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PhD student position on Dynamics of Multilingualism in Vanuatu

Dr Heidi Colleran is seeking qualified applicants for a fully-funded three-year doctoral project on “The Social, Demographic and Strategic Dynamics of Multilingualism in Vanuatu”.
This PhD project is a case study within the ERC-funded project “Multilingual worlds – neglected histories. Uncovering their emergence, continuity and loss in past and present societies” (MULTILING-HIST), led by Principal Investigator Prof Justyna Olko at the University of Warsaw https://culturalcontinuity.al.uw.edu.pl/projects/multilingual-worlds-neglected-histories-uncovering-their-emergence-continuity-and-loss-in-past-and-present-societies-multiling-hist/. The position is based at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, in the Department of Human Behavior, Ecology and Culture.


The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology unites scientists in the natural sciences and humanities to investigate the history of humankind from an interdisciplinary perspective, with the help of comparative analyses of genes, cultures, cognitive abilities, languages and social systems of past and present human populations as well as those of primates closely related to human beings.

The MULTILING-HIST project explores multi-level dimensions of historical and contemporary multilingualism: (1) the presence of individual multilingualism in local and regional settings; (2) the characteristics and dynamics of such multilingual settings, in other words, societal multilingualism. The fundamental aim of the project is to reconstruct, explain and better understand the mechanisms and causality of the processes behind the emergence, continuity, reduction and loss (as well as possible re-emergence) of multilingualism in differing historical, geographical, social, political and cultural contexts. The project will embrace historical and contemporary multilingual milieux from four regions relevant for understanding the causal frameworks underlying multilingual trajectories: selected historical multilingual hotspots from Central-Eastern Europe, Mesoamerica, South Africa and the Archipelago of Vanuatu. The case studies also offer a novel possibility to study the ‘invisibility’ of multilingualism and uncover its neglected history(ies). A multidisciplinary approach will combine historical and present data, qualitative, quantitative and experimental methods, as well as mathematical modeling, data-driven mapping and GIS mapping.


The main aim of this sub-project is to collect empirical data on the dynamics of contemporary multilingualism in Vanuatu, as well as understanding local attitudes, aspirations and ideologies regarding multilingualism. The project includes:

  • The collection of primary data in Vanuatu - using mixed-methodologies - related to social, demographic, historical and economic factors relevant to multilingualism; language attitudes, behaviors, identities and ideologies; experience of and (strategic) use of multiple languages
  • The collation of archival and historical source material in Vanuatu and elsewhere
  • Statistical analysis of newly-collected and existing demographic and anthropological data, including experimental data
  • Preparation of single and co-authored publications resulting from the research
  • Collaboration with other team members in an international and multidisciplinaryproject

The project should make use of interdisciplinary methods and approaches, best practices in Open Science, and community-based research.

The candidate will be part of an international research team focused on the MULTILING-HIST project aims, and will participate in the broader activities of the group (including travel to joint meetings). In addition to their individual research, the candidate will have opportunities at MPI-EVA to develop collaborative projects in the BirthRites Lise Meitner Research Group led by Dr Heidi Colleran, and to interact with world-class researchers in the fields of human behavior, cultural evolution and anthropology.


Suitable candidates trained in (socio-)linguistics, social, linguistic or evolutionary anthropology, demography, quantitative social sciences, or any another relevant discipline are strongly encouraged to apply.


  • M.A. or M.Sc. in a relevant field at the start of position
  • experience collecting quantitative / qualitative data in a non-university setting
  • experience using quantitative analysis methods
  • excellent communication skills and ability to work with an international team
  • willingness to travel to and participate in rural community life, learn new languages
  • demonstrated ability to learn new skills


  • experience collecting primary data in Melanesia and / or the Pacific region
  • knowledge of methods relevant to documentation of multilingualism and/or documentation and study of Indigenous languages
  • knowledge of literature in social demography and/or anthropological demography
  • basic or advanced statistical skills
  • experience with ni-Vanuatu languages, cultures and history
  • willingness to participate in open science practices
  • interest in public and community outreach and collaboration


The doctoral candidate will be fully funded by the MULTILING-HIST project. Salaries are determined according to the German public service pay scale (TVöD).


Please only apply online via our recruiting system (see link below). For questions (no applications) to Dr. Heidi Colleran please contact Jessica Fiegert at Jessica_fiegert@eva.mpg.de.

Applications should include:

  1. Cover letter describing how you meet the essential and/or desired requirements, including details of past research projects and relevant experience (not more than 2 pages).
  2. Curriculum vitae, including the names of three professional references
  3. Publications (if applicable)

All electronic applications received by May 31st 2023 will be considered. Current Masters students finishing in 2023 are also encouraged to apply. Start date is flexible but ideally in 2023.

The Max Planck Society is committed to equal opportunities and to employing individuals with disabilities and explicitly encourages them to apply. Additionally, the Max Planck Society wishes to increase the proportion of women in areas in which they are underrepresented; women are therefore explicitly encouraged to apply. Finally, we wish to encourage researchers from underrepresented countries in the Global South, and especially qualified researchers from Vanuatu, to apply.

Further information on the institute is available at http://www.eva.mpg.de/. Information on the BirthRites research group is available at https://www.eva.mpg.de/birthrites/.

We look forward to receiving your completed online application .

We look forward to receiving your completed online application at https://www.eva.mpg.de/ career .

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Further information on the research agenda of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology is available on our website : www.eva.mpg.de.

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