excd.lab current members

FJ ExmoorProf Fiona Jordan
PI, excd.lab

Evolutionary and linguistic anthropology, cultural phylogenetics, kinship, cross-cultural research, Austronesian, Pacific culture and prehistory, cultural evolution and transmission, human behavioural ecology, 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

Joel Geraerts
PhD student

Social media, civil unrest, political anthropology, Turkey.

University of Bristol Profile

Cecilia Quaintrell
PhD student (Music)

My project explores how musical endings work in 15 diverse groups, using a structured heuristic method which combines musical and ethnographic analysis.  I examine concepts of ending as they apply to music across the groups, and the creative, interactive and pragmatic means by which they are achieved.  The study considers the interactions between these and other intramusical and extramusical elements that are crucial to understanding wider patterns of musical change and diversity.

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

Abi Pate
MSc student (Palaeobiology)

I am currently researching the evolution of disparity in human language, and how we might quantify this using palaeontological measures of morphological diversity. I also have a background in Palaeolithic Archaeology, and am fascinated by the Ice Age record of cultural change.

Personal web page

Rebecca O’Connor
MSc student (Palaeobiology)

I have a background in geology and palaeontology and am interested in human evolution and anthropology. My research project involves using phylogenetic comparative methods often used in palaeobiology to analyse the human culture, specifically looking at the evolution of marriage and wealth transfer practices.



Lucy Harries
Data Assistant

I am a French and Italian graduate interested in the link between linguistic, cultural and environmental elements and practices. I am currently undertaking a research assistantship with the aim of making D-PLACE accessible to the wider public, in particular for school teaching. This involves developing resources, such as lesson plans and tutorials, in order to encourage use of the database in communities outside of academia.


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
Previous Research Assistant
Phylogenetic comparative methods, cultural macroevolution, macroecology

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


2017/18 Undergraduate Dissertation Students

Sophie Johnston
The phylogeny of Maui legends 

Others TBC


2016/17 Undergraduate Dissertation Students

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” 


2015/16 Undergraduate Dissertation Students

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”


Summer Interns

Shakti Puri



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

join us

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.

Postdoctoral Positions

Potential postdoctoral researchers with outstanding academic records are invited to apply 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).

I would also be delighted to discuss applications for ERC, Leverhulme, Newton, or other postdoctoral fellowships for people to come and work with the excd.lab group. More information about University of Bristol Faculty of Arts postdoctoral opportunities can be found here. Informal enquiries are welcome.

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.)

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

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.

Leverhulme Early Career Fellowships 2017 round

If you are interested in joining our lab on a personal fellowship, Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship 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, and that the Fellowships should lead to a more permanent academic position.  This scheme offers 50% match-funded salary costs for three years plus research expenses of £6K per annum.

Due to the match funding element of this call the Faculty runs an internal selection process with an earlier deadline than that of the Trust 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 is December 6th 2017.