excd.lab current members

FJ ExmoorProf Fiona Jordan
Principal Investigator, excd.lab
Professor in Anthropology, Department of Anthropology & Archaeology

Evolutionary and linguistic anthropology, cultural phylogenetics, kinship, cross-cultural research, Austronesian languages, Pacific culture and prehistory, cultural evolution and transmission, accents, storytelling, ethnobotany, counting systems, cognition and behaviour.

Personal web page

Dr Péter Rácz
Postdoc, VariKin

Corpus linguistics; psycholinguistics, language variation and change, language and cognition, quantitative linguistics.

I’m a quantitative linguist. I use language corpora and experimental data to understand how language works on the social and the individual level. My aim is to contribute to an understanding of language as the product of the individual’s biases in its learning and usage, and the social trade-off in its negotiation, transmission, and ritual.

Personal web page
Google Scholar

Dr Alice Mitchell
Postdoc, VariKin

Linguistic anthropology, pragmatics, interactional sociolinguistics, human sociality, African languages and cultures.

I’m a linguistic anthropologist interested in how speakers of different languages use their linguistic resources to negotiate social relationships in everyday interaction. I work on a Nilotic language called Datooga, spoken in Tanzania, and use video-based ethnographic and linguistic methods to explore how Datooga people create particular relationships (of kinship, friendship, intimacy, distance) through their language use. As part of the VariKin project, I’m studying how Datooga children acquire and develop an understanding of kinship concepts.

Personal web page

Jo Hickey-Hall
Research support assistant, VariKin 

Folk-tales, cultural transmission of supernatural belief, cultural connection with landscape.

I’m a social researcher and folklorist with a long-held interest in the relationship between supernatural experience, local landscape and oral tradition.  I am particularly inspired by the survival of oral lore in rural communities and the cultural taboo that appears to exist around fairy belief.  I’m assisting VariKin by contributing to the D-PLACE kinship database and administratively supporting the team.

Personal web page

Dr Seán Roberts
Leverhulme Research Fellowsean

Evolutionary linguistics; Interaction; Statistical modelling; Phylogenetics.

I’m an evolutionary linguist. I use a range of quantitative methods and approaches to understand how languages emerged and how they change. I’m interested in how languages adapt to individual cognition, interaction and their wider ecology. I’ll be working on new statistical techniques to discover causal links in cross-cultural observational databases.

Personal web page

Alarna Samarasinghe
PhD student, Transmission

Cultural transmission and evolution, linguistic anthropology, prestige, folk-tale evolution, science communication.

I am an evolutionary/linguistic anthropologist investigating how linguistic variation can be explained in terms of social transmission biases. My research utilises evolutionary and sociolinguistic methods and theory to explore how different accents of English and their associated prestige affects recall of orally transmitted information.

University of Bristol Profile

Sam Passmore
PhD student, Varikin

I am broadly interested in the global diversity of cultural traits and offering evolutionary explanations.  My work in EXCD and the VariKin project explores the diversity of kinship terminologies around the world through the use of comparative statistics and phylogenetics.

Personal web page
Google Scholar

Simon Bishop
PhD student

Cultural adjustment, phenomenology, cultural diversity, internationalization, intercultural communication.

I’m currently researching the cultural adjustment of international students in the UK using a phenomenological approach, that is, concerned with the subjective, meaning-making processes behind making a life for oneself in a new country. Related to this, I am also interested in the discourses around culture and cultural diversity in academic, institutional and ‘everyday’ usage, and the apparent gaps between these domains.

University of Bristol Profile


research interns


Jasmine Calladine
Summer Research Intern

I am an undergraduate studying anthropology. This summer I am working with Dr Alice Mitchell on her project about how children acquire and develop an understanding of kinship concepts. Working in the excd lab has given me a great opportunity to understand how anthropological research is conducted in an academic environment, as well as learn new skills from all the different people who work here!

Izzy Clifford
Summer Research Intern

I am an undergraduate French and Spanish student, particularly interested in Francophone West Africa and Basque language and culture, as well as language’s socio-political function. I am also an English teacher and translator. I am currently working on KinBank.


Angarika Deb
Summer Research Intern

I am an evolutionary and behavioural ecologist. My interest lies in the cognitive underpinnings of cultural evolution, linguistics and the dual processes of cognition. I am also very interested in their philosophical implications. Currently working on VariKin and CHIELD project of linguistic evolution.


Ewan Thomas-Colquhoun
Summer Research Intern

I’m an undergraduate student of German and Russian. From my background in languages, I have a strong interest in linguistics and language evolution as well as investigating other cultures and societies. I am currently working on the Uralic language family for KinBank.

Luís Henrique
Data Collection Assistant

I am an undergraduate French language and literature student based in Belém, Brazil with a particular interest in Linguistics. I am inspired by the wide range of this field, its support of other sciences and the discoveries and intriguing questions that arise.  I am currently collecting kinship data on behalf of VariKin.



Dr Robert Ross
Honorary Research Associate 

Belief formation, delusional belief, religious belief, reasoning, cultural evolution, folktales.

I am a cognitive psychologist. My primary research interest is belief, particularly delusional belief and religious belief.  I also undertake cultural evolutionary research with a focus on folktales and languages.

Personal Web Page
Google Scholar


alumni & visitors

2017 Dr Catherine Sheard
Postdoctoral Research Assistant
Phylogenetic comparative methods, cultural macroevolution, macroecology

2017 Joel Geraerts
PhD student, Anthropology & Archaeology
“Ilginç Degil” – “It’s not important”: A Material Culture and Landscape Analysis of Political Graffiti in Istanbul between 2015-2017.’

2017 Cecilia Quaintrell
PhD Student, Music
‘Testing Boundaries: A Cross-Cultural Study of Musical Endings.’

2017 Rebecca O’Connor
MSc Student, Paleobiology
‘Testing Darwinian effects on human marriages practices: phylogenetic comparative approaches to cultural co-evolution.’

2017 Abi Pate
MSc student, Paleobiology
‘The evolution of disparity in human language.’

2017 Shakti Puri
Data Assistant – D-PLACE
Links between linguistic, cultural and environmental elements and practice

2017 Lucy Harries
Data Assistant – D-PLACE
Links between linguistic, cultural and environmental elements and practice


2018 Dr Joe Blythe
Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia
Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professor

2017 Professor Asifa Majid
Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands
Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professor 

2016 Dr Joshua Birchall
Museu Goeldi, Bélem, Brazil
British Academy International Mobility Partnership 2016-17
Quantitative Comparative Linguistics and Kinship of Tupi and Cariban  


2018/19 Undergraduate Dissertation Students

Ellie Field: Cultural transmission of life skills 

Louise Paterson: Gender and social learning 



Previous Undergraduate Dissertation Students

Sophie JohnstonThe Phylogeny of Maui Legends 

Anna BlekkinghSex, gender, and swearing 

Lily BishopThe Passions of Protest: environmentalism and emotions 

Katie FitzpatrickThe evolution of virginity 

Tara PatelFrom Distinction to Democracy: coffee culture and class 

Jemima Guest: Levirate & Sororate: A Cross-Cultural Investigation

Caitlin Tilt: Drawing Families: Children’s Understanding of Kinship

Sarah Muston: Kinship & Humanitarian Aid

John Page: Bilingual Language Choice & Expression of Emotion

Tiffany Wenxuan Bi: Multilingualism and categories

Jessica Alcock: English Grandparental Terms, their use and negotiation” 

India Cowles: The Linguistic Anthropology of Emoji

Rosie Hammond: Transnational Kinship between Britain and Israel: the effects of new communication technologies

Molly Moffat: Critical Discourse Analysis of the Representation of Islam in the UK Media



Transmission: Dr Michael Gavin (PI), Richard Berl (PhD student) @ Colorado State University

Varikin: Dr Joshua Birchall @ Museu Paraense Emilio Goeldi, Professor Claire Bowern @ Yale University, Dr Joe Blythe @ Macquarie University

Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution @ MPI Science of Human History

The D-PLACE (Database of Peoples, Languages, Culture, and Ecology) crew

Centre for the Coevolution of Biology & Culture @ Durham University

Parabank @ ANU

Evolution of Semantic Systems: Prof Asifa Majid @ Radboud & Prof Michael Dunn @ Uppsala (and a massive consortium)

Counting systems: Dr Andrea Bender & Dr Seighard Beller @ University of Bergen

Ethnobotany: Prof Julie Hawkins @ Reading University and Dr Irene Teixidor-Toneu a@ University of Oslo

join us


Postdoctoral Positions

Potential postdoctoral researchers with outstanding academic records and exciting ideas are always welcome, and Fiona is always keen to discuss applications for any funding scheme that allows either short or longer-term visits or positions in the excd.lab group. More information about University of Bristol Faculty of Arts postdoctoral opportunities can be found here. Informal enquiries are welcome.

Leverhulme Early Career & British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowships

If you are interested in joining our lab on a personal fellowship, these Fellowships aim to provide career development opportunities for those who are at a relatively early stage of their academic careers, who have a proven track record of research, but have not held an established academic appointment in the UK.  The expectation is that Fellows should undertake a significant piece of publishable work during their tenure.

The Faculty and University runs an internal selection process for these Fellowships with an earlier deadline than that of the funding body itself. If you are interested in working up an application to join the excd.lab, please be in contact with Fiona as soon as possible. The internal deadline for these is usually at least three months before the external one.

For the British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship, applicants selected through the University of Bristol internal selection process (deadline in June) will receive further training and support for the final BA deadline (deadline in October). Note that applicants need to be within three years of their doctoral viva/defence, be UK/EEA citizens or have significant experience with a UK university (have completed a PhD in the UK or have been employed for more than 12 months at a UK university), and are restricted to one bid throughout their career (unless re-invited).

PhD and MPhil Positions

UK/EU students who wish to apply for AHRC or ESRC-funded PhD positions should keep an eye on the announcements at the various Doctoral Training Centres listed at the Bristol Doctoral College webpage. In particular, the South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership (SWW DTP) offers full funding for PhDs in the arts and humanities, with students supervised within two different partner universities.

The Bristol University Graduate School of Arts & Humanities also offers competitive PhD scholarships to UK/EU students. Non-UK/EU students should consult this non-exhaustive list of scholarships within the Faculty of Arts and may wish to consider funding opportunities within their home country. For example, Americans can use Marshall or Fulbright scholarships to come to Bristol. Commonwealth citizens may be eligible for Commonwealth Scholarships.

If you’re interested in joining the lab as a postgraduate student, please contact me with your research interests and funding ideas, at least two months before your first deadline. I am happy to hear from prospective applicants for both PhD and MPhil (one year Masters by research qualification) degrees.

Undergraduate Dissertation Students and Summer Research Internships

Each year, I supervise a number of 3rd year undergraduates on dissertation topics related to cross-cultural diversity, language, evolution, and/or kinship. Undergraduates can also propose small projects for independent study, such as through Interdisciplinary Research Internships (typically a March deadline), and are always welcome to attend our lab meetings and journal clubs. If you’re interested, please get in touch.

Visiting Researchers

As part of the Varikin project, I am able to host visiting researchers who are funded by the National Science Foundation in the United States; the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning in South Korea; the Ministry of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation in Argentina; the Society for the Promotion of Science in Japan; the National Natural Science Foundation in China; the National Research Foundation in South Africa; the National Council of Science and Technology (Conacyt) in Mexico; the Canadian Tri-agency Institutional Programs Secretariat (TIPS) in Canada; or the Brazilian National Council of the State Funding Agencies (CONFAP) in Brazil.

Going forward, I also hope to be able to host visitors from Belgium, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, or Slovenia through the ERC Visiting Research Fellowships program. If you’re interested, please get in touch.