PhD in Applied Linguistics (Lexical Studies)



The PhD programme in Applied Linguistics at Cardiff is designed specifically to meet the needs of part-time, distance-learning students.

All students on the programme work in the broad areas of lexical research and lexical perspectives on language issues. Specific topics might include, for example, vocabulary processing, assessment of vocabulary knowledge, second language acquisition, lexical acquisition and attrition in L1 or L2, lexical features of communication disorders, corpus linguistics, formulaic language, and lexical perspectives on other specialist topics researched in CLCR, e.g. forensic linguistics, organisational discourse, gesture and non-verbal communication, systemic functional linguistics. Contributors to the programme are experts in lexical perspectives on language acquisition, processing and production, and include Professors Alison Wray, Tess Fitzpatrick and Paul Meara and Dr Dawn Knight and other members of the Centre for Language and Communication Research, Cardiff University.

The common focus has enabled us to build a strong research group with shared interests and a rich bank of source materials and research tools. The research group exists as a virtual network, consisting not only of current students, but also of post doctoral researchers and scholars with an established reputation in vocabulary studies.

Most students on the programme live and work overseas, and the programme addresses the particular challenges of this study context through a structured framework, with regular newsletters and set tasks to be completed on a monthly/yearly basis.  Students are expected to attend an annual conference, held in the UK, which provides an opportunity for face-to-face contact between students, supervisors and established researchers; invited speakers at recent conferences have included Averil Coxhead, Patrick Hanks, Birgit Henriksen , Michael McCarthy, Paul Rayson, Emma Marsden and Leah Roberts.  The part-time programme takes 6 years to complete, and most graduates from the programme continue to work as active researchers in academic roles.

Successful applicants to the programme will typically have demonstrated a strong performance at Masters level, will have completed a course in research methods, and will have some experience of conducting empirical research (possibly as part of the Masters degree).  A strong research project proposal in a relevant field will also be required.



“I came to the PhD in Applied Linguistics (Lexical Studies) through what I believe is a fairly typical route. I had been in ELT for a number of years, working both as a teacher and in materials development, and had completed an MA a few years previously. As I gradually shifted my focus towards research, a PhD was the logical next step, and with a strong interest in vocabulary, this programme was the logical choice.

Organised specifically for distance learning, the programme has a more supportive and structured approach than a traditional British PhD, but also avoids the US-style coursework approach. The community aspect, comprising current students at various stages in the programme, the supervisors, graduates of the programme and others, is a definite plus. The annual conference is stimulating and supportive. And perhaps most importantly I have been very pleased with the quality of the supervision: interaction is frequent and helpful and there is a sense of collegiality. I therefore do no heisitate to recommend the programme.”

Dale Brown, PhD Applied Linguistics (Lexical Studies) student.

“I am in my first year of the Ph.D. program in Applied Linguistics (Lexical Studies). This is a part-time program by distance, designed for and catering to students who are working full time, as I am. So far, I’ve been able to balance meeting the demands of the program and working full time. What I really appreciate about the program is that it is very structured. We have training tasks to complete every month, which keeps me focused on the course. Training tasks often involve reading and responding to articles. For one task, we read several articles in preparation for a group Skype conference with the author. For another, students worked together to compose a group response to a task. So while some might worry about working on a Ph.D. by distance in ‘isolation’, this isn’t the case at all.

In addition to the training tasks, I’ve been working on a replication experiment of a published study. This has been a great introduction to how experiments are organised and carried out. It is has also been, for me, a useful introduction to data analysis and statistics. I will be presenting on this study at our annual student conference in Wales this spring. So again, even though this program is by distance, it is certainly not done in isolation!”

Kimberly Klassen, Second Year PhD Applied Linguistics (Lexical Studies) student.


We welcome enquiries from prospective students and advise you to make contact with the School before you submit a formal application. For more information about the PhD in Applied Linguistics, or to discuss potential research projects, please contact the School at

You can apply online or can download an application form from Cardiff University’s Apply section. Paper applications should be sent to the University Registry.


For details of possible funding opportunities please visit the following site:


Recent and Current Students and Research Topics

  • Dale Brown – ESL productive knowledge of collocations
  • Mark Maby – Polysemy and depth of word knowledge
  • John Racine – Investigating the L2 mental lexicon using word association data
  • Matthew Rooks – Autonomy in vocabulary learning
  • Paula Psyllakis – The pragmatics of Alzheimer’s discourse and the role of formulaic language
  • Jeff Stewart – Item difficulty in vocabulary tests
  • Kimberly Klassen – Vocabulary Load of Proper Nouns and Marginal Words in L2 Reading Texts
  • Peter Thwaites – Individual differences in lexical storage
  • Tom Caton – The effect of short term study abroad on language learners’ vocabulary knowledge
  • Caroline Handley – The mental lexicon: stable construct or dynamic situated
  • Mike Green – The role of phonological patterns and etymology in the acquisition of formulaic sequences
  • Stephen Cutler – The role of formulaic language in speech memorisation and production in L2 speakers of English