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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, an applied linguist and an ethnographer, specialising in language and forced migration. My research interests are: 

(1) Sociolinguistics of forced migration

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 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 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, 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 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.

Research supervision

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

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


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

Modules I taught include:

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


I hold a BA in English and Linguistics from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL). During my undergraduate studies, I spent a term as an Erasmus student at the University of Cyprus where I also began to learn Modern Greek. I spent a summer as a visiting student at King’s College Cambridge. At QMUL, I had lectures from Professor Jenny Cheshire and developed a long-lasting passion for sociolinguistics and migration. Prior to my BA, I spent a year learning Medieval Latin at Birkbeck, University of London.

I completed my MRes in Language, Discourse and Communication (King’s College London) and further explored the relationship between language and ethnicity in London.

I did my PhD in Linguistics at SOAS University of London (2016). My thesis entitled Learning “my” language: moments of languages and identities among Kurds in the UK was shortlisted for the Joshua A. Fishman Award in 2018.

Since 2016, I have held research and teaching positions internationally, including Greece, UK, USA and Hong Kong. I worked at the Hellenic Open University as a researcher (2016-17) and an MA tutor in Language Education for Refugees and Migrants (2017-18). I conducted an 8 month long ethnographic fieldwork 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 then 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).

In 2022, I received the Outstanding Research Award by Routledge Studies in Language and Identity at the AMLI Conference (University of Sussex). 

I  review journal articles for International Journal of the Sociology of Language, Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism and Language and Intercultural Communication - and review book proposals for Routledge.

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 have been appointed as a Senior Lecturer at the University of Exeter in 2023.

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