Dr Alison Sealey BA MEd PGCE PhD


Senior Lecturer in Modern English Language

Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics

Photograph of Dr Alison Sealey

Contact details

Arts Building
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT


My main professional interests are in the role of language in social processes. This broad topic can be approached in many different ways, and my teaching and research consider it from various perspectives.


I have a PhD from the University of Warwick, an M.Ed in English in Education from the University of Birmingham, a PGCE from Edge Hill College and a BA in English and American Literature from the University of Kent.


I began my career as a teacher and advisory teacher in primary and secondary schools in London and Birmingham. In the 1980s I was employed in the voluntary sector as an education resources worker for an anti-racist charity, and I was an advisory teacher on the LINC (Language in the National Curriculum) project before taking up my first academic appointment at the University of Warwick in 1991. I have held academic posts (first in Education and then in Applied Linguistics) at the universities of Warwick, Reading and Aston, before coming to Birmingham as a Senior Lecturer in Modern English Language in 2005.


I teach on English Language modules in all three years of the undergraduate degree programmes, including a final year option on The Politics of English. At various times I have taught undergraduate and postgraduate students in areas such as Discourse Analysis, Sociolinguistics and Intercultural Communication, as well as Applied Linguistics and English Language Teaching and Research Methods for applied linguistic research.

I recently held an educational enhancement project grant from the University's Centre for Learning and Academic Development, with Gillian Wright, for the project 'Improving assessment of students’ work: implementation of TESTA (Transforming the Experience of Students through Assessment) in the Department of English'; see http://www.testa.ac.uk/

Postgraduate supervision

I welcome applications from postgraduate research students who are seeking supervision in the areas of:

  • The sociology of language and the links between language use and social processes. Students who are interested in any aspect of language and the realist social theory explored in a number of my recent publications are especially encouraged to contact me about their proposals for MPhil/PhD research.
  • Any aspect of the way animals are represented in different kinds of discourse
  • Corpus linguistics as a method in discourse analysis
  • Corpus linguistics in first language learning and teaching
  • Language planning and policy  


My research is driven by a keen interest in the connections between social processes and language in use – from face-to-face interactions to the laws which prescribe educational policy. This requires knowledge both of ways of analysing language and ways of explaining the social world. I have therefore collaborated in my research with social scientists, and have found realist social theory the most useful perspective from which to approach a wide range of applied linguistic issues. This has the advantage of distinguishing between structure, culture and agency, thus allowing analysis of the interplay between them. While language is central to social life, the social world cannot be reduced to a discursive construction, and my current research explores various links between discourse and society, including through the use of corpus linguistic methods.

From October 2013, these interests are being further developed in a collaboration with Professor Guy Cook of King's College London, funded by a grant from the Leverhulme Trust. This research, 'People', 'products’,’ pests' and 'pets': the discursive representation of animals is partly a response to the 'post-humanist' current in social science. It aims to explore the many ways in which animals feature in discourse, including how the views of those communicating professionally about animals relate to the language they use.

I have also published research in language planning policy and practice, and in the potential of corpus methods for the development of language awareness, particularly with younger learners. I was principal investigator on an ESRC-funded research study on ‘An investigation into corpus-based learning about language in the primary school’, which led to several publications on this topic.

Research groups

I am a member and former committee member of the British Association for Applied Linguistics, and a member of the Corpus Linguistics and Discourse Analysis & Stylistics research clusters at the University of Birmingham. In June 2010, I co-organised, with Paul Thompson, a BAAL-CUP seminar on Using corpus evidence in the classroom: working with teachers and learners. I organised a symposium on Realist Approaches to Language and Discourse Analysis, with Bob Carter, held at the University of Warwick in January 2011, which led to the formation of the MORE.EU consortium, a collaboration among researchers in several European countries who are interested in the theory and practice of policies on multilingualism.

Other activities

I am departmental admissions tutor for postgraduate research students in English Language. I am the Reviews and Forum editor for the journal Applied Linguistics.


My recent publications deal with two main areas of research: empirical language research, mainly related to realist social theory and young learners using corpus methods in the classroom.

These publications are concerned with empirical language research, drawing on realist social theory

  • Sealey, A. (forthcoming in 2014) Cats and categories: response to Teubert. Language and Dialogue Vol.4 No.2
  • Sealey, A. and Oakley, L. (2014) Why did the Canada goose cross the sea? Accounting for the behaviour of wildlife in the documentary series Life. International Journal of Applied Linguistics. Vol.24 No.1: 19 – 37 doi: 10.1111/ijal.12007
  • Sealey, A. and Carter, B. (2013 published in early access online) ‘Response to Elder-Vass: “Seven Ways to be a Realist about Language”. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour. doi: 10.1111/jtsb.12040
  • Sealey, A. and Charles, N. (2013) ‘What do animals mean to you?’: naming and relating to non-human animals. Anthrozoos Vol.26 No.4: 485 – 503 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/175303713X13795775535652
  • Sealey, A. and Oakley, L. (2013) Anthropomorphic grammar? Some linguistic patterns in the wildlife documentary series Life. Text and Talk. Vol.33 No.3: 399 – 420. doi: 10.1515/text-2013-0017
  • Sealey, A. (2013) Realism. In Carol A. Chapelle (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics. Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Sealey, A. (2012) ‘I just couldn’t do it’: representations of constraint in an oral history corpus. Critical Discourse Studies. Vol.9 No.3
  • Sealey, A. (2010) Researching English Language: a resource book for students. (Routledge English Language Introductions series) London: Routledge.
  • Sealey, A. (2010) Probabilities and surprises: a realist approach to identifying linguistic and social patterns, with reference to an oral history corpus. Applied Linguistics Vol.31 No.2: 215–235
  • Carter, B. and Sealey, A. (2009) Reflexivity, realism and the process of casing. In Byrne, D. and Ragin, C. (eds.) The SAGE Handbook of Case-Based Methods. London: Sage. (pp 69 – 83)
  • Sealey, A. (2007) Linguistic ethnography in realist perspective. Journal of Sociolinguistics. Vol. 11 No. 5: 641-660 doi:10.1111/j.1467-9841.2007.00344.x
  • Carter, B. and Sealey, A. (2007) Languages, Nations and Identities. Methodological Innovations Online [Online] 2 (2)
  • Carter, B. and Sealey, A. (2004) Researching ‘real’ language. In B. Carter and C. New (eds) Making Realism Work: realist social theory and empirical research. London: Routledge. (pp 111 – 130)
  • Sealey, A. and Carter, B. (2004) Applied Linguistics as Social Science. (Advances in Applied Linguistics series), London: Continuum
  • Sealey, A. and Carter, B. (2001) ‘Social categories and sociolinguistics: applying a realist approach’, International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 152 pp 1 –19
  • Carter, B. and Sealey, A. (2000) ‘Language, structure and agency: what can realist social theory offer to sociolinguistics?’, Journal of Sociolinguistics Vol.4 No.1 pp 3 - 20 (Published with rejoinders by Jonathan Potter and Norman Fairclough pp 21 - 29)
  • Sealey, A. (2000) Childly Language: Children, language and the social world. (Real Language series), Longman / Pearson Education

These publications report on the study of young learners using corpus methods in the classroom

  • Sealey, A. (2011) The use of corpus-based approaches in children's knowledge about language. In Ellis, S. and McCartney, E. (eds.) Applied Linguistics and Primary School Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (pp 93 – 106)
  • Sealey, A. (2009) Exploring vocabulary with young L1 learners: the contribution of a corpus. In Richards, B., Daller, M.H., Malvern, D.D., Meara, P. Milton, J. and Treffers-Daller, J. (eds.) Vocabulary Studies in First and Second Language Acquisition: the interface between theory and application. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. (pp 39 – 58)
  • Sealey, A. and Thompson, P. (2007) Corpus, concordance, classification: young learners in the L1 classroom. Language Awareness. Vol.16 No.3: 208 - 223 doi: 10.2167/la453.0
  • Thompson, P. and Sealey, A. (2007) Through children’s eyes? Corpus evidence of the features of children’s literature. International Journal of Corpus Linguistics. Vol.12 No.1: 1 – 23
  • Sealey, A. and Thompson, P. (2006) ‘Nice things get said’. Corpus evidence and the National Literacy Strategy. Literacy. Vol 40 No 1: 22 – 28
  • Sealey, A. and Thompson, P. (2004) 'What do you call the dull words?' Primary school children using corpus-based approaches to learn about language.  English in Education. Vol 38 No 1: 80 – 91

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