Language at Leeds is an interdisciplinary centre for language research and scholarship encompassing expertise from the arts and humanities, education and social sciences, psychology and biological sciences, and computing and engineering.
Our work addresses the following challenges:
How can we communicate across cultures? Cultures are created and maintained through language. Each language features its own system of concepts. Translation across languages is key for cross-cultural exchanges, and it contributes to the evolution of conceptual systems. Our research optimises the automation of translation and terminology extraction for the benefit of the business sectors, arts and sciences.
How can we achieve greater social justice? Ethno-cultural and social diversity manifest themselves through language (e.g., bilingualism, dialects, accents). In turn, language is a vehicle for social inclusion or exclusion. Our research helps identify manifestations of diversity and seeks to alert people to the judgements they unconsciously associate with particular language traits. This can reduce biases and lead to a fairer society. We also examine the role of language in changing perceptions of mental health, poverty and environmental justice, and in tackling the global problem of societal polarisation.
How can we reduce inequalities between children and improve their life chances? Language is a key predictor of education attainment, employability, social networks, health and staying out of crime. Our research helps identify children in need of language support and creates school-based interventions to deliver that support. We collaborate closely with the multidisciplinary Centre for Applied Education Research in Bradford in developing a whole-systems approach to school-centred, research-informed and targeted support for children and young people.
What does humanity lose when languages disappear? Language is an important source of knowledge: it acts as a cultural repository and an environmental inventory; the extinction of languages mirrors that of environmental species. Our research helps understand the links between endangered languages and endangered ecosystems. We play a key role in the training of a new generation of researchers in the emerging field of Extinction Studies. The global loss of linguistic diversity is often a legacy of colonialism, and the reclamation of endangered languages can be an important part of decolonization and Indigenous resistance.
How can we optimise language pedagogy to facilitate internationalisation? Language and content are interlinked. Languages are a form of capital that should be made accessible to all students regardless of their backgrounds and cultural origins. Our research and scholarship seek to inform practice in our internationalised university. This includes providing adequate support, so that language is not a barrier to knowledge. It also includes valuing the contributions of our multilingual students and valuing the teaching and learning of languages.
How can we improve the effectiveness of communication? Language is full of ambiguities, and this easily creates misunderstandings. Our research and scholarship help assess the clarity and accessibility of language and achieve maximum informativity for diverse audiences (e.g., for health-related communications). It seeks to uncover the multiple layers of meaning at play in any form of language use, and to explain the processes that guide people’s understanding. Language clarity is particularly important for public engagement with science.
How can we apprehend all forms of communication? Language is only one of the means we use to communicate and interact – we also make meaning through gestures, clothing, visual media, music, etc. Each plays a role in the perception and construction of identities, in the creation of knowledge and its transmission, and in our professional practices and daily activities. Our research provides a framework for the rigorous analysis of all modes of communication.
How can we improve qualitative research across scientific disciplines? Most qualitative research is based on the production of meaning through language (e.g., interviews, social ethnography, focus groups, surveys). Language researchers can help optimise methodologies, as well as inform and enrich the interpretation of the results.