Nick Enfield | About
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Nick Enfield is professor of linguistics at the University of Sydney and director of the Sydney Social Science and Humanities Advanced Research Centre. He is head of a Research Excellence Initiative on The Crisis of Post-Truth Discourse. His research on language, culture, cognition and social life is based on long term field work in mainland Southeast Asia, especially Laos. His recent books include Natural Causes of LanguageThe Utility of MeaningDistributed Agency, and How We Talk.

My research addresses the intersection of language, cognition, social interaction, and culture, from three angles:

1. Semiotic structure and process
– Grammatical and semantic structure in language

– Structure of conversation and context-situated understanding
– Multimodal nature of utterances (speech plus ‘gesture’)

2. Micro-macro relations in semiotic systems
– The interplay between individual cognitive representations (and processes), actual communicative interactions, and higher-level systems such as ‘languages’

3. Social cognition and social action
– How language constitutes a primary resource for carrying out (joint) action in the social realm, and what these properties of language and its use tell us about human social intelligence (or ‘Theory of Mind’)

My empirical specialization is in the languages of mainland Southeast Asia, especially Lao and Kri. Lao is the national language of Laos, spoken by over 20 million people in Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and elsewhere. Kri (Vietic sub-branch of Austroasiatic) is spoken near the Laos-Vietnam border in Khammouane Province by an isolated community of around 300 people.

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