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Paul Kerswill
Emeritus Professor



Paul Kerswill works in sociolinguistics, specifically language variation and change. He was appointed Professor in January 2012, after appointments at Reading and Lancaster.


  • University of Cambridge (Gonville and Caius College)
    BA in Modern Languages (1978, MA 1982)
    MPhil in Linguistics (1980)
    PhD in Linguistics (1985)
  • University of Durham
    Research Assistant (1983)
  • University of Cambridge
    Research Assistant (1985-6)
  • University of Reading
    Lecturer/Senior Lecturer (1986-2004)
  • University of Lancaster
    Professor (2004-11)



My research is in language variation and change, with an emphasis on phonetic but also grammatical and discourse variation.

My research is largely focused on dialect contact – the long-term linguistic consequences that ensue when speakers of different accents or dialects come together through migration and mobility. My doctoral research looked at the ways in which Norwegian rural dialect speakers changed their vernacular speech after they had migrated to the city of Bergen.

A consequence of dialect contact is dialect levelling – the overall reduction in linguistic diversity across a dialect area. I worked on a speech community in which there has been 'extreme' levelling - the New Town of Milton Keynes. With colleagues at Queen Mary, University of London, I have also worked extensively on Multicultural London English, a new 'contact variety' which has emerged in London's East End and elsewhere in the capital. This has led to my growing interest in new youth language varieties, particularly in Northern Europe, where I maintain contacts with scholars in several countries.

Research group(s)

Language variation and change


  • January 2011–December 2011: ESRC Follow-On Fund scheme. Co-investigator (Principal Investigator Prof. Jenny Cheshire). From sociolinguistic research to English language teaching.
  • October 2007–September 2010: ESRC, Principal Investigator. Multicultural London English: the emergence, acquisition and diffusion of a new variety.
  • October 2004–September 2007: ESRC, Principal Investigator. Linguistic innovators: the English of adolescents in London.
  • September 1995–May 1999: ESRC, Principal Investigator. The role of adolescents in dialect levelling.
  • September 1990–February 1994: ESRC, Principal Investigator. A new dialect in a new city: children's and adults' speech in Milton Keynes.


  • Jenny Cheshire
  • Eivind Torgersen
  • Sue Fox
  • Mark Sebba

Available PhD research projects

  • Any topics in Language Variation and Change (Social Dialectology), but especially:
    • Dialect contact
    • Youth language
    • Language contact (particularly sociolinguistic aspects)
    • Language and migration
  • Norwegian sociolinguistics
  • Sociology of language in Sub-Saharan Africa


  • Kate Whisker (ESRC): Salience of morphosyntactic and phonological variables in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire
  • Helen West (AHRC): Phonological convergence and divergence in Southport, Ormskirk and Liverpool
  • Lucinda Machell-ffolkes (ESRC): Representation of dialect features in Yorkshire dialect literature
  • Shaun Austin (ESRC): Adolescent speaking style, working-class identity and the English SATS and GCSE tests
  • Elaheh Almousavi: The effect of internal migration on the Azerbaijani Turkish language in Iran: A study of the 1st person plural pronoun suffix variation in Tabriz
  • Katarzyna Alexander: An instrumental sociophonetic of voicing and gemination in Cypriot Greek
  • Paulina Hurwitz: A sociophonetic study of aspiration and voicing in Hebridean English
  • Werdan Kassab: Accent and dialect in Milton Keynes 20 years on

Contact details

Paul Kerswill
Emeritus Professor
Department of Language and Linguistic Science
Vanbrugh College C Block

External activities

Editorial duties

  • Book series: Studies in Language Variation and Change (Benjamins, with Peter Auer and Frans Hinskens)
  • Book series: Edinburgh Sociolinguistics (Edinburgh University Press, with Joan Swann)

Invited talks and conferences

  • June 2012: Invited lecture at interdisciplinary laboratory, Lidilem Laboratory, Université Stendhal, Grenoble
  • April 2012: Lectures at National Institute of Japanese Language and Linguistics, Tokyo
  • March 2012: Invited plenary at English Phonology conference, University of Paris XIII, theme 'Multicultural spoken English?'
  • November 2011: Invited plenary at symposium on Indexing authenticity: Perspectives from linguistics and anthropology. Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies
  • July 2011: Invited plenary at the interdisciplinary Spectres of Class conference, University of Chester
  • January 2011: Guest lecture, Centre for Bilingualism Research, University of Stockholm: Contact, the feature pool and the speech community: The emergence of Multicultural London English
  • November 2010: Invited plenary at the Philological Society meeting, University of the West of England
  • October 2010: Invited plenary at the conference Nordic Language Variation: Grammatical, Sociolinguistic and Infrastructural Perspectives, University of Iceland
  • August 2010: Guest lecture, Department of Linguistics, University of Cape Town: Contact, the feature pool and the speech community: The emergence of Multicultural London English
  • August 2010: Guest lecture, Department of Linguistics, University of Ghana: Investigating new youth language varieties in Africa and in Europe: points of similarity and contrast
  • June 2010: Zurich University: paper entitled 'Innovation and contact: The role of children and adolescents' at the conference 'English as a Contact Language (EcoLa)' (with Jenny Cheshire)
  • September 2009: Alf Sommerfelt Memorial Lecture, University of Tromsø
  • July 2009: Invited plenary speaker at International Conference on Language Variation in Europe 5, University of Copenhagen
  • July 2008: University of Ghana, Dept. of Linguistics: 'The African diaspora and London English'
  • June 2008: CNRS, Paris, Fédération typologique: 'Dialect contact and innovation'
  • October 2007: Hamburg University, Research Centre on Multilingualism: Colloquium on convergence and divergence in language contact situations: 'Dialect levelling and dialect divergence in south-east England: the role of minority ethnic Englishes in phonetic innovation in London'
  • July 2007: Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok: 4 lectures on 'New Directions in British Social Dialectology' and 3 days' consultancy on social dialectology
  • August 2005: Invited discussant at meeting to prepare case for Centre of Excellence in Society and Language, University of Bergen, Norway
  • March 2005: Invited speaker at launch of Norwegian social dialectology project 'Utviklingsprosessar i urbane språkmiljø', Agder College, Kristiansand, Norway
  • September 2004: Invited plenary speaker at New Zealand Language and Society Conference, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand.
  • August 2002: Invited plenary speaker at 7th Nordic Conference on Dialectology, Voss, Norway

Doctoral summer schools

  • September 2011. University of Bergen: lectures on sociolinguistic typology and new-dialect formation
  • July 2011. African Linguistics School summer school, Porto-Novo, Republic of Benin. Organised by New York and Amsterdam Universities. Lectures on sociolinguistics
  • August 2009. Linguistic Society of America, 65th Institute, Berkeley: Lectures on dialect contact and dialect formation
  • June 2009. Edinburgh University: Edinburgh Sociolinguistics Summer School. Workshop on 'Studying phonetic/phonological change in its social context' and plenary lecture 'Levelling and innovation in Britain: contact and isolation'
  • September 2008. Bergen University: Two lectures (in Norwegian) on 'Processes of change in British English dialects'
  • June 2007. Copenhagen University, Sociolinguistics Summer School: 'Language variation in a metropolis: London'
  • September 2003. 4 lectures on social dialectology at Summer School on 'Sociolinguistic approaches to language change', University of Berne
  • April 2003. 2 lectures on social dialectology at North West Centre for Linguistics Spring Research Training Programme, Universities of Salford and Manchester
  • June 2002. 5 lecture-workshops on dialect contact and koineisation to PhD students, University of Leipzig


  • 'TOWIE’s dialect continues a lengthy linguistic tradition' (The Sun, 21 October 2011)
  • 'The English Slanguage' (The Sun, 3 July 2010)

Public lectures

  • Human Rights Action Centre, Hackney, London: TED talk given at TEDxEastEnd meeting, on 'Who's an Eastender now? Migration and the transformation of the Cockney dialect' (September 2011).
  • British Library, London, on 'Multicultural London English' as part of the BL's Evolving English exhibition (March 2011)
  • Wellington, New Zealand (2007): Where are English accents heading? The familiar – and the strange. Or: Is the Queen’s English going to the dogs?