English Language and Applied Linguistics PhD/MA by Research

We offer excellent candidates the opportunity to carry out research in one of the most dynamic institutions in Britain.

Our principal areas of research expertise are Cognitive Linguistics, Corpus Linguistics, Stylistics and Discourse Studies, and Language Learning and Teaching.

We also offer an Applied Linguistics PhD via distance mode, in two formats: traditional and modular.

Shuangling Li

Shuangling Li

“At the University of Birmingham, we have the most supportive group of staff and PhD fellows and I have access to valuable resources for research. We also have a research community, PG Tips, which organises weekly seminars and conferences for us to participate in. We can hear about each other’s research project or talk about our own studies. Our department also organises ELR seminars where we can hear from established professors or researchers in our area.”
Ask Shuangling a question

The MA by Research programme requires you to prepare a dissertation of up to 40,000 words on a topic of your choice, for which an academic staff member will provide expert supervision.

The PhD – the most advanced research degree – leads to a dissertation of up to 80,000 words on a subject of your choice and under the expert supervision of an academic member of staff.

Our principal areas of research include:

Cognitive Linguistics -  an increasingly important area of departmental activity, research here focusses on the putative mental dispositions underlying language users’ processing of space, time, metaphor and other forms of figurative language.  Research is underpinned by experimental methods involving eye-tracking equipment and, increasingly, similar techniques.  A new focus of work, linking corpus and cognitive research, concerns the importance of usage, patterns and constructions, in language acquisition and fluency.

Corpus Linguistics - our work in this area incorporates interests in linguistic theory and language description, including descriptive translation and contrastive studies, phraseology and the lexis–grammar interface, and in the application of corpus investigation techniques to areas such as translation, lexicography and diachronic language study. Corpus techniques also underpin much of our work in discourse studies and in language learning and teaching.

Stylistics and Discourse Studies - our work here focuses on written narrative structure and texture, text linguistics (diachronic as well as synchronic), literary stylistics, and critical discourse analysis.  Major themes of interest include academic discourse, the relationship between language and social class, evaluation, language and new media, everyday creativity, and multi-modal discourse.

Language Learning and Teaching - our work in this area incorporates corpus approaches to phraseology, lexis and grammar, and discourse approaches to academic literacies. This also includes a focus on the teaching and learning of figurative language, collocation, and business English in the context of English as a global language. We also focus on cognitive linguistics and its applications to language learning and teaching.

Profiles of our current English Language and Applied Linguistics doctoral researchers

At Birmingham you also have the option of studying languages, free of charge. Almost no other UK University offers you the opportunity to learn the intense graduate academic language skills which you may need to pursue your research.

Why study this course

  • The department celebrated excellent Research Assessment Exercise 2014 results. 34% of research at the University of Birmingham for English Language and Literature was rated 4*, ‘world-leading’. A further 53% was rated 3*, ‘internationally excellent’.
  • Our English Language programmes benefit from the 400 million-word bank of English corpus, an invaluable collection of authentic language data.
  • All students and researchers working within English Language also have free access to the Cobuild Direct corpus, and, where necessary, training in how to use this.
  • The Main Library houses an extensive collection of books on English language and linguistics, including English language teaching, and subscribes to 250 periodicals in the fields of English language and literature.

Fees and funding

We charge an annual tuition fee. Fees for 2016/17:

  • Home / EU £4,121 full-time; £2,061 part-time
  • Overseas: £13,680 full-time

For part-time students, the above fee quoted is for year one only and tuition fees will also be payable in subsequent years of your programme.

Eligibility for Home/EU or Overseas fees can be verified with Admissions. Learn more about fees for international students.

Tuition fees can either be paid in full or by instalments. Learn more about postgraduate tuition fees and funding.

Entry requirements

Our requirements for postgraduate research are dependent on the type of programme you are applying for:

  • For MRes and MA by Research programmes, entry to our programmes usually requires a good (normally a 2:1 or above) Honours degree, or an equivalent qualification if you were educated outside the UK.
  • If you are applying for a PhD then you will usually also need to hold a good Masters qualification.

Any academic and professional qualifications or relevant professional experience you may have are normally taken into account, and in some cases, form an integral part of the entrance requirements.

If you are applying for distance learning research programmes, you will also be required to demonstrate that you have the time, commitment, facilities and experience to study by distance learning.

If your qualifications are non-standard or different from the entry requirements stated here, please contact the admissions tutor.

International students

Academic requirements

We accept a range of qualifications; our country pages show you what qualifications we accept from your country.

English language requirements

You can satisfy our English language requirements in two ways:

How to apply

Before you make your application

Please refer to our six step process on applying for PhD, MA by Research and MRes opportunities for Arts subject areas.

You may wish to register your interest with us to receive regular news and updates on postgraduate life within this Department and the wider University.

Additional Guidance for applicants to the PhD Distance Learning study mode.

Making your application

When clicking on the Apply Now button you will be directed to an application specifically designed for the programme you wish to apply for where you will create an account with the University application system and submit your application and supporting documents online. Further information regarding how to apply online can be found on the How to apply pages

Apply now

Before contacting members of academic staff, please make sure you are familiar with the application process.

Any questions about fees, scholarships, paperwork etc. are best directed to the College of Arts and Law Graduate School.

You may also be interested in browsing our English Language and Applied Linguistics staff profile pages to find additional research expertise.

Dr Joe Bennett - j.a.bennett.1@bham.ac.uk

I would be interested in supervising research into relationships between discourse – taken in its most general sense to include not just language but also other semiotic modes, especially images and sounds – and social power relations. Of particular interest to me at the moment are the ways in which features of contemporary British life are semiotised – the ways in which, for example, social class differences are talked about by politicians, or the ways in which different organisations with different political interests visually represent British cities. Any work related to these themes, including that relating to other cultural/national contexts, is likely to be of interest. In terms of methodological frameworks, I am interested in work that draws on Halliday’s Social Semiotics, including later developments in that area, and in Critical Discourse Analysis.

Dr Melanie Evans - m.evans@bham.ac.uk

My research focuses on the language of the individual (idiolects), with a current emphasis on historical idiolects from the Early Modern period. I am interested in the relationship between language style, social identity, and linguistic variation and change. I would be interested in supervising students in the following areas:

  • Historical sociolinguistics, especially the Early Modern period (1500-1700). I would be particularly interested in supervising students wishing to develop new methodological approaches and/or resources (corpora) to answer questions about the relationship between society and linguistic variation in historical periods.
  • Studies of idiolects and authorship attribution methods and techniques, both for contemporary or historical data.
  • Discursive studies of language and identity, particularly in regards to gender.
  • Historical development of spelling and other written dimensions of language.

Dr Nick Groom - n.w.groom@bham.ac.uk

I am interested in supervising PhD students who want to use the tools and methods of corpus linguistics to address problems, questions and issues in Discourse Analysis, Critical Discourse Analysis and Second Language Acquisition research. I am also interested in supervising PhD projects that focus on applications of corpus linguistics in TEFL/TESL.

Professor Susan Hunston - s.e.hunston@bham.ac.uk

My main areas of research are corpus linguistics, especially investigating the lexis-grammar interface, and discourse, especially evaluative language and academic discourse. My more recent work combines and extends these areas. 

Dr Suganthi John - s.p.john@bham.ac.uk

My main areas of research are in academic discourse and the teaching of academic writing. I am keen to supervise research which investigates aspects of academic discourse – for e.g. argumentation in academic discourse, comparative studies on the features of academic discourse in different disciplines, academic style etc. Of particular interest is research which aims to illuminate aspects of academic discourse which are challenging for second language writers. Equally, I would be keen on supervising research which evaluates classroom techniques for the teaching of academic writing and materials development for academic writing. I would also be happy to supervise writing (not academic but general or creative writing) for EFL learners.

Professor Jeannette Littlemore - j.m.littlemore@bham.ac.uk

I am interested in supervising PhD theses on the acquisition and use of metaphor and other types of figurative language by second language learners. I would particularly welcome proposals that focus on the acquisition of metonymy, humour and irony, and the use of verbal and gestural metaphor in cross-linguistic communication or communication between members of different discourse communities. I am also interested in supervising research that explores other applications of cognitive linguistics (such as construal) to second language learning and teaching.

Professor Michaela Mahlberg -  m.mahlberg@bham.ac.uk

My main research interests are in corpus linguistics and contextual approaches to meaning. In my current work I am particularly interested in the development of tools to support innovative research questions in the Digital Humanities and new developments in Big Data.  In the field of corpus linguistics I have published on the relationship between lexis and grammar and the way in which phraseology contributes to cohesion in texts. A major focus of my research is corpus stylistics, where I have worked extensively on Dickens's fiction and proposed a lexical approach to body language presentation in fiction.  I welcome Ph D applications from those interested in any of the above topics.

Dr Ruth Page - Pagere@adf.bham.ac.uk

My research interests bring together feminist narratology and the analysis of narratives in digital contexts. My work is integrative in nature and seeks to open up dialogue between literary-critical and sociolinguistic traditions of narrative research.  I would welcome postgraduate students (MA or PhD) with interests in any of the following areas of research:   Narrative theory;  Stylistics; New media texts; and Discourse Analysis.

Dr Paul Thompson - p.thompson@bham.ac.uk

I have research interests in linguistic aspects of human-computer interaction, in uses of educational technologies in language learning, and in the exploitation of corpus resources and methodologies in learning about language. I have worked on large scale academic corpus development projects, and am keen to supervise doctoral research which explores specialised language use, particularly in academic discourse, through corpus analysis, or which develops innovative approaches to corpus studies.

Professor Michael Toolan - m.toolan@bham.ac.uk

I am interested in supervising PhDs in all areas of Literary Stylistics, Narrative Analysis, and Discourse Analysis.  Having recently completed two monographs using corpus stylistics to explore narrative structure, my major current research interest is a corpus linguistic study of UK news media representations of wealth (in)equality over the past 40 years.

Dr Crayton Walker - c.p.walker@bham.ac.uk

My own research interests are associated with the study of collocation and other phraseological aspects of English. I am currently using corpus-based techniques to investigate the phraseological behaviours of high frequency nouns and verbs and looking at how these are represented in mainstream EFL coursebooks.

I am particularly interested in supervising MA and PhD research in the areas of

  • collocation and other phraseological aspects of English
  • the pedagogic application of corpora
  • vocabulary and the teaching of vocabulary

Dr Adam Schembri - a.schembri@bham.ac.uk

My research and teaching experience has encompassed a number of areas in sign language linguistics, including work on aspects of the lexicon, grammar and sociolinguistics of Auslan and British Sign Language (BSL).  I have worked in a number of institutions in Australia and England.  I am interested in supervising suitable PhD topics on all aspects of Australian and British Sign Languages.

Dr Petra Schoofs – p.m.schoofs@bham.ac.uk

My main interest lies in bilingualism and bilingual education. An additional research focus and the topic of my PhD was first language attrition research: what happens to your mother tongue when you have been living in other language environments for a lengthy period of time.  I am interested in supervising doctoral research in the above areas and related topics.

Related research

The University has been recognised for its impressive graduate employment, being named ‘University of the Year for Graduate Employment’ in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2016.

In addition, the global edition of The New York Times has ranked the University 60th in the world and 9th in UK for post-qualification employability. The rankings illustrate the top 150 universities most frequently selected by global employers and are the result of a survey by French consulting firm Emerging and German consulting firm Trendence.

Your degree will provide excellent preparation for employment and this will be further enhanced by the employability skills training offered through the College of Arts and Law Graduate School. The University also offers a wide range of activities and services to give our students the edge in the job market, including: career planning designed to meet the needs of postgraduates; opportunities to meet employers face-to-face at on-campus recruitment fairs, employer presentations and skills workshops; individual guidance on your job applications, writing your CV and improving your interview technique; and access to comprehensive listings of hundreds of graduate jobs and work experience opportunities.

University of the Year for employability

Birmingham?s English Language and Applied Linguistics postgraduates develop a broad range of transferable skills that are highly valued by employers, particularly in relation to verbal and written communication. They also develop crucial skills in organisation, time management, analysis and interpretation of information.

Over the past five years, over 92% of English Language and Applied Linguistics postgraduates were in work and/or further study six months after graduation. Some of our graduates enter roles for which their programme has prepared them, such as translation, interpreting or teaching; others use their transferable skills in a wide range of occupations including journalism, marketing, publishing and media.

Birmingham has been transformed into one of Europe's most exciting cities. It is more than somewhere to study; it is somewhere to build a successful future.

Get involved

In addition to the student groups hosted by the Guild of Students, each school runs its own social activities, research fora, seminars and groups for postgraduates.


Coming to Birmingham to study might be your first time living away from home. Our student accommodation will allow you to enjoy your new-found independence in safe, welcoming and sociable surroundings.

Support in your studies

We offer an Academic Writing Advisory Service, which aims to help your transition to postgraduate research. The service offers guidance on organising your ideas and structuring an argument, referencing and avoiding plagiarism, being clear and coherent and editing your work for academic style and linguistic accuracy. Individual support is provided by a professional academic writing advisor via tutorials or email, as well as through the provision of online materials.

The City of Birmingham

One of Europe's most exciting destinations, Birmingham is brimming with life and cultures, making it a wonderful place to live, study and work. Our students fall in love with the city - around 40% of our graduates choose to make Birmingham their home.