Ground-breaking study into the language of tweens wins large UKRI fund

School of Education Professor secures significant grant to conduct large-scale project into how language develops in young people.

Tweens (9-13 year olds), are at a vulnerable stage of life as they turn outwards from their immediate caregivers, and become subject to a range of external influences. It is a critical time for social and educational development.

Alice Deignan, Professor of Applied Linguistics in the School of Education, has secured a significant grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to conduct a large-scale project into the language directed at and used by tweens.

Figurative language, including metaphor, has been shown to be central in framing ideas and knowledge. Although there has been much research into how figurative language is processed and produced in adults, and to a lesser extent, younger children, the tween years have received little attention.

Professor Deignan’s AHRC-funded project ‘Young people, criticality and figurative language’ aims to fill the knowledge gap around how much tweens are able to understand and use figurative language, a major tool for thought and communication.

The 30-month project (running from October 2024 to March 2027) focuses on tweens' understanding and use of the framing function of figurative language in both ideological arguments and new concepts.

Experts from the universities of Birmingham, Lancaster, Liège (Belgium) and Vassar (USA) will contribute to the project. Oxford University Press and Huntington Research School in York are also partners. Two full-time post-doctoral research assistants will be appointed to the project.

Tackling distorted and false narratives

As Professor Deignan explains,

With the growth of unprecedented, unsupervised access to digital and social media content, tweens are increasingly subjected to online misinformation. The research will examine to what extent metaphors and other indirect, figurative language, especially in the online world influences tweens abilities to learn and adopt particular beliefs and values.

The project will contribute to the development of practice solutions in education, to enable young people to engage thoughtfully with news and social media, with awareness of the existence of distorted and false narratives. It is one such example of how the School of Education is committed to supporting research with impact, to take research beyond the University to improve understanding in publicly owned sectors such as education.

Centre for Language Education Research

We examine the transformative potential of language education in current society and across diverse global and multilingual contexts (e.g. displacement, migration). Our research covers areas including academic literacies, teaching methodology, motivation, and language learning with new technologies.

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