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Biographical entry Capell, Arthur (1902 - 1986)

28 March 1902
Newtown, New South Wales, Australia
10 August 1986
Gordon, New South Wales, Australia
Anthropologist, Clergyman and Linguist


Arthur Capell was a linguist who made significant contributions to the study of languages of the indigenous people of Australia and Pacific Ocean islands. While serving as an Anglican priest in several parishes in New South Wales, he formulated his own theories on the relationships between regional languages. On returning to Sydney in 1938 after completing his PhD studies, he investigated languages in the Kimberley region and Arnhem Land, the latter interrupted by his work on A new Fijian dictionary (1941). Other pioneering linguistic studies of Papua, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, the New Hebrides and Timor culminated in A linguistic survey of the South Western Pacific (1954). Capell's other publications included contributions to social anthropology, works on Austronesian languages (including grammars), and a major reworking of his theories on the structure and development of Australian Aboriginal languages in three extensive papers published in Australian Linguistic Studies (1979).



Education - BA, University of Sydney
Education - Dip Mod Lang, Sydney Teachers' College
Career position - Ordained a priest in the Church of England
Education - MA, University of Sydney
Education - PhD, University of London
1944 - 1947
Career position - Lecturer, Department of Anthropology, University of Sydney
1945 - 1985
Career position - Assistant editor, Oceania
1948 - 1950
Career position - President, Anthropological Society of New South Wales
1948 - 1967
Career position - Reader in Oceanic languages, Department of Anthropology, University of Sydney
1950 - 1959
Career position - Vice-President, Anthropological Society of New South Wales
1964 - 1968
Career position - Foundation member, Council, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies
1977 - 1983
Career position - Member, Editorial Board, La Monda Lingvo-Problemo
Career position - Fellow, Australian Academy of the Humanities
Award - DLitt, University of Sydney

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Published resources

Book Sections

  • Newton, Peter J. F., 'Capell, Arthur (1902-1986), Anthropologist', in Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 17, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2007, pp. 189-190. Details

Journal Articles

  • Lynch, John, 'Obituary: Arthur Capell (1902-1986)', Language and Linguistics in Melanesia, vol. 15, 1987, pp. 1-4. Details
  • Walsh, Michael, 'Arthur Capell', Australian Aboriginal Studies, vol. 1987, no. 1, 1987, pp. 98-9. Details

Online Resources

Helen Cohn