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Professor Mercedes Durham

Professor Mercedes Durham


+44 (0)29 2087 4244
3.30, John Percival Building, Colum Drive, Cardiff, CF10 3EU
Media commentator
Available for postgraduate supervision


I am member of the Centre for Language and Communication.

I am a sociolinguist focusing primarily on language variation and change. My research is broadly concerned with how linguistic variation (and with it, language change) is acquired, transmitted and viewed by individual speakers and across successive generations.

I have been at Cardiff University since September 2012. Before that I worked as a lecturer in English Linguistics at the University of Aberdeen from 2008 to 2012. I have also worked and taught at the Universities of York, Glasgow and Leeds.

I grew up and studied in Switzerland, getting my first degree at the University of Lausanne and my doctorate at the University of Fribourg.

Research interests

  • Language Variation and Change
  • Sociolinguistics
  • Native and non-native Acquisition of Variation
  • Dialect shift
  • Native and non-native varieties of English

Postgraduate students

I am interested in supervising doctoral projects broadly related to the fields of Sociolinguistics, and Language Variation and Change, particularly those from students with interests in the acquisition of variation, morphosyntax, and discourse, and in English, French or Italian dialects.

Press work

I've talked about my research and linguistic topics more generally on the radio on several occasions (BBC Wiltshire, BBC Wales and Capital/HeartFM).

My research has also been discussed in newspapers and websites:


















  • Durham, M. 2004. The future of Swiss English: Variation in an English lingua franca. Presented at: 2nd International Conference on Language Variation in Europe (ICLaVE 2), Uppsala, Sweden, 12-14 June 2003 Presented at Gunnarsson, B. ed.Language Variation in Europe: Papers from the Second International Conference on Language Variation in Europe, ICLaVE 2, Uppsala University, Sweden, June 12-14, 2003. Uppsala: Dept. of Scandinavian Languages, Uppsala University pp. 156-167.



My teaching in Cardiff mainly focuses on aspects of sociolinguistics and language variation and change, although I’ve also taught Quantitative Research Methods here and modules on phonetics, morphology, and first and second language acquisition elsewhere in the past.

In 2022-23, I'll be teaching on the following modules:

  • SE1115 Developing English: History and Society
  • SET006 Current Issues in Sociolinguistics

I work in  sociolinguistics, the subfield of linguistics which examines language in a  societal context: namely why and how  different social groups (as defined by social class, gender, age, ethnicity,  etc) make use of the linguistic resources present in the language(s) they speak  to signal affiliation with or dissimilarity from other groups across various  contexts.

My research focuses primarily on aspects of Language Variation and Change  (LVC), and involves the use of quantitative methods to analyse linguistic  features (predominantly morphosyntactic and/or pragmatic, but also phonological  in some instances) to establish what affects their use.

As well as standard statistical methods, I  often employ multivariate analysis and mixed effect models in the interpretation of my data, using the  methodologies of comparative sociolinguistics to find similarities in the  speech patterns of different varieties.

I have  worked a range of different projects, different dialects of English and  different features (main projects listed below). Although there is considerable  breadth and depth in these projects, they are all broadly concerned with how variation (and with it, language  change) is acquired, viewed and transmitted either in individual speakers  (native or non-native) or across successive generations.

My focus on the  acquisition of variation and the fact that I have examined both native and  non-native data makes my LVC research somewhat different from the bulk of studies  conducted in the field, but, in many ways, understanding acquisition is crucial  to understanding transmission (i.e. change) as well and is a fruitful venue for  further research that can lead to more fine-tuned theories into precisely how  language changes.

The various facets of my research each attempt to bring  further insight into the question of how and why features that vary are  transmitted and will, I hope, ultimately allow me to posit a cohesive theory  which will allow us to better understand these processes.

Current research project 

I am currently working on a Leverhulme Trust funded project titled "Sociolinguistic Variation in South East Wales: Change and Contact" (September 2022 - September 2025). By combining existing material from Cardiff with new sociolinguistic interviews from Barry, Pontypridd and Caerphilly, I hope to gain insight into similarities and differences in the varieties spoken in South East Wales. Which linguistic features are found across the communities? Which are found only in one (or two)? How are the dialects changing over time in each community? 

Older research strands 

Non-Native Variation

One strand of my research focuses  on the acquisition of sociolinguistic competence by non-native speakers and I  have worked on non-native speakers of English in Switzerland. This is an  important direction of research in a world where English is increasingly used  as a lingua franca and the number of non-native speakers is steadily growing,  as it is vital to establish which features of native competence are likely to  be lost or modified. Moreover,  examining how non-native speakers gain sociolinguistic competence can also help  us to better understand why some features may turn out to be particularly prone  to change in native speech as well.

Variation in Child Language

Another  strand of my research focuses on children's acquisition of sociolinguistic  competence. I have worked with Professor Jennifer Smith (of Glasgow University) on  this topic, and our research (funded by the ESRC) has focused on a range of  phonological, morphosyntactic and lexical items found in a dialect of  North-East Scots in the speech of 29 children and their primary caregivers  (i.e. their mother), and has shown that age, the complexity of the feature, and  the social awareness of it, all impact on how soon children are able to produce  native-like patterns, but that it is often earlier than previously  reported.

Processes of dialect shift

I have  worked on two separate projects examining dialect shift on the Shetland  Islands. One (funded by the ESRC) with Professor Jennifer Smith focused on language  change across three generations in the main town of Lerwick, while the other (funded  by the British Academy) focused on changes in the dialect attitudes of  Shetland school children over the past 30 years.

Non-canonical  word order

I am also interested how non-canonical word  order forms differ with respect to rates and use across dialects of English.  While the use of the forms is linked to information structure, there are social  factors at play in their selection as well and this is what I want to focus on.  Having examined right dislocation forms in York, I intend to extend my research  to other features and other areas.

Additional Collaborative Projects

  • Quotative be like (with Dr  William Haddican, CUNY Queens College)
  • Grammaticalisation of the going  to future form (with Professor Sali Tagliamonte, University of Toronto, and  Dr Jennifer Smith, Glasgow University)


I am interested in supervising doctoral projects broadly related to the fields of Sociolinguistics, and Language Variation and Change, particularly those from students with interests in the acquisition of variation, morphosyntax, and discourse, and in English, French or Italian dialects.

Current supervision

Susan Reichelt

Research student

Eimi Watanabe

Eimi Watanabe

Research student

Rowan Campbell

Rowan Campbell

Research student

Katharine Young

Research student

Reem Al Madani

Research student