Professor of Sociolinguistics, University of Sheffield

I joined the department in February 2004, following a Lectureship at the University of Manchester. My PhD research was also completed at Manchester. During the course of my PhD, I also studied at Stanford University, USA.

Research
My research explores how individuals and communities use language to construct social styles, differences, and affiliations. My work is interdisciplinary (drawing upon methodologies from anthropology and sociology, in addition to linguistics), often collaborative, and has evolved through Research Projects 1-4 below.

Research project 1 (1999-): Language, adolescence, and the social meaning of syntax

My PhD research on adolescent language employed an ethnographic methodology to examine the ways in which young people used language to reflect and construct social identity. Most significantly, it demonstrated that features of grammar can carry social meaning in ways that had only previously be proven for accent features. I collected a large corpus of data during my PhD, and I continue to analyse and publish on the linguistic phenomena in this dataset. I am currently working on a monograph that uses this data to examine how children exploit grammatical variation to communicate affiliations, attitudes, and stances. By examining the complex ways in which nonstandard grammatical variation functions, I aim to expose the problems with current methods used to teach children Standard English grammar at Key Stages 3 and 4.
External Funding: AHRC PhD student scholarship 1999-2002 (£32,000 + fees); British Academy Small Grant 2007 (£2782); British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship 2019-2020 (£125,000)

Research project 2 (2008-): Language and community identity

This project traces language variation and change on the Isles of Scilly. In addition to documenting an unstudied variety of English (which is of particular significance because of the islands’ geographical isolation and their peculiar history of language contact), the project developed methodologies for working with communities by using community fieldworkers and existing archive resources.
External Funding: AHRC Research Grant 2012-2015 (£199,921)

Research project 3 (2014-): Language and social inequality

This project has evolved from a long term interest in challenging ‘deficit’ views of the language of young people in areas which are considered to be deprived. It has included working with the Park Youth Club in Sheffield in collaboration with a practitioner (Dr. Sarah Spencer, a Speech and Language Therapist), and civic partners in Sheffield (Tracy Brown from the Manor and Castle Development Trust).

This work focused upon the ways in which young people’s language serves to reflect allegiances to place and community. Most recently, I have been focused on challenging primary school educational policy in order to answer questions about the relationship between a child’s dialect and their success at school. To this end, I am working towards a project with Dr. Julia Snell (Leeds), Dr. Sarah Spencer (Sheffield), and Dr. and Mr. Ian Cushing (UCL).

Research project 4 (2016-): Language perceptions

As part of Research Project 2, we developed a piece of software which can be used to test language perceptions. The research community’s interest in this product has resulted in the development of a collaborative project (PI Dr Chris Montgomery) to further test and develop this software as freeware.

Experience

  • –present
    Professor of Sociolinguistics, University of Sheffield