• Date and time: Thursday 28 May 2015, 4.00pm
  • Location: Room ARC/014, ARRC Auditorium, Alcuin College
  • Admission: is by free ticket only. Please book below.

Event details

Public Research Seminar

Hosted by the Centre for Research in Language Learning and Use and Research Centre for Social Sciences 

In this research seminar, Alison Wray will explore the complex manner in which language defines and impacts on communication with and by people with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). The talk will consider how linguists can apply their knowledge of language as a formal, functional, social and psychological system, to contribute new insights into, and possible solutions for, current practical problems in AD care.

Alzheimer’s Disease affects language in many different ways. Directly, language processing is undermined by damage to the language areas of the brain. Indirectly, language can be compromised by short term memory loss, distortions in perception, disturbed semantic representation and disorientation brought on by lost contextual information. Meanwhile, linguistic behaviour may change as a result of loss of confidence, depression, altered power relationships, the social construction of AD as an illness, and the discourse contexts in which people with AD finds themselves, such as how carers speak to them. People with AD will apply their remaining linguistic and communicative resources to rescue the situation, developing strategies for avoiding, compensating for, and covering up their problems. In addition, language is used by others to describe symptoms, give instructions for tests, and express feelings and opinions about the condition and how it affects people.

The general population uses language to capture and share its beliefs, assumptions and fears about AD, and language thereby influences social representations of AD. These representations in turn influence linguistic behaviour towards, and by, people with AD.

All of this makes AD an obvious focus of interest for linguists—yet a striking amount of what is published about AD language is written by non-linguists. Linguistics needs to serve as an anchor for all of this valuable work, by bringing theory and evidence into a holistic picture of the experience of communication in Alzheimer’s Disease.

Speaker biography: Alison Wray is a Research Professor in Language and Communication at Cardiff University, where she is also Director of the Centre for Language and Communication Research, and Director of Research for the School of English, Communication and Philosophy.

She gained first class honours in linguistics at York in 1983 and in 1988 completed her doctorate, also at York, on the role of the left and right brain hemispheres in language processing. After working as a postdoc in the Department of Music at York, on a project looking at historical and contemporary language learning issues in classical singing, she became a lecturer at what is now York St John University. In 1996 she moved to Swansea University as the Deputy Director of the Wales Applied Language Research Unit. She is a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences and of the Learned Society of Wales.

Alison’s main focus of research has been units of language processing, with particular attention to formulaic language. Her 2002 book on the subject was awarded the annual book prize of the British Association for Applied Linguistics. She is currently completing a book that examines the interface between models of cognition and models of interaction, as relevant to communication in Alzheimer’s Disease.

She is co-author of two very successful textbooks, Projects in Linguistics and Language Studies (3rd ed 2012) and Critical Reading and Writing for Postgraduates (3rd ed scheduled for 2016). She has presented training at five consecutive ESRC Research Methods Training Festivals in Oxford, and has held research grants from the AHRC, ESRC, Nuffield Foundation, IELTS, Leverhulme, British Academy and Welsh Government. She currently has funding from the BRACE Foundation for a project that is looking for linguistic patterns predictive of future Alzheimer’s Disease.


  • 4.00pm - Welcome and introduction
  • 4.10pm - Alison Wray public lecture
  • 5.00pm - Question and answer session and refreshments
Professor Alison Wray, Centre for Language & Communication Research, Cardiff University
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