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Dixon's work in historical linguistics has been highly influential. Based on a careful historical comparative analysis, Dixon questions the concept of Pama-Nyungan languages for which he argues sufficient evidence has never been provided. He also proposes a new "punctuated equilibrium" model, based on the theory of the same name in evolutionary biology, which is more appropriate for numerous language regions, including the Australian languages. Dixon puts forth his theory in The Rise and Fall of Languages, refined in his monograph Australian Languages: their nature and development (2002). Dixon is the author of a number of other books including Australian Languages: Their Nature and Development and Ergativity.
His monumental three-volume work, Basic Linguistic Theory (2010-2012), was published by the Oxford University Press.
His further work on Australian languages was published in Edible gender, mother-in-law style, and other grammatical wonders: Studies in Dyirbal, Yidiñ and Warrgamay, 2015.
His further influential monographs include work on English grammar, especially A new approach to English grammar (1991, revised edition 2005), and Making New Words: Morphological Derivation in English (2014). His recent monograph Are Some Languages Better than Others (2016, paperback 2018) poses a question of efficiency and value of different languages.
His editorial work includes four volumes of Handbook of Australian Languages (with Barry Blake), a special issue of Lingua on ergativity, and, jointly with Alexandra Aikhenvald, numerous volumes on linguistic typology in the series Explorations in Linguistic Typology, the fundamental The Amazonian languages (1999), and The Cambridge Handbook of Linguistic Typology (2017).
His most recent book is The Unmasking of English Dictionaries (2018), which offers a concise history of English dictionaries unmasking their drawbacks, and suggests a new innovative way of dictionary making.[n 1]
His "We used to eat people", Revelations of a Fiji islands traditional village (2018) offers a vivid portrayal of his fieldwork in Fiji in the late 1980s.[n 2]
Both Dixon (the director of the centre) and Aikhenvald (its associate director) resigned their positions in May 2008. In early 2009, Aikhenvald and Dixon established the Language and Culture Research Group (LCRG) at the Cairns campus of James Cook University. This has been transformed into a Language and Culture Research Centre within the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at JCU, Cairns, in 2011. Currently, Aikhenvald is director and Dixon deputy director of the centre.
2nd ed. With Bruce Moore, W. S. Ramson and Mandy Thomas. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. ISBN0195540735.
A New Approach to English Grammar, on Semantic Principles. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991. Hardback 0198242727, paperback ISBN0198240570.
A Semantic Approach to English Grammar. Oxford Textbooks in Linguistics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Revised edition. Hardback ISBN0199283079, paperback ISBN0199247404.
= A Semantic Approach to English Grammar. Beijing, 2016. ISBN9787519205652. The English text, with a short additional text in Chinese.
Searching for Aboriginal Languages: Memoirs of a Field Worker. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1984. Hardback ISBN0702219339, paperback ISBN0702217131}. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989. ISBN0226154300. Cambridge Library Collection. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511791994. Paperback ISBN9781108025041, online ISBN9780511791994. A memoir of Dixon's early fieldwork in Australia. The book provides a glimpse at linguistic fieldwork as it was done in that era, as well as a look at the appalling treatment of Aboriginal peoples of Australia that continued right into the 1960s.
Australia's Original Languages: An Introduction. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2019. ISBN9781760875237.
As editor or coeditor
R. M. W. Dixon and Barry J. Blake, eds. Handbook of Australian Languages.
Vol 1. (Guugu Yimidhirr. Pitta-Pitta. Gumbaynggir. Yaygir.) Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1979. ISBN0708112013. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1979. ISBN90-272-0512-4.
Vol 2. (Wargamay, The Mpakwithi dialect of Anguthimri; Watjarri. Margany and Gunya, Tasmanian.) Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1981. ISBN0708112129. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1981. ISBN9027220042.
Vol 3. (Djapu, a Yolngu dialect. Yukulta. Uradhi. Nyawaygi.) Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1983. ISBN0708112153. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1983 ISBN9027220026.
Vol 4, The aboriginal language of Melbourne and other grammatical sketches. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1991. ISBN0195530977.
Vol 5, Grammatical sketches of Bunuba, Ndjébbana and Kugu Nganhcara. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN0195549988.
The Honey-Ant Men's Love Song and Other Aboriginal Song Poems (UQP Poetry), 1990
Words of our country: Stories, place names, and vocabulary in Yidiny, the Aboriginal Language of the Cairns-Yarrabah Region (Editor), 1991.
^At least two compact lists of addenda were issued: Corrections and additions to Blues and gospel records, 1902-1943, 3rd edition. With John Godrich. Montreal: Canadian Collectors' Congress, 1984. OCLC35978680. Further corrections/additions, Blues and gospel records (1902-1943), 3rd edition. With Roger Misiewicz. Montreal: Canadian Collectors' Congress, 1985. OCLC35978688.