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 (Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences) and Dr Stuart McClean (Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences).

Alicia Huertas

Supervised by Dr Charlotte Selleck and Dr James Murphy.

My project is entitled ‘Loaded Words: Does phraseology denote attitude? A corpus assisted, critical discourse analysis of the relation between sexist language use and sexist ideologies. The 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 that are often termed offensive. In so doing, I will explore the influence that implicit attitudes have on people’s language use, focussing on sexist language.

My hope is to contribute original knowledge of the relationship between intention and speech, to build on existing literature in language and gender, language and ideology and pragmatics.

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