Centre members

Dr Minna Kirjavainen-Morgan

Dr Minna Kirjavainen-Morgan is an Associate Professor in Language and Cognition, and Director of BCL. Her research investigates first and second language acquisition and adult language processing, in particular in relation to the acquisition of syntax and morphology, but also in relation to adverbs, disfluencies and ambiguity. In addition, she is interested in the Whorfian hypothesis i.e. the idea that language-user’s native and second language knowledge influences their cognitive processes and mental states. Minna approaches these questions both experimentally and by using corpus linguistic methods.

Dr Kate Beeching

Dr Kate Beeching, Visiting Research Fellow and Director of BCL (2014-2020), 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 Jonathan Charteris-Black, Professor in Linguistics, 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 Richard Coates, Professor Emeritus in Onomastics, was the Director of BCL (2007-2014). His 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

Dr Grant Howie is a sociolinguist whose PhD focused 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 Mark Nartey

Dr Mark Nartey is an interdisciplinary scholar who investigates how people deploy language in specific spatiotemporal and sociocultural contexts to achieve various aims, including identity construction and negotiation, self-promotion, and othering as well as argumentation, resistance, and (de)legitimation. He is particularly interested in language and identity, language attitudes and stereotypes, language and diversity, language and the media, and language and/in politics. His research has a critical orientation; hence, it aims to raise awareness about various complicated constructs in society and to illustrate how research on language use can translate into social transformation.

Dr Anna Piasecki

Dr Anna Piasecki is an Associate Professor of Psycholinguistics, with a broad interest in language acquisition (i.e., how our brain develops, stores and accesses language). She has approached this area from multiple angles (vocabulary, phonology and syntax) and across different groups of speakers (bilinguals and second language learners; children and adults). Her recent work has moved into the clinical space, where she develops language tests for patients diagnosed with brain tumours, dementia, or epilepsy.

Dr Luke Rudge

Dr Luke Rudge is a Visiting Research Fellow at BCL. His 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).

Professor Jeanette Sakel

Professor Jeanette Sakel 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 minority language structures and language contact phenomena. n higher education, having gained a National Teaching Fellowship (Higher Education Academy) in 2015.

Dr Charlotte Selleck

Dr Charlotte Selleck 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.

Dr Kate Steel

Dr Kate Steel specialises in forensic linguistics, with a particular interest in spoken interactions in investigative and legal contexts. Her doctoral and ongoing research draws from police bodycam footage to examine first response police-victim communication at the scene of reported domestic abuse incidents. In this work, Kate applies positioning theory and conversation analysis through a critical lens to explore the nexus between power, responsibility and vulnerability which shapes first response encounters.

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 (College of Health, Science and Society) and Dr Stuart McClean (College of Health, Science and Society).

Alicia Huertas

Supervised by Dr Anna Piasecki, Dr Charlotte Selleck and Dr Felicity Deamer (Aston University).

Loaded words: Does phraseology denote attitude? A corpus assisted, critical discourse analysis of the relation between sexist language use and sexist ideologies.

My 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, because it seems that meaning, and the way words are interpreted, can change dependent on knowledge of the speaker’s attitudes. The research will explore the connection between attitude and word choice in participants who have completed Implicit Association Tests, the results of which will be compared with their own published Twitter corpus. 

The insights gleaned from examining each participants own words alongside their unconscious attitudes results will hopefully contribute original knowledge on the relationship between intention and speech, to build on existing literature in language and gender, language and ideology and pragmatics.

Sonia Mariotti

Supervised by Dr Anna Piasecki, Dr Kris Kinsey and Mr Neil Barua, PhD, FRCS (SN), working alongside the clinical team at Southmead Hospital (North Bristol NHS Trust).

My research project aims to develop contemporary and comprehensive language tests for patients undergoing brain tumour surgery.

Awake surgery procedures rely on electrical stimulation mapping of the cortex to identify pathological tissue and functional regions to be spared. While the brain is being stimulated, the patient is awake and engaged in language tests that guide tumour resection. Although advancements have been made in the field of psycho- and neurolinguistics, the application of findings in clinical context is limited. Language testing batteries need to tap into different levels of processing and be feasible within the constraints of the surgical settings. My project seeks to bridge the gap between research and medical practice, towards the development of an up-to-date, standardised, and validated tool to for intraoperative language testing.

My previous work in the NHS, specifically in stroke patient rehabilitation, has given me valuable insights into the importance of preserving communication in everyday life. This hands-on experience has fuelled my motivation to engage in pioneering research, with the primary goal to improve patient outcomes through the preservation of communication as a fundamental element of their quality of life.

My keen interest in language processing and its underlying neurobiological mechanisms sparked during the MSc Language Sciences and Neuroscience at University College London (distinction). During my time at UCL, I was an intern in Rosemary Varley’s Cognition and Grammar Lab, supporting the development of a novel behavioural therapy for sentence impairments in aphasia.

Prior to this, I achieved a BA in Linguistics and Modern Languages from Ca’ Foscari University of Venice (summa cum laude).

Hajira Mumtaz

Supervised by Dr Anna Piasecki, Dr Minna Kirjavainen-Morgan and Mr Neil Barua, PhD, FRCS (SN).

Brain tumours are the most destructive type of tumours because they tend to gradually spread into the healthy brain areas that are responsible for important cognitive functions like language. This renders their removal, without causing severe damage to the language-related tissue and consequently introducing life-long speech impairments post-operatively, difficult. In order to reduce such risks, patients’ language abilities are monitored/evaluated in real-time during the surgery, using standardized language tests.

These intraoperative (language) tests are designed to trigger linguistic responses within a very short time-period and are, therefore required to be:

  1. sensitive and robust enough to detect subtle language errors, and
  2. complex enough to capture various aspects of natural language use.

The currently existing tests, however, lack sensitivity potentially because they are not designed for specific populations. Additionally, they’re limited to simple single-word testing and do not fully consider the assessment of other essential expressive elements that are more frequently used in daily-life communication.

The aim in my PhD project is, therefore, to design intraoperative tests with increased sensitivity and that can allow for more personalised, comprehensive and valid evaluation of speech function that is beyond single word testing. 

With a more specific and sensitive battery of language tests as the outcome of this project, our hope is to contribute towards introducing intraoperative tests that can positively impact the quality of life of patients requiring brain tumour surgery. 

I have started my PhD journey in the Spring of 2022 and I am currently in the second year. Prior to this, I did an Erasmus Mundus joint MSc degree in Clinical Linguistics (EMCL+) at the Universities of Groningen, Potsdam and Eastern Finland, where I researched the relationship of cognitive flexibility and the switching of communication modality in people with post-stroke aphasia. I also have a Bachelor’s degree (taught BA) in Linguistics from Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad, Pakistan. 

Tom Williamson

Supervised by Dr Anna Piasecki, Dr Kris Kinsey, and Mr Neil Barua, PhD, FRCS(SN).

T R Williamson (Tom) is a PhD candidate in the Brain, Language, and Behaviour Laboratory in the Bristol Centre for Linguistics at UWE Bristol. His research involves designing language tests for awake craniotomies in the context of neuro-oncology treatments, with a special focus on the motor-linguistic system in the brain.

Tom's research background is broadly in psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics (the study of how language is processed and produced in the mind and brain). To date, he has published and presented on topics including embodied cognition, idiom processing, semantic processing, experimental pragmatics, polysemy, and iconicity. He maintains additional interests in semantics, pragmatics, "superlinguistics", and, outside of linguistics, higher education policy.

Previously, he completed an MPhil (by Thesis) in Linguistics under the supervision of Professor John Williams at the University of Cambridge, and before that a BA(Hons) in Linguistics and Philosophy at Lancaster University, under the supervision of Professor Panos Athanasopoulos and Dr Vittorio Tantucci. He also works with Dr Lisa Aziz-Zadeh in the Centre for the Neuroscience of Embodied Cognition at the University of Southern California.

He is involved with a few academia-adjacent projects as:

 See Tom’s website, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google Scholar profile.

BCL alumni

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

BCL alumni

Bristol Centre for Linguistics

The Bristol Centre for Linguistics creates a platform for knowledge exchange on linguistics as well as highlights the relevance of language research to the public.


Research centres and groups at UWE Bristol

Find out more about research in each college and school at UWE Bristol.

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