Leah Pappas is a documentary linguist who collaborates with language communities in Indonesia. She researches language and gesture to understand how socially-mediated interaction with the environment results in linguistic diversity.
Pappas is a documentary linguist who studies Austronesian languages to understand how the environment and culture influence language and gesture. Her primary goal is to increase the available audiovisual documentation on the languages of eastern Indonesia, one of the most linguistically diverse areas of the world. She does so by developing collaborative documentary practices with language communities and training speakers of minority languages in the theoretical and methodological tools necessary to actively document their language. She has conducted fieldwork with language communities in Indonesia and New Caledonia, and she has trained people from all over the world in language documentation methods.
Pappas adopts a mix of descriptive, experimental, and typological techniques to understand how the grammar of language and gesture reveals and reflects the diversity of human cognition and culture. In her current work, she analyzes pointing gestures that are produced by speakers of Hawu, a language of eastern Indonesia, to understand how speakers use both speech and gesture to communicate about the world around them. Pappas received her B.A. from Pennsylvania State University and her Ph.D. from The University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Her work has been funded by the Bilinski Foundation and the National Science Foundation. Pappas is a visiting faculty member for the 2022-2024 academic years.