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Photo of Dr Birgul Yilmaz

Dr Birgul Yilmaz

Senior Lecturer in Intercultural Communication (Education and Research)

PhD in Linguistics, SOAS University of London

MRes in Language Discourse and Communication, King's College London

BA in English and Linguistics, Queen Mary University of London

Research interests

I am a critical sociolinguist, applied linguist and ethnographer, specialising in language and forced migration. My research interests are: 

(1) Sociolinguistics of forced migration and humanitarianism

My interdisciplinary research in this area focuses on language in relation to education, humanitarianism, governmentality, international refugee law, and im/mobility infrastructure. I investigate the everyday communicative struggles and language learning practices of refugees including unaccompanied children in nongovernmental (NGO) shelters and the role of texts produced by the UNHCR and the European Union in governing refugee children.

Currently, I am working on precarity, securitisation and communicative justice and vulnerability in two neighbourhoods of Athens. I explore the role of self-organisation and counter-culture in language learning and the linguistic practices of refugees and squatters in intercultural settings in Greece.

(2) Heritage language learning, identity, conflict and diaspora communities

In this resaearch cluster, I focus on how heritage language learning processes of diaspora communities are shaped and negotiated in community based language classes in the UK. I am particularly interested in languages and identities, language ideologies, attitudes towards standard vs nonstandard languages, nationalism, conflict, social class, and gender, using interactional sociolinguistics and critical/discourse analysis and linguistic ethnography. I continue to expand on this work, which has influenced many researchers, via international collaborations in Europe and Noth America.

(3) Critical sociolinguistic ethnography and linguistic practice

Questions of how languistic practice, inequality, social and educational injustices shape each other are at the heart of my empirical inquiries. I explore global challenges such as migration, refugees, humanitarian emergencies and language education under precarious conditions from a crticial ethnographic perspective. I am particularly interested in topics such as the ethnographic "self" and visual analysis: the use of video cameras and photography in ethnographic research.

(4) Language, vulnerability and trauma in humanitarian response

Based on my ethnographic fieldwork with refugees in Athens (since 2018 and previously on Lesbos island), I am interested in how vulnerability and trauma are assessed in asylum procedures and the impact of these on the everyday lived experiences of refugees.

Research supervision

I am open to supervising postgraduate students and doctoral candidates in the areas of:

  • Sociolinguistics
  • Sociolinguistics of migration
  • Forced displacement and langauge education
  • Critical ethnography and linguistic practice
  • Language learning and teaching: refugees and migrants
  • Language ideologies
  • Language attitudes
  • Heritage language learning
  • Languages and identities in diasporic communities
  • Interactional sociolinguistics
  • Critical / discourse analysis 
  • Social psychology of language
  • Language and precarity


I taught modules at MA and BA levels internationally in the UK, Greece and United States.

Modules I taught include:

  • Language and Globalisation
  • Language and Migration
  • Discourse Analysis
  • English Language and Society
  • Language and Gender
  • Language Teaching for Adult Refugees
  • Language, Society and Communication

Modules taught


Before joining the University of Exeter in 2023, I held research and teaching positions internationally, including Greece, UK, USA and Hong Kong. I worked at the Hellenic Open University as a field researcher (2016-17) and an MA tutor in Language Education for Refugees and Migrants (2017-18). I conducted an 8 month long ethnographic fieldwork with children and adults in two refugee camps and a shelter for unaccompanied children on Lesvos island as part of a large project funded by the Hellenic Open University. I spent a short period of time at the University of San Antonio at Texas, USA as a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. I was awarded the prestigous British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship that enabled me to continue my research with refugees in two neighbourhoods of Athens (2018-22). After I completed my fellowship that dealt with language practices of refugees in a squat and a political cafe where they learnt English, I went to Hong Kong and conducted fieldwork with domestic workers from the Philippines (2022). I was appointed as a Lecturer in Sociolinguistics at the University of Reading and taught modules such as Discourse Analysis, Language and Globalisation, Language and Migration & Language and Gender (2022-23).

My research in refugee camps appeared on BBC Radio 3's Free Thinking programme: What language did Columbus speak? I continue to share my research with the public by providing interviews, talks and op-eds.

While in Greece, I worked with refugee children in a school funded by UNICEF and the European Comission.

I am a member of British Association for Applied Linguistics (BAAL), American Association for Applied Lingusitics (AAAL), and The Lingusitic Ethnography Forum (LEF).

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