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Curriculum Vitae of Penelope Brown


Dr. Penelope Brown

Senior researcher (emer.)

Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics

Updated: October 2017



Born: 2 November 1944, in Summit, New Jersey (U.S. citizen)

Married:   Stephen C. Levinson (U.K. and Australian citizen)



Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota, September 1961 to June 1965. B.A. in Psychology, June 1965.

University of Iowa, September 1968 to August 1970.

M.A. in Anthropology and Linguistics, August 1970

University of California, Berkeley, September 1970 to June 1979

Ph.D. granted June, 1979, by the Department of Anthropology

Fields of specialization: sociolinguistics, language and thought, and Mesoamerican ethnography

Ph.D committee: John J. Gumperz (dissertation chairman); O. Brent Berlin, and Eleanor Rosch

Title of dissertation: 'Language, interaction, and sex roles in a Mayan community: a study of politeness and the position of women'

Training fellowships:

National Science Foundation Undergraduate Research Fellowship, for research in experimental psychology at Kansas State University, summer 1964

National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship, 1970-72

National Institute of Mental Health graduate fellowship and fieldwork grant, 1972-74.



(1) Summer, 1971, and (2) August 1972 to September 1973, in the Mayan Indian community of Tenejapa, Chiapas, Mexico. Funded by NSF (1971) and NIMH (1972-74). Sociolinguistic research on men's and women's speech and ethnographic work focusing on gender roles, social relations, and interaction.

(3) July - August 1980, in Tenejapa, tape-recording and filming natural interaction and local courtroom cases.

(4) June - September 1982, fieldwork in northern Queensland, Australia, studying Aboriginal English and Aboriginal/Non-Aboriginal interaction. Funded by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra.

(5) Summer 1990, summer 1991, Dec. 1991-Jan.1992, Dec. 1992-Jan 93, summer 1993, summer 1994, summer 1995:   fieldwork in Tenejapa, Chiapas, Mexico, collecting data on spatial concepts and language in Tzeltal (with Stephen C. Levinson). Funded by the Max Planck Gesellschaft, Germany.

(6)  Dec. 1993 to Oct 1996: field trips to Tenejapa every 6-8 weeks, and from Dec. '96 to Oct. '97 every 3 months: collecting longitudinal data from children in five Tzeltal families for a study of child language acquisition; continuing work on adult space. Funded by the Max Planck Gesellschaft, Germany.

(7)  Brief field trips to Tenejapa to check data and conduct informal experiments: March 1999, November-December 1999,  September 2000, July 2002, April 2004.

(8)   July-September 2004, July-September 2005, June-September 2006, July-September 2008, July-September 2011, July-August 2013, August-September 2016: fieldwork on Rossel Island, Papua New Guinea (with Stephen Levinson)  collecting conversation data and studying caregiver-infant interaction with children age 9  to 36 months.

(9) May 2005, April and Nov. 2006, July-August 2007, May 2008. Fieldwork in Tenejapa, collecting data for projects on caregiver-infant interaction and on the language of perception.

(10) July-August 2012, March 2013, April 2014, July 2015, August 2017. Fieldwork in Tenejapa, collecting data for two MPI projects - Interactional Foundations of Language and Linguistic Diversity and Processing, and for a ZiF culture and causal cognition project.



(1) 1964-65: instructor at psychology laboratory, Carleton College

(2) Summer 1975 and 1979: sociolinguistics, conversation analysis, Summer Course in Linguistics, University of Cambridge, July - August.

(3) Spring 1975 to June 1980: co-ordinator/lecturer for the Women in Society paper, Social and Political Sciences Committee, University of Cambridge. (An interdisciplinary course in Women's Studies, taught collaboratively.)

(4) January 1975 to June 1980: tutorial teaching, Cambridge undergraduates in Anthropology, Linguistics, and Women's Studies.

(5) Autumn 1979-1980: lecture courses in the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge (language and communication; interaction and socialization; linguistic field methods.)

(6) September 1980 - June 1982: seminars and lectures in the Department of Anthropology, Research School of Pacific Studies, and the Department of Linguistics, Faculty of Arts, The Australian National University, as well as in the Department of Anthropology, Sydney University (October 1981).

(7) Lecture course on women in society, Department of Social Anthropology, Cambridge, Lent term 1983.

(8) Linguistic field methods seminar, Department of Social Anthropology, Cambridge, 1975-80, 1982 (with Stephen Levinson). (9) Intensive course in linguistic field methods for anthropologists, funded by the Social Science Research Council, December 1983-1986. Department of Linguistics, University of Cambridge.

(10) Sociolinguistics course, 1985, the University of East Anglia, Norwich.

(11) Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Linguistics, Stanford University, California, 1987-88. Undergraduate courses: language and gender, ethnography of speaking.

(12) Lecturer, Lateinamerika Institut, Freie Universitat der Berlin, Germany: April 1990 - August 1991. Taught sociolinguistics, language and culture, and a Tzeltal language course.

1995 - the present: Supervising PhD students at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen.



(1) Summer 1964: experimental research in verbal learning, Kansas State University, NSF Undergraduate Research Fellowship.

(2) 1969-70: Research Assistant to the Director of the Program in Linguistics, University of Iowa. (Morphological analysis of Athabascan texts.)

(3) 1975: Research Assistant to Professor John J. Gumperz, August to September 1975. (Interethnic communication problems between London middle-class whites and Jamaican black youths.)

(4) 1976-77: Research Officer, Social & Political Sciences, University of Cambridge. (Project investigating nominal and verbal styles in discourse, in collaboration with Dr C. Fraser, funded by the Social Science Research Council.)

(5) July 1980 - September 1982: Research Fellow, Anthropology Dept., Research School of Pacific Studies, The Australian National University, Canberra; Member of the Working Group on Language in Cultural Context.

(6) June 1982 - December 1982: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra: fieldwork & research grant, Northern Queensland.

(7) Sept. 1989 - June 1991: affiliated member of the Max Planck Projektgruppe für Kognitive Anthropologie, Berlin.

(8) Sept. 1991 to Nov. 2009: member of the research staff of the Language Acquisition Group, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Currently emeritus.

(9) Fellow, Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, Sept 2009 through July 2010.

(10) Fellow, Zentrum für interdisziplinäre Forschung (ZiF) project "The Cultural Constitution of Causal Cognition", Bielefeld, Germany. February-April 2012.



Museum Assistant, Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology,  October 1979 - May 1980. Worked on New Guinea collection of artifacts.

Consultancies for Cambridge University Press and the Open University (1975-88)



July 1982: Workshop on "Language in Cultural Context", Dept. of Anthropology, Research School of Pacific Studies, The Australian National University. Funded by the Department of Anthropology and organised by the Working Group.

January 1984: Workshop on "Discourse Analysis in Urban Ethnography: Applications to Problems of Interethnic Relations". Cambridge University. Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)  (with S. Levinson and J. J. Gumperz)

September 1990: Workshop on "Spatial conceptualization in Mayan languages and cultures." Max Planck Projektgruppe fur Kognitive Anthropologie, Berlin. (with S. Levinson)

June 1998: Workshop on "Crosslinguistic perspectives on argument structure: implications for learnability", Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen. (with M. Bowerman and S. Allen).

May 2002. Workshop on "Acquisition of verb morphology in Mayan languages". Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen (with L. de Leon, B. Pfeiler, and C. Pye).

December 2002. Member of organizing committee (with N. Enfield and H.  Baayen) for the Nijmegen Lectures, given by Michael Tomasello (Max Planck  Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig).

May 2003. Workshop on “the Linguistic Encoding of Three-Participant Events: Crosslinguistic and Developmental Perspectives”. Max Planck Institute for  Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen (with B. Narasimhan and S. Eisenbeiss)

April 2005 Workshop on the Australian Aboriginal Child Language Project. Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen.

May, 2006: Workshop on infant interaction in cross-cultural perspective. Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen.



language, cognition, and culture

language acquisition in its social/cultural context; acquisition of semantics; language socialization; social interaction of pre-linguistic infants and their caregivers

cross-cultural comparison of conversational structure and inference; the systematics of social interaction

the expression of social relations in speech; linguistic politeness; verbal styles.


Areal Interests:

Mayan Indians, Mayan languages; Mesoamerica

Rossel Island (Papua New Guinea), Island Melanesia

Last checked 2018-08-21

Penelope Brown

Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
PO Box 310
6500 AH Nijmegen
The Netherlands