Members of the Bristol Centre for Linguistics

Meet our members and current PhD students.

Centre members

Dr James Murphy, Acting Director of BCL

James’ research covers social interaction, political discourse analysis and pragmatic theory. He is particularly interested in when things go wrong in life and how we use language to fix that. That is reflected in his monograph on the language of blame at public inquiries, his research on apologies and his interest in politeness and impoliteness. He is currently working on public communications related to coronavirus.

Dr Kate Beeching, Visiting Research Fellow and Director of BCL (2014-2020)

Kate is a specialist in pragmatics and social interaction. She is particularly interested in the ways that social interaction influences the meanings of words – especially discourse markers (such as sort of, like, you know and I mean as well as similar words in French). She often uses corpus linguistics to carry out her research. In addition, she has carried out applied linguistics research and has written numerous French textbooks.

Professor Jonathan Charteris-Black, Professor in Linguistics

Jonathan specialises in the influence of metaphor on persuasive language, particularly in the use of language politics and the political use of language. He also has theoretical interests in metaphor and cognitive linguistics. He has written extensively on political discourse, most recently on the language of the Brexit referendum.

Professor Emeritus Richard Coates, Professor Emeritus in Onomastics and Director of BCL (2007-2014)

Richard’s work covers historical linguistics and linguistic theory. His focus is on names – particularly place-names and personal names, exploring their origins and how they’ve changed over time. Richard led the Family Names of the UK project which explained the surnames of the majority of surnames in Britain and Ireland. He is President of the English Place-Names Society. His work in linguistic theory resulted in the Pragmatic Theory of Properhood. Richard maintains interests in local history and dialectology, previously of Sussex and now of the Bristol area.

Dr Grant Howie, Senior Lecturer in English Language and Linguistics

Grant is a sociolinguist whose PhD focussed on second language learners’ acquisition of speech sounds and the role that identity plays in the production of salient vowels. He is currently working on the performance of Bristol identity through phonetics and is developing the LangVar database of sociolinguistic recordings of newcomers to Bristol.

Dr Minna Kirjavainen-Morgan, Senior Lecturer in English Language and Linguistics

Minna’s research examines the acquisition of syntax and morphology – looking at both first and second language acquisition. In addition, she is interested in the Whorfian hypothesis: whether a language-user’s native language influences how they perceive the world. A psycholinguist, Minna approaches these questions both experimentally and by using corpus linguistic methods.

Dr Anna Piasecki, Acting Head of the School of Creative and Cultural Industries

Anna is a psycholinguist with interests in bilingualism and second language acquisition. She investigates second language phonology, vocabulary and collocation acquisition and sentence processing. She is especially interested in what bilingualism can tell us about how language is organised in the mind.

Dr Luke Rudge

Luke’s research focuses on multimodality and (systemic) functional approaches to linguistic analysis, with an emphasis on how the visual-spatial modality is employed in interactive communication. His research also encompasses the intersection of language and technology, and interdisciplinary analyses of language in use (eg within pedagogical, architectural and medical contexts, to name a few).

Dr Jeanette Sakel, Faculty Director of Student Experience

Jeanette is a linguistic typologist specialising in language contact and South American languages, gaining her PhD from The University of Nijmegen and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in 2003. She is the author of 'A Grammar of Mosetén' (Mouton de Gruyter, 2003), Linguistic Fieldwork (Cambridge University Press, 2012, with Dan Everett) and Study Skills for Linguistics (Routledge, 2015) and has edited a range of collections, including 'Grammatical Borrowing in Cross-Linguistic Perspective' (Mouton de Gruyter, 2007, with Yaron Matras). Her current focus is on pedagogies in higher education, having gained a National Teaching Fellowship (Higher Education Academy) in 2015.

Dr Charlotte Selleck, Senior Lecturer in English Language and Linguistics

Charlotte carries out work at the interface of sociology and linguistics, and is particularly interested in questions of language and identity with a focus on multilingualism. Her work has explored the situation of schoolchildren in bilingual schools in Wales, the role that (future) employment plays in the notion of elite multilingualism and language policy in Bristol (with a focus on the Bristol Somali community). She carries out interactional and ethnographic work.

Current PhD students

Meet our current PhD students and read their research abstracts.

Kathryn Crouch

Supervised by Dr Anna Piasecki and Dr Minna Kirjavainen-Morgan.

Are certain noun labelling preferences in early childhood innate or is it influenced by environmental factors? An exploration into the visual-auditory and psychological processes of object naming in child language and literacy development.

Köhler (1941) theorised the use of multi-sensory associations, or cross-cognitive functions, for the processing of information from external stimulus, such as shapes, smells, colours and noises. Synaesthesia is relatively atypical in adults, Köhler went on to focus on visual-auditory (shapes and sound) processing in the adult population (1941). He formulated the experiment of ascribing the choice of two unusual names (pseudo-words) to two irregular 2-D shapes. Approximately 95% of the world’s population would assign the pseudo-word ‘kiki’ with the pointed shape and ‘bouba’ with the more rounded, curvier shape (Ramachandran and Hubbard, 2001a; Robertson and Sagniv, 2008). This universality evokes the question; where does this universal tendency originate from?

Tomasello (2003, p. 8) theorised that the “human linguistic system is symbolic”, which may be learned through social interactions. This leads to the embodiment of symbolic language which may include children’s utterances whilst holding their hand to their ear to represent a phone or to their mouth to represent food or drink. It could be interpreted that children learn to do this through watching and copying others carrying out these actions (Bruner, 1964). However, Buccino et al. (2016), hypothesised that embodied language is not dependent upon previous experiences of individuals, but the biologically structural aspects of the sound symbolism and the intended object. This could be linked to the rounded articulation of the phonemes (sounds) which have previously been linked within studies of visual-auditory synaesthesia (Ramachandran and Hubbard 2001a).

This would require the child to have some, conscious or unconscious, understanding of this sound symbolism, such as that found in the in-utero research of Eswaran et al. (2007), (Hung et al., 2017). Therefore, children would not need to hold the ability to understand a shared symbolism in the research of noun labelling regarding audio-visual synaesthesia, supporting Maurer’s (1993) innate hypothesis. This correlates with educational frameworks that the acquisition of literacy needs to be precluded by an intrinsic awareness of “sound symbolism” to develop a shared understanding of both auditory (phonemes) and visual (graphemes) symbolic systems (Westbury, 2004, p. 10; DfES, 2007; BAECE, 2012; DfE, 2013a; DfE, 2013b; DfE, 2017). Therefore, is there a potential link between children’s use of naming strategies and their stage of literacy development?

Hanna Drummond

Supervised by Dr James Murphy and Dr Charlotte Selleck.

Student-led conversations in Finnish as a foreign language lessons.

In the classroom, it is the teacher’s institutional role to conduct the direction of the lesson and the interaction between the teacher and students. However, the students are not just passive participants in the lesson; they also take part in turn-taking in various ways, for example by asking for clarification and replying to the teacher’s questions. The students interact not only with the teacher, but also with their fellow students, especially when working in pairs or small study groups. These multi-party conversations are very important for foreign language learning and social interactions in the classroom.

The research into classroom interactions has focused mainly on the actions of the teacher, whilst the students’ turns have been explored mainly as reactions. During the last decades language lessons have changed and now students participate in classroom conversation to an increasing extent, not only with the teacher but also with their fellow students. Therefore, it is important that student-led conversations are researched more in the classroom and foreign language learning environment.

The main objective of my study is to analyse students’ turn-taking in Finnish as a foreign language lessons in English classrooms, when they are working in pairs or small study groups. The main method I use is conversation analysis. I am interested in the overall student-led conversations after the teacher has set the task:

  • What kind of roles do the students take?
  • Does one student, for example, take the role of the teacher by teaching the students?
  • Are there over-lapping, interruptions or pauses between different participants?
  • How are the repairs formed and when they occur?

I have started my research in the spring 2019 and working simultaneously as a Finnish language teacher in various schools, universities and ministries in Britain.

Steve Evans

Supervised by Dr James Murphy, Dr Ailie Turton (Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences) and Dr Stuart McClean (Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences).

Alicia Huertas

Supervised by Dr Charlotte Selleck and Dr James Murphy.

My project is entitled ‘Loaded Words: Does phraseology denote attitude? A corpus assisted, critical discourse analysis of the relation between sexist language use and sexist ideologies. The study aims at understanding whether the usage of sexist language bears meaningful relation to attitudes held by the speaker.

Many people take a position on whether we should be using certain types of expressions. The political correctness debate appears more polarized every year. This research is driven by the desire to understand the significance of intention in utterances that are often termed offensive. In so doing, I will explore the influence that implicit attitudes have on people’s language use, focussing on sexist language.

My hope is to contribute original knowledge of the relationship between intention and speech, to build on existing literature in language and gender, language and ideology and pragmatics.

BCL alumni

Meet our recently graduated PhD students in Linguistics and find out about their research interests.

BCL alumni