Cognitive linguistics and psycholinguistics

Our research in cognitive linguistics and psycholinguistics covers a wide range of areas including figurative language, idioms, embodied cognition, language and perception, sign language, gesture, second language acquisition and construction grammar.

Much of our work focuses on figurative language. Researchers study the ways in which different types of figurative language interact with one another, how figurative language use varies across genres and registers and how the fields of education, advertising, teaching and bereavement counselling use figurative language.

We explore how figurative language is processed in a first and second language, how second language learners comprehend and produce figurative language and how second language learning affects first language attrition.

We are interested in how native and non-native speakers process idioms and other formulaic word combinations. We look at how idioms are learned as part of a second language and use translated forms to investigate the correspondence between well-known phrases in first and second languages.

Our work on language and perception focuses on studies of the distributional characteristics of English sensory words. We are interested in the relationship between the language and the senses and embodied metaphor.

We have particular strengths in British Sign Language (BSL), Australian Sign Language (Auslan) and gesture studies, where we are conducting research into similarities and differences between pointing gestures used by non-signers and pointing signs employed in sign languages.

Another key strength is our work on Construction Grammar. This enables the study of grammar from a cognitive and corpus linguistic perspective. We focus on how syntactic constructions are mentally represented, how they are learned and how they change over time.

Funded projects

Research methods

Our work employs a wide variety of research methods, usually employed in combination. We make use of a range of corpus and discourse approaches, as well as more experimental methods involving the use of eye tracking, reaction time software, and software designed to measure emotional responses to a range of stimuli, including texts, sound and images. All of our research is underpinned by a strong commitment to the use of rigorous statistical techniques and reproducible research practices. See, for example tutorials on various aspects of statistics and R.

Impact and public engagement

Our current research projects are designed to ensure that the work we conduct in this area has a significant impact on the lives of people outside academia. We are, for example, working on the role played by metaphor and other types of figurative language in advertising, the ways in which it is understood by people from different cultures, the use of metaphor by individuals who have experienced pregnancy loss or stillbirth and those who support them, and the use of metaphor by mathematics teachers and the ways in which it is understood by their pupils.

We also have an interest in expanding our research to encompass specific populations, such as people suffering from language impairments as a result of stroke, head injury or dementia. Our work will look at how figurative language is impaired or preserved, and how this might be used to augment approaches to rehabilitation.

Studying with us

Through our popular PhD programme in English Language and Applied Linguistics, members of this research group are supervising a large number of students working on PhDs in this area. These students are exploring a number of exciting new fields, such as the acquisition of figurative language by second language learners of English, interactions between figurative language and creative thought more generally, the use of gesture by speakers of English, German and Arabic, and the use of sign language.

Our campus BA in English Language, MA in Applied Linguistics and Distance MA in Applied Linguistics programmes also reflect our research activity in Cognitive Linguistics and Psycholinguistics.

Staff and their areas of expertise