Prof. William A. Foley

Prof. Bill Foley is the Chair of the Department of Linguistics at the University of Sydney and the patron of this website initiative. His work with endangered languages is profiled below.


Prof. Bill Foley
I have quite a wide range of interests. I have worked in syntactic theory from a lexicalist approach and the role of semantics in syntax and have published extensively on this topic (Functional Syntax and Universal Grammar, Cambridge, 1984). I am particularly interested in the usefulness of modern syntactic theories in the insightful description of the Austronesian and Papuan languages of the Pacific, which is my main area of specialization. This focus is evident in publications like The Papuan Languages of New Guinea (Cambridge, 1986) and The Yimas Language of New Guinea (Stanford, 1991). Over the last 20 years I have conducted extensive periods of fieldwork in Pacific area languages, specifically in the Papuan languages of the Sepik region of Papua New Guinea, such as Yimas, Watam and Mambuwan, as well as some Austronesian languages like Palauan, Fijian and Tagalog. This fieldwork is the discipline which guides my continuing development of syntactic theories, so that for me theory and description constantly reinforce each other synergistically.

My other main area of interest, again one forged ultimately out of my interest in fieldwork, is anthropological linguistics, reflected in my most recent major publication, Anthropological Linguistics: An Introduction (Blackwell, 1997). I am strongly committed to the view of linguistics as ultimately a branch of anthropology and believe that language can only really be adequately understood when it is conceived as both a psychological and a social skill. Within the very wide field of anthropological linguistics, I am specifically concerned with the Boasian/Humboldtian question of the relationship between language and thought and recent empirical approaches to investigate this and also ethnopoetics, the specific linguist practices cultures use to create various verbal genres like narratives, proverbs, songs, poetry, etc and the aesthetic value and social role speakers ascribe to these.



1984. Reprinted 1985. Functional Syntax and Universal Grammar (with R.D. Van Valin). 416 pp. Cambridge University Press.

1985. Information packaging in the clause (with R.D. Van Valin). In T. Shopen, eds., Language Typology and Syntactic Description, 282-364. Cambridge University Press.

1985. Clausehood and verb serialization (with M. Olson). In J. Nichols and A. Woodbury, eds., Grammar Inside and Outside the Clause, 17-60. Cambridge University Press.

1986. The Papuan Languages of New Guinea. Cambridge University Press. 305pp.

1988. Language birth: the sociolinguistics of pidginization and creolization. In F. Newmeyer and R. Ubell, eds., Linguistics: The Cambridge Survey, 162-83. Cambridge University Press.

1991. The Yimas Language of New Guinea. Stanford University Press. 490p.

1991. New Guinea languages. Oxford Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, volume 3, 86-91. Oxford University Press.

1993. ed. The Role of Theory in Language Description. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 455pp.

1994. Information Structure. Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, volume 3: 1678-1685. Pergamon Press.

1997. Anthropological Linguistics: an introduction. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. 500pp.

[Journal Articles] 2000. The languages of New Guinea. Annual Review of Anthropology 29.357-404.

[Conference paper] 2003. Register, genre and language documentation in literate and preliterate communities. In Austin, P., ed, Papers in Language Documentation and Description, volume 1, 84-97. London: School of Oriental and African Languages.

[Encyclopedia Article] 2003. New Guinea area languages. In W. J. Frawley, ed, International Encyclopedia of Linguistics (2nd ed). New York: Oxford University Press.

[Conference paper] 2004. Language endangerment, language documentation and capacity building: challenges from New Guinea. In P. Austin, ed, Papers in Language Documentation and Description, volume 2. London: School of Oriental and African Languages.

Contact Details

Transient Building Room 217,
University of Sydney NSW 2006 Australia.
Phone: (02) 9351 4569
FAX: (02) 9351 7572
Webpage created by Voxcomm, a 2005 Arts Informatics Project. All information, images and media copyright of the Linguistics Department, USYD, 2005.