About Modern Languages and Linguistics

About the Modern Languages and Linguistics Unit


Ulster is engaged in world-leading research in linguistics and the study of Irish, including language acquisition and language identity, syntax and pragmatics, discourse, and Irish language and literature (both Early and Modern).

Ranked 2nd in the UK for Celtic Studies, 100% of our impact is recognised as international (REF 2014); we have an 89% PhD researcher satisfaction rate versus a national rate of 83%.

Research aims

We aim to:

  • establish cross-disciplinary initiatives working with colleagues in health and social sciences, education, computer sciences
  • grow our collaboration with centres of excellence in linguistics and celtic studies globally
  • translate our expertise into bespoke services for national health, creative and education sectors
  • attract a new pool of talented researchers studying language
  • grow and foster a new generation of linguists and language practitioners

Research themes

Our research falls into the following main themes:

  • Language acquisition (early years) and multilingualism
  • Syntax, at interfaces between syntax/semantics; syntax/lexicon; diachronic syntax
  • Semantics and pragmatics, focusing on the knowledge of meaning and its interfaces with other linguistic knowledge, together with developing theories of various phenomena
  • Discourse, ranging from narrative theory to conversation analysis
  • Irish language and literature, researching Middle and Classical Bardic poetry, Irish dialects and folklore heritage, adaptations and translations into Irish from foreign sources
  • Language policy and planning, advocating for better language rights of minorities whilst also critiquing shortcomings in the current system in NI and other post-conflict regions

Our Impact

Regionally, in collaboration with Barnardo’s NI, our Language Made Fun project promoted the use of home language with the speakers of minority groups across the province and delivered a Family Learning and Integration Hub as a forum for multilingual families and language minorities.

Nationally, in collaboration with Conradh na Gaeilge (The Gaelic League), our staff cultivated links with government and political parties and developed, promotd and implemented all-inclusive language initiatives on the island of Ireland. In particular, we addressed issues of under-representation of Irish language in Northern Ireland, our work leading to the establishment of an Irish Language Commissioner in 2020 and facilitating discussion on robust language policy underpinned by the inter-community dialogue and strategic initiatives in the area of identity and linguistic inclusion.

Globally, our staff have been at the forefront of developing Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) technological solutions to establish sustainable and productive links between disconnected communities of minority language speakers and delivered teacher-training workshops to primary and secondary language teachers from 30 countries across Europe and beyond.