research at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt as a visiting professor.[1]

On 30 January 2015 Austin received an honorary doctorate from the Faculty of Languages at Uppsala University for playing 'a crucial international part in drawing attention to endangered languages by emphasising the importance of documenting the human cultural heritage represented by the thousands of languages at risk of vanishing in the near future. His motto that "every lost word means yet another lost world" has boosted schools' and the public's interest in endangered languages.' [12]



  • Austin, Peter Kenneth (February 1978). "A grammar of the Diyari language of north-east South Australia". ANU: Open Research Library. Canberra. Retrieved 16 June 2019.
  • Austin, Peter. "Ngayana Diyari Yawarra Yathayilha: Supporting the Dieri language".
  • Austin, Peter; Nathan, David. "Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay Dictionary".
  • Austin, Peter K. (17 August 2008). "Peter K Austin's top 10 endangered languages". The Guardian.

External linksEdit