Sam Hellmuth
Senior Lecturer



Sam Hellmuth works in phonology, focussing on suprasegmental phenomena such as stress and intonation, and the syntax-phonology interface, with a special interest in the prosodic properties of spoken Arabic dialects and L2 learners’ English. Her first degree was in Arabic and French at the University of Leeds, and then, after a period teaching English as a Foreign Language in the Middle East (amongst other things), she undertook her MA and PhD in Linguistics at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.


  • University of Leeds
    BA (Hons) in Arabic and French (1985 - 1989)
  • School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London)
    MA in Linguistics (Arabic) (2000 - 2001)
    PhD in Linguistics and Phonetics (2001-2006)
  • University of Potsdam
    Postdoctoral researcher (SFB 632 'Information Structure', 2006-2007)
  • University of York
    Lecturer (2007 - 2013)
    Senior Lecturer (2013 - )

Departmental roles

  • Chair of the Department Teaching Committee

University roles

  • Chair of the Learning and Teaching Forum



  • Intonational phonology
  • Laboratory phonology
  • Second language phonology

I work on the intonation of spoken Arabic dialects, with work so far on dialects spoken in Egypt and Yemen. I am interested in:

  • establishing the empirical facts (the intonational systems of many spoken Arabic dialects are not yet described) so as to determine the nature and degree of prosodic variation across Arabic dialects, and
  • pursuing the theoretical implications of the observed variation in the context of a general cross-linguistic typology of prosodic variation (particularly at  the syntax-phonology interface).
  • I am also developing work on the acquisition of intonational phonology by L2 learners of English. I work within the autosegmental-metrical framework of intonation, and currently model prosodic variation within Optimality Theory.


  • Intonational Variation in Arabic (2012-2014)
    The Intonational Variation in Arabic project is adapting methodology used to document intonational variation in English, to generate a public-access corpus of Arabic speech, using a parallel set of sentences, stories and conversations, recorded with 18-24 year olds in five regions of the Arab world. Additional data from older speakers (50+) and in nearby cities will reveal changes in progress and local variation. Detailed prosodic transcription will yield intonational descriptions of individual dialects and cross-dialectal comparisons, for use by linguists, learners and teachers of Arabic and other users.
  • Towards a better understanding of the needs of English learners of other languages: are English listeners 'stress deaf'? (January-July 2012)
    Most people agree that it is hard to learn a new language as an adult, but relatively little research tries to directly link why language learning is difficult with how we can help learners do better. Of the research that there is, most looks at syntax (sentence structure), rather than phonology (speech sounds), and deals with the needs of people learning English, rather than the needs of native English speakers learning other languages. This six month pilot project will contribute to addressing this imbalance by highlighting the need for research on English learners of other languages. The project will host the Second Language Acquisition of Phonology 2012 conference (SLP2012).
  • Prosodic Variation in Arabic (2008-2010)
    Based on original fieldwork data collected in Yemen, this project is permitting description of the intonational patterns of Yemeni Arabic for the first time, for comparison with the results of prior work on Egyptian Arabic. The project hosted the Intonational Variation in Arabic workshop in 2009.

Research group(s)


  • University of York Research Priming Fund
    "Towards a better understanding of the needs of English learners of other languages: are English listeners 'stress deaf'?" (£9,962; January-July 2012)
  • Economic and Social Research Council
    "Intonational Variation in Arabic."  (£324,158; 2008-2010)
  • University of York Research Priming Fund
    "Prosodic variation in spoken dialects of Arabic: a comparative study." (£4,900; 2008-2010)


  • Rana AlHussein Almbark
  • Dr Becky Taylor

Available PhD research projects

I am keen to supervise PhD projects in:

  • Arabic phonetics and phonology
  • intonational and prosodic phonology, including syntax-phonology interface
  • laboratory phonology
  • second language phonetics and phonology


  • Rana Alhussein Almbark 
    PhD student (October 2008) "The production and perception of SSBE vowels by Syrian Arabic learners."
  • Ghazi AlGethami 
    PhD student (October 2008) "The production of English speech rhythm by L2 Saudi Arabic speakers."

External activities


  • UK Linguistic Olympiad Committee (UKLO)
  • Linguistics Association of Great Britain (LAGB)
  • International Phonetic Association (IPA)
  • International Speech Communication Association (ISCA)
  • The Philological Society

Invited talks and conferences

  • Centre for Research on Bilingualism, Bangor University 
    June 2012
  • University of Leeds  
    February 2012
  • University of Salford
    November 2011
  • University of Essex
    February 2011
  • ZAS Berlin
    December 2009
  • University of Newcastle 
    November 2009
  • University of Edinburgh
    October 2009
  • University of Leeds 
    February 2009
  • Prosody-Syntax Workshop 
    UCL, London, October 2006

Contact details

Sam Hellmuth
Senior Lecturer
Department of Language and Linguistic Science
Vanbrugh College C Block
Room: V/C/210

Tel: (0)1904 322657