Ewch i’r prif gynnwys
Alison Wray  BA (Hons), D.Phil (York), FHEA, FAcSS, FLSW

Yr Athro Alison Wray BA (Hons), D.Phil (York), FHEA, FAcSS, FLSW

Distinguished Research Professor

Ysgol Saesneg, Cyfathrebu ac Athroniaeth

+44 29208 74762
Adeilad John Percival , Ystafell 3.37, Rhodfa Colum, Caerdydd, CF10 3EU
Ar gael fel goruchwyliwr ôl-raddedig

































Adrannau llyfrau








  • Wray, A. 2000. Pronunciation of the texts. [CD]. Salisbury Cathedral Boy Choristers, Gabrieli Consort & Paul McCreesh. John Sheppard: Missa Cantata. CD recording 457 2 October 2023.


The central focus of my research is developing innovative models that can account for patterns observed in language. My primary contribution in the past few years has been in characterising formulaic language (prefabricated wordstrings).

Formulaic language encompasses strings of words that:

  • appear to be stored whole in memory for convenience (e.g. thank you very much; what I mean is)
  • are particularly frequent in text (e.g. in the middle of?)
  • have a social importance for particular people (e.g. present arms)
  • are memorised or repeated,
  • and/or are non-compositional in form or meaning (e.g. by and large; woe betide).

Drawing on observations of formulaic language in a variety of contexts, I have developed  models of how language is learned, processed and stored, and have applied them, through experiments and other investigations, to issues in first and second language acquisition, language disability and the evolution of language. I have written about the role of formulaic language in translation, the capacity for formulaic language materially to improve the quality of a non-native speaker's interaction, and the nature of formulaic language in language disorders including Alzheimer’s Disease.

Current research

Linguistic theory at the boundaries: The development of macro-theory that relates linguistic form and function to the cognitive and social aspects of language behaviour. Rooted in the models of formulaic language acquisition and use (see above) more recently they have broadened to examine the ‘word’ as an inherently vague phenomenon, and language as a fundamentally hybrid system. Current work entails a new theory of how cognitive and social pressures on language production are managed into a steady state of fluency using options in form selection.

Communicative Impact: In 2014, I began work on a new model of how the act of communication interfaces with language processing. It draws together socio-interactional and pragmatic theory with models of cognition, to demonstrate how forms of language are shaped by what we need to achieve through communication, and how language is used to make good shortfalls in communication when the speaker is under cognitive pressure. The model combines my previous work on formulaic language, Alzheimer’s Disease and second language acquisition, and it is designed to offer opportunities for experimental interventions in situations where communication is typically undermined by reduced cognitive capacity and/or lexical access problems, including Alzheimer’s and post-childhood foreign language learning. The model is being written up in book form, with a target completion date in 2016. I am developing training materials to support professional and family carers of people with dementia, that address the causes and potential to alleviate the stress of being a carer in this context.

Language profiling: Supported by a £40,000 grant from Alzheimer’s BRACE, I am PI on a project exploring early linguistic markers of risk for future Alzheimer’s disease. The study participants are part of a parent project called PREVENT, funded by the Alzheimer’s Society (PI Prof Craig Ritchie, University of Edinburgh). The research builds on previous projects that examined and developed new approaches for analysing written or spoken language samples, to inform questions such as: the capacity for individual foreign language learners to adopt nativelike strategies (e.g. in relation to risk); assisting language examiners to differentiate the output of proficient learners from the (often identical) output of text memorisers; identifying measurable linguistic features (including pseudo-quantified qualitative features) for genetic profiling; the development of normative measures for the language of older people. Collaborators in this work included Dr Tess Fitzpatrick (Swansea) and geneticists at the Queensland Institute for Medical Research, Brisbane.

Current and past funded projects

  • 2015: £3000 from the ESRC Impact Accelerator fund. This project focusses on developing training materials to support those who care for people with dementia. These materials are the ‘impact’ dimension of my current research into ‘communicative impact’, which examines the unaccustomed pragmatic spaces that are created in conversations with a person with dementia.
  • 2014-15: £40,000 grant from Alzheimer’s BRACE to look for early linguistic markers of future Alzheimer’s disease. Co-investigators and researchers: Dr Andreas Buerki, Prof Tess Fitzpatrick, Dr Michael Willett, Dr Katy Jones. Poster from the 2015 Brace Annual meeting
  • 2014: £5000 from the Cardiff University College for Arts and Social Sciences Pilot project fund, to test the research instruments for the Alzheimer’s BRACE project. The pilot was conducted in collaboration with members of the Monmouth University of the Third Age
  • 2010-14: £100,000 from the ESRC Researcher Development Initiative scheme, to develop training materials for enhancing expert thinking and problem solving in the social sciences. Co-I: Professor Mike Wallace, Cardiff University. Publications: 2014a, 2015a
  • 2010-12: £303,000 from the Welsh Assembly Government. I was academic director of a project exploring how to improve the teaching of Welsh to adults. Collaborators were from the Cardiff Welsh for Adults Centre and School of Welsh and Oxford and Swansea Universities.
  • 2010-11: £76,000 from the ESRC, for psycholinguistic phenotyping of lexical retrieval preferences through an analysis of word association behaviour. PI: Dr Tess Fitzpatrick, Swansea University. Researcher: Dr David Playfoot. In collaboration with genetic epidemiologists at the Queensland Institute for Medical Research, Brisbane. This work compared teenage and >65 yr old twins, to identify patterns of difference in word retrieval. Publications so far: 2013f
  • 2007-08: £100,000 from the AHRC to develop new analytic techniques for profiling language phenotypes in genetic research. Co-I: Dr Tess Fitzpatrick; researcher: Eugene Mollet. In collaboration with genetic epidemiologists at the Queensland Institute for Medical Research, Brisbane. This work entailed a multifaceted programme of profiles of written data by native speaker twins, in order to explore the relative roles of genetics and environment on patterns in linguistic performance. Publications: 2010c, 2011e
  • 2006-07: £13,000 from IELTS to develop a practical approach to the accurate evaluation of linguistic knowledge when memorised material is reproduced in language tests. Co-I Dr Christine Pegg, Cardiff University and IELTS. Publications: 2009e
  • 2002-03: £51,000 from the AHRB for research into how unintentional changes during the reproduction of memorised material indicate both the linguistic knowledge of language learners, and their attitude to risk. Project researcher: Tess Fitzpatrick. Publications: 2006e, 2008e, 2010b
  • 1999-2000: £5,000 from the Nuffield Foundation for analysis of data from TALK, a conversation aid for people with cerebral palsy, based on formulaic language. Publications: 2002b, 2010b
  • 1988-91: £61,000 from the Leverhulme Trust for practical and theoretical work on pronunciation in singing. Publications: 1988, 1989, 1990a, 1992b,c, 1995a,b, 1999a, 2000a, 2002e-g, 2003a,b.

Student support and capacity building

In 2002 I founded an informal association of researchers called the Formulaic Language Research Network (FLaRN), which now, as e-FLaRN, has more than 200 members. It is primarily aimed at PhD students but also has many members in academic posts. If you are interested in joining, please emailwraya@cf.ac.uk for information. Since 2004, FLaRN has had a biennial conference. The next conference is expected to be hosted by the Dept of English Philology, University of Vilnius, Lithuania, June 28-30th 2016.

I supervise PhD students on aspects of formulaic language in first and second language contexts, including language attrition. I am also a supervisor on the distance PhD programme in Applied Linguistics (Lexical Studies).

Current PhD students

  • Mark Maby: Second language learners’ acquisition of polysemous words
  • Paula Psyllakis: Formulaic language in Alzheimer’s Disease.
  • 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

Past successful PhD students

  • Helen Emery: Spelling in Arab learners of English. Awarded 2005
  • Iain McGee: Formulaic Language and Second Language Learning/Teaching. Awarded 2006.
  • Kazuhiko Namba: Bilingual children’s code-switching: a structural approach and formulaic language. Awarded May 2008.
  • Yanling Su: Formulaic language acquisition and individual differences. Awarded December 2008.
  • Amjad Saleem: Memorising in a language you don’t speak. Awarded 2015.

From time to time, workshops on formulaic language are organised under the auspices of the School’s Advanced Research Residencies scheme - a forum for PhD students and visiting scholars to discuss issues in their research.

In a separate strand of research and training, I have explored the nature of research expertise in the social sciences, particularly ‘thinking like an expert’. This work, with Mike Wallace as co-I, was supported by a three-year ESRC Researcher Development Initiative Award (see Wray & Wallace 2011 for an account of the principles). Mike and I are also co-authors of Critical Reading and Writing for Postgraduates and conduct workshops for PhD and early career researchers on this topic. In 2010 I gained two coaching qualifications and am now developing a brand of coaching suitable for the university research context.

In the past I have also researched historical pronunciation, reconstructing English and other languages for performances and recordings of early music. In this capacity I have advised on over 80 commercial CD recordings (including some international award winners), BBC broadcasts and major public concerts.

To date I have published more than 90 book chapters, journal papers and other articles in the linguistics and musical spheres. Most of them are listed under ‘publications’


Undergraduate study

1983: BA (Hons) in linguistics with German and Hindi, Dept of Language & Linguistic Science, University of York, UK

Postgraduate study

1988: DPhil in psycholinguistics, Dept of Language & Linguistic Science, University of York, UK

Post doctorate

1988-91: Researcher on the Singers? Language Project, Dept of Music, University of York, UK. Funded by Leverhulme Trust


2007 to present: Research Professor, as above

2005-07: Professor, as above

2002-05: Senior Lecturer/Reader, as above

1999-02: Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Language & Communication Research, Cardiff University, UK

1996-99: Assistant Director, Wales Applied Language Research Unit, Centre for Applied Language Studies, Swansea University, UK

1991-96: Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in linguistics, College of Ripon & York St John, York, UK

Major administrative roles

2014-present: Director of the Centre for Language & Communication Research

2005-present: Director of Research for the School of English, Communication and Philosophy

Honours, prizes and memberships

2014 - Elected Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales (FLSW)

2014 - Visiting Professor, York St John University, UK

2013 - Board Member, Alzheimer?s Society Grant Advisory Board

2012 - ESRC Peer Review College

2009 - Editorial Board, Yearbook of Phraseology

2008 - Member of Advisory Committee, Bristol Centre for Linguistics

2008 - Elected Academician of the Academy of Social Sciences (AcSS)

2007 - Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA)

2006 - Visiting academic at the Genetic Epidemiology Laboratory, Queensland Institute for Medical Research, Brisbane, Australia

2005 - Erskine Fellow, University of Canterbury, New Zealand

2004 - BBS Associate (Behavioral and Brain Sciences)

2004-7 - Member of AHRC Peer Review College

2003 - Formulaic Language and the Lexicon won annual BAAL Book Prize

2001 - Member of the Institute of Learning and Teaching

1999 - Projects in Linguistics shortlisted for annual BAAL Book Prize

1984-7 - British Academy Major State Award

Meysydd goruchwyliaeth

Iaith fformiwla: Yn benodol, byddai gennyf ddiddordeb mewn cael rhywun i edrych ar:

- y prosesau y mae geiriau caneuon celf yn cael eu cofio yn iaith gyntaf rhywun ac mewn ieithoedd eraill. Byddai'r pwnc hwn yn gweddu i rywun sydd â hyfforddiant mewn ieithyddiaeth neu seicoleg a diddordeb cryf mewn cân gelf y gorllewin.

- ffyrdd o ateb y cwestiwn canlynol: Pam nad yw dysgwyr ail iaith yn targedu dilyniannau fformiwlâg yn fwy rhagweithiol? a gyflwynais ac a drafodais ym mhennod derfynol Siyanova-Chanturia, A a Pellicer-Sanchez, A. (eds.) Deall Iaith Fformiwlaeg: Persbectif Caffael Ail Iaith. Routledge, t.248-269. Byddai'r ymchwil hon yn mynd y tu hwnt i arsylwi ac arbrofi pur yn yr ystafell ddosbarth a hefyd arolygu athrawon a myfyrwyr, i ymgysylltu ar lefel ddamcaniaethol llawer dyfnach am natur iaith, cyfathrebu a dysgu.

Cyfathrebu dementia: prosiectau sy'n canolbwyntio, er enghraifft:

-  cymhwyso theori cyfathrebu i'n dealltwriaeth o pam mae cyfathrebu'n heriol pan fo un o'r siaradwyr yn byw gyda dementia;

- cymharu heriau cyfathrebu dementia â rhai defnyddio ail iaith

Goruchwyliaeth gyfredol

Mike Green

Mike Green

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Hoss Rezaie

Hoss Rezaie

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Axel Bergstrom

Axel Bergstrom

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