Dr. Simon J. Greenhill

Portrait of Simon Greenhill

I research why and how people created all the amazing languages around us, and what they tell us about human prehistory.

I use (mainly) Bayesian phylogenetic methods to tackle these questions and have investigated everything from how the Austronesian peoples settled the Pacific, to modelling the co-evolution of linguistic structure. And I have built a number of large-scale databases to help answer these questions.

Currently I'm one of the editors of Language Dynamics and Change and on the editorial board of the Journal of Language Evolution.

I'm an Associate Professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Auckland. Before that I was senior scientist in the Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, and the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language at Australian National University.

You can find me on Twitter or Mastodon.




Glottobank is an international research consortium established to document and understand the world’s linguistic diversity. We have established five global databases documenting variation in language structure (Grambank), lexicon (Lexibank), paradigm systems (Parabank), numerals (Numeralbank), and phonetic changes (Phonobank).

Database of Places, Language, Culture and Environment

From the foods we eat, to who we can marry, to the types of games we teach our children, the diversity of cultural practices in the world is astounding. Yet, our ability to visualize and understand this diversity is often limited by the ways it traditionally has been documented and shared: on a culture-by-culture basis, in locally-told stories or difficult-to-access books and articles. D-PLACE represents an attempt to bring together this dispersed corpus of information.

Trans-New Guinea Online

TransNewGuinea.org is a database of the Trans-New Guinea language family and friends. The Trans-New Guinea language family currently occupies most of the interior of New Guinea. This family is possibly the third largest in the world with 400 languages and is tentatively thought to have originated with root-crop agriculture around 10,000 years ago. However, vanishingly little is known about this family’s history.

POLLEX: Polynesian Lexicon Project Online

The Polynesian Lexicon Project Online is a large-scale comparative dictionary of Polynesian languages.

Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database

The Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database is the world’s largest cross-linguistic database of the Pacific. It contains ~300,000 lexical items from ~1,600 languages spoken throughout the Pacific region.