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Dr Lise Fontaine HBa (Hons) (York University, Canada), BEd (Nipissing University, Canada), D.E.A. (Universite de Bordeaux, France), PhD (Cardiff University)

Dr Lise Fontaine

HBa (Hons) (York University, Canada), BEd (Nipissing University, Canada), D.E.A. (Universite de Bordeaux, France), PhD (Cardiff University)


+44 (0)29 2087 6324
3.31, John Percival Building, Colum Drive, Cardiff, CF10 3EU
Media commentator
Available for postgraduate supervision


I am a Reader in the Centre for Language and Communication Research. I lecture mainly on functional grammar, word meaning, corpus linguistics, and introductory psycholinguistics. My research interests include functional grammar theory and the syntax-semantic interface, especially concentrating on lexical perspectives. I especially enjoy studying referring expressions as they are so fascinating and allow us to bring all aspects of linguistics together in acts of reference. My new book Referring in Language: an integrated approach, is in production with Cambridge University Press and will be in print in 2023. 

During my time at Cardiff, I set up two research networks. The LinC (Linguistics in Cardiff) research network, which provides a forum for researchers interested in functional linguistics. It was the home for our successful LinC summer school and workshop but since the Covid pandemic, we have not been very active. LaCRe (Language and Cognition Research)  is a rearch network for academic staff and postgraduate students interested in using data-driven methods to test hypotheses about language processing. This network brings together colleagues in Linguistics, Psychology and Philosophy for monthly research talks. WIth active leadership from our doctoral students, our seminars moved online and we've been able to continue throughout the past several years. Our website, however, is sadly very much out of date. Sometimes, there isn't enough time in the day.  

Together with my PhD students, I also run a monthly seminar series called The Nominal Group Group. Through our small group of international doctoral students and academics, the topic has broadened to not only nominal expressions but verbal semantics as well.  The pandemic gave us the oppotunity to hold online meetings and bring in interested researchers from France, Germany, Slovenia and Tunisia. 

Following a visiting professorship at the CNRS in France, I have been collaborating with Dr Laure Sarda. We have been working on the nominal-verbal semantic continuum in English and French. We have two papers in preparation: The noun-verb continuum: a closer look at congruence and construal in English and French and The constructional and compositional nature of ARRIVE/ARRIVAL in English and French. 

In 2017, I established,together with Prof Stella Neumann and Prof Miriam Taverniers, the Nominality and Meaning Directness (NaMeD) project. The aim of NaMeD is to develop a contrastive, quantitative and theoretical approach to the study of meaning in text. This research challenges certain fundamental assumptions concerning what are seen as nominal expressions in relation to other types of meaning expressions (e.g. event, causal, temporal, conjunctive) and in terms of how such meanings can be said to be ‘direct’ or not. We want to determine to what extent we can talk about directness of meaning in a given language and if so whether the same relationship holds for other languages. Although this work was disrupted by the Covid pandemic, we are currently drafting our initial results.

If you are interested in visiting Cardiff as a researcher, please see the information pages about our visiting scholar programme.  If you would like to join us as a postgraduate student, use these links to view our MA in Language and Communication Research and our PhD in Language and Communication.


The path I took in getting to my current position was full of twists and turns. I am originally from Canada and I completed my undergraduate training in Linguistics at York University in Toronto (1991). After my undergraduate degree, I worked as a counsellor at Marjorie House, a safe shelter for women and their children on the north shore of Lake Superior in Ontario. 

I then trained and qualified as a primary and secondary school teacher at Nipissing University (Canada) in 1994. Interestingly, my teachable subject is mathematics, my second favourite subject of study next to linguistics!

I joined the Centre for Language and Communication Research (CLCR) in 2004. Prior to moving to Cardiff, I lived in France and worked at the Université Paris-Dauphine, in Paris, where I taught English to mainly economics students. 

Professional memberships

Invited member

  • Oxford English Dictionary (OED) Researchers Advisory Group (2021)
  • European Literacy Network (ELN), COST Action IS1401. Working Group 3, Improving Literacy Technologies (2017 - )

Regular member

  • SLE, Societas Linguistica Europaea (Linguistics Society of Europe).
  • LACUS, The Linguistic Association of Canada and the United States.
  • LAGB, The Linguistics Association of Great Britain.
  • BAAL, The British Association of Applied Linguistics
  • ILA International Linguistics Association.
  • ESFLA, The European Systemic Functional Linguistics Association.
  • ISFLA, The International Systemic Functional Linguistics Association.

Executive member

  • Treasurer of the European Systemic Functional Linguistics Association (2015 - 2022)
  • Treasurer of the British Association of Applied Linguistics (BAAL) SIG in LKALE, Linguistics and Knowledge about Language in Education (2016 - 2020)
  • Treasurer of the British Association of Applied Linguistics (BAAL) SIG in Corpus Linguistics (2012 - 2018)
  • Chair of the European Systemic Functional Linguistics Association (2012 - 2015)

Speaking engagements

  • Resilience, the new sustainability: exploring meaning potential. Plenary Speaker. European Systemic Functional Linguistics Conference (ESFLC). University of Southern Denmark, SDU, Denmark. August 2022.
  • Lexis beyond rank. Plenary Speaker. The 47th International Systemic Functional Congress (ISFC), The University of Shenzhen, Shenzhen, China, July 2022.
  • Shifting reference: when things aren’t so clear. Invited Speaker. Language, Law and Justice Workshop. Simon Fraser University, Canada. May 2022.
  • A corpus-based contrastive study of the noun-verb pairs in English and French. Keynote Speaker. International Forum on the Comparison & Communication between Chinese and Foreign Language & Culture. Invited Speaker. School of Foreign Languages, Wuhan Institute of Technology, China, December 2021.
  • Writing processes and undergraduate student writers in the UK context. Invited Featured Speaker at the ‘Writing processes: Strategies from idea to text’ Symposium at AILA2021, the International World Congress of Applied Linguistics, University of Groningen, Groningen, the Netherlands, August 2021.
  • Functional lexicology. Plenary Speaker. The 7th International Symposium on Pedagogical Lexicography and L2 Teaching and Learning (PL&LTL 2021), Huaqiao University, Quanzhou, China, May 2021.
  • The notion of lexical semantic potential: one possible future direction. Plenary Speaker. International Scholars Forum on Functional Linguistics. Xiamen University, Xiamen, China, April 2021.
  • A Discourse Semantic Account of Referential Metonymy. Invited speaker in the ‘Functional Linguistics Forum’ series. The School of Foreign Languages and Literature, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China, September 2019.
  • The ragged middle: a closer look at lexis and grammar. Invited talk. Beijing Foreign Studies University, Beijing, China, September 2019.
  • How language works in context: insights from functional grammar. Invited Speaker. ECISMLIE 2019, Educational Collaborative for International Schools (ECIS) and Multilingualism in International Education (MLIE) Conference. London, March 2019. (Theme: Unity through Multilingualism: Growing Home, Host, and Instructional Languages)
  • Beyond the Ham Sandwich: A Textual Perspective on Referential Metonymy. Plenary Speaker. XIV ALSFAL Congreso de la Asociación de Lingüística Sistémico-Funcional de América Latina. Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, Puebla, Mexico. October, 2018. (Theme: Exploring Text and Context from a Systemic Functional Perspective).
  • The Place of Subject in Welsh, English and French. Invited Speaker.Labex TransferS, ENS (École normale supérieure). Paris, France, 17th May, 2018.
  • The status of nominal expressions. Invited Speaker.Labex TransferS, ENS (École normale supérieure), Paris, France, 24th May 2018.
  • Meeting in the middle: a functional approach to lexis. Invited Speaker. Labex TransferS, ENS (École normale supérieure), Paris, France, 31st May 2018.
  • Onion tears: The role of inference in nominalizations and grammatical metaphor. Invited Speaker. Labex TransferS, ENS (École normale supérieure), Paris, France, 1st June 2018.
  • Lexical representation in systemic functional linguistics. Keynote speaker. Symposium on Functional Linguistics and Discourse Analysis. National Research Centre for Foreign Language Education. Beijing Foreign Studies University. November 2017.
  • On Referring Expressions in the Cardiff Grammar. Plenary speaker. The 19th Symposium on Functional Linguistics and Discourse Analysis (Theme: Alternative Architectures for Systemic Functional Linguistics: The Cardiff Approach – In Honour of Robin Fawcett). South China Agricultural University, Guangzhou, China, November 2017.
  • The dimensionally transcendental nature of lexis, a possible step forward in SFL theory. Keynote speaker. Transforming Contexts, 44th International Systemic Functional Linguistics Congress (ISFC), University of Wollongong, Wollongong, Australia, July 2017.
  • An SFL approach to grammar and knowledge about language. Invited speaker. Linguistics and Knowledge about Language in Education, BAAL (British Association of Applied Linguistics) SIG, Sheffield, England, May 2017.
  • Towards an SFL approach to lexicology: context and lexical representation. Keynote speaker. Studying language in context: Exploring SFL advances in theorizing and appliability, The First Halliday-Hasan International Forum on Language, Guangdong University of Foreign Studies (GDUFS), Guangzhou, P. R. China, December 2016.
  • A Systemic Functional Linguistics Perspective on additional language development. Keynote speaker. Theories of Second and Foreign Language Acquisition as a Basis for Research on the Role of Language in Teaching and Learning Curriculum Subjects, Graduate Academy of Literacy and Language Education of the Mercator Institute, University of Wuppertal, Wuppertal, Germany, October 2016.
  • On Pattern and Grammar. Invited speaker. The Geoff Thompson Round Table, The European Systemic Functional Linguistics Conference, Salzburg University, Salzburg, Austria, July 2016.
  • The Noun, Grammar and Context. Keynote speaker. Systemic Functional Linguistics Association of Tunisia (SYFLAT) study day, University of Sfax, Sfax, Tunisia. April 2016.
  • LLAWEN (Literacy and Language AWareness in EducatioN). Invited speaker. Linguistics and Knowledge about Language in Education, BAAL SIG, Swansea, Wales, April 2016.
  • Choice, Metafunction, and Meaning. Invited lecture. University of Vigo, Vigo, Spain, February 2016.
  • Fluid boundaries and the nature of choice in referring expressions. Plenary Speaker. The International Systemic Functional Congress (ISFC), RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany, July 2015.
  • The Noun, Grammar and Context. Keynote speaker. The Symposium on The Making of Meaning: Grammar, Society and Consciousness, in honour of Professor M.A.K. Halliday and Professor Ruqaiya Hasan. Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China, April 2015.
  • Functional and Cognitive perspectives on the noun phrase: a multimethod approach to postgraduate research. Invited Speaker. PGR conference at the University of Sfax, Tunisia, April 2014
  • On the relevance of referring expressions to transitivity and discourse. Plenary Speaker. Perspectives on Discourse, Grammar, and Transitivity, University of Vigo, Vigo, Spain, November 2013.

Committees and reviewing

 Editing roles

  • Lead editor for the book series: Routledge Advances in Functional Linguistics, Routledge. (2018 - )
  • Associate Editor, Journal of World Languages, De Gruyter Mouton. (2012 - )
  • Associate Editor, Lingua, Elsevier. (2017 - )
  • Editorial board member for: Functions of Language, Benjamins (2016 - ); Asp, la revue du GERAS, Groupe d’étude et de recherche en anglais de spécialité (2015 - ); Linguistics and the Human Sciences, Equinox (2018 - ); Language, Context and Text, John Benjamins Publishing Company (2019 - ).





















While my teaching responsibilites can change from year to year, I regularly teach modules in the subject areas of functional approaches to language, especially the syntax-semantics interface, lexical semantics, corpus linguistics and introductory psycholinguistic. 

Most recently, my teaching duties typically include the following modules:

SE1340, Functions of Grammar (Year 3) presents a functional model of linguistic description. We develop an analytical method of exploring particular lexical and grammatical choices and how speakers use language as a resource for creating meaning. The main aim of the module is to better understand both the meaning potential available to speakers and how particular choices in meaning affect the text.  We really focus on the 'how-to' aspects of analysing English grammar. 

SE1370, Words and Meaning (Year 2) explores the world of words. What is a word? What range of meanings does a word have? How are word meanings related? How can we tell them apart? How do words ‘behave’ in texts? Where do words come from and how do they change? In this module we will explore a number of different approaches to the semantics of words. We will take an investigative look at our words from various perspectives. Part of the basis for investigating words will be through electronic corpora. Students will be given the opportunity to gain some hands-on experience using electronic resources (e.g. the Sketch Engine, British National Corpus). Increasingly, we are relying on the approach developed by Prof Patrick Hanks, see Lexical Analysis: Norms and Exploitations (MIT Press).

SE1111, Language and the Mind (Year 1) considers the ways in which researchers examine the relationship between language and the mind. How do we plan what we say and write, and how do we understand what we hear and read? How are words organised in our memory and why do we sometimes forget them? Why do we sometimes make slips of the tongue? We also consider whether it is true that ‘everything important about language is in the head’—how does psycholinguistics relate to the other things we know about language, including context and social interaction? We will critically examine, and try out, the methodologies that psycholinguists use when they attempt to pin down features of language processing. This module will be highly relevant to any student with interests in language learning, language disorders, teaching, or generally in how language works.This module aims to introduce students to the key ways in which psycholinguistic investigations can inform our understanding of language and the mind, and the limitations of these approaches. By considering language in its biological, cognitive and social contexts, the contribution of various methods used in psycholinguistic research can be evaluated, including how we should interpret ‘lab’-based observations and experiments in relation to findings from other areas of linguistics. Theoretical models of language processing (e.g. speech production, reading, writing) will be examined, with particular reference to evidence of planning errors (e.g. slips of the tongue).

SET038, Systemic Functional Grammar (postgraduate) introduces the grammar of English from a functional perspective. We focus mainly on British functionalism in the Firthian tradition. The aim of this module is to help students develop a functionally-oriented understanding of English grammar, which will be useful for analysing and describing the grammar of texts. Topics covered include nominal expressions and their referential meaning, verb semantics, semantics of the clause, textual semantics (e.g. anaphora, ellipsis and cohesion).

My research interests relate most directly to functional approaches the syntax-semantics interface, lexical semantics and referring expressions.  I am also interested in researching writing processes.

Current projects

Nominality and Meaning Directness (NaMeD).  This project stems from collaboration with Professor Stella Neumann, RWTH Aachen University and Professor Miriam Taverniers, Ghent University. The NaMeD project concentrates on a contrastive, quantitative and theoretical approach to the study of meaning in text. Our research challenges certain fundamental assumptions concerning what are seen as nominal expressions (e.g. reference, noun, subject, theme) in relation to other types of meaning expressions (e.g. event, causal, temporal, conjunctive) and in terms of how such meanings can be said to be ‘direct’ or not. The aim is to determine to what extent we can talk about directness of meaning in a given language and if so whether the same relationship holds for other languages. This project has been supported by the Cardiff University AHSS International Initiatives Fund (2017).

Related to the NaMeD project, I am currently working with Dr Laure Sarda on the nominal-verbal semantic continuum in French and English, including a CNRS-funded project entitled Nominalisations: Influences croisées entre langue et création littéraire (Nominalisations: the interplay between language and literary creation).

Referring expressions. A main interest of mine involves the study of referring expressions and the concepts and issues related to nominal expressions more broadly. I am writing a book with my colleague Katy Jones and David Schönthal for Cambridge University Press entitled Referring in Language, an integrated approach. It is in press and will be on shelves in 2023. In this work we combine functional grammar, discourse functions and referring strategies with a particular focus on non-typical uses of referring expressions. This work relates to work I have been doing since my PhD on noun phrases and referring. 

Keystroke logging and digital writing processes. My colleague Michelle Aldridge and I have been using InputLog to develop our understanding of writing processes. The biggest problem we have been working on is trying to separate out motor-related performances in writing from language/writing processes.  We have been using copy tasks in order to try to resolve this to some extent and together with Luuk van Waes (University of Antwerp), we have recently developed a bilingual copy task in Welsh and English. It should be available to the public soon and then we will be able to see if it can be used to solve our problem.  Most recently we collaborated with Professor Enlli Thomas (PI) on an ESRC-funded project: Addressing the literacy needs of bilinguals learning to read and write in languages with transparent orthographies

Previous collaborations

In 2015, I was awarded funding for international collaboration with Professor Elke Teich at the Information Density and Linguistic Encoding (Ideal) Collaborative Research Centre at the Universität des Saarlandes in Saarbrücken, Germany. I spent a month in the team working on information and inference, a related topic to information density.

I received funding from the Enhancing Secondary School Enhancement (ESSE), RCUK funded Cardiff University Schools Partnership (2014). The funding was used to develop a pilot project on literacy in schools with initial funding of £1500. The funding has been extended to further develop the project (£4500.00).

In 2010, I was awarded the International Collaboration Award for Early Stage Researchers, Cardiff University and this allowed me to collaborate with Dr Mick O’Donnell in Spain on research related to dynamic text using keystroke logging methods; where dynamic text refers to the production of electronic (computer-mediated) text in the sense of how the speaker/writer interacts with language to produce text. (£3,300.00)

Research Engagement and Impact

I have developed several CPD events for teachers (see details here). I took part in an exciting and transformational project supporting teachers with writing and literacy at the primary level where I delivered 10 hours of training in functional grammar on the Buckinghamshire WRITE Project.  Through LLAWEN and LKALE, I am actively involved in developing support for teachers in the areas of writing and literacy more broadly.


I am interested in supervising PhD students in the areas of 

  • Syntax-semantics interface
  • Lexical semantics
  • Referring expresions
  • Lexicogrammar
  • Lexical Analysis
  • Nominal meaning in text
  • Writing Processes

Current supervision

Nasser Alqahtani

Research student

Alexander Carr

Research student


Ellen Bristow

Research student

Wael Alqahtani

Research student

Nagla Alqaedi

Research student

Past projects

Previous PGR supervision

  • Supervisor (100%) for Lucy Chrispin, ESRC funded (2017-2022), A Cognitive Functional Account of Indeterminate Verbal Categories: Representations of Physiological and Psychological Behaviour (passed with minor corrections).
  • Supervisor (100%) for Kateryna Krykonyuj (2017-2022), Morphological Regularities and Patterns in Modern English Word Formation (passed with no corrections)
  • Supervisor (60%) for Kimi Klassen - Vocabulary load of proper nouns and marginal words in L2 reading texts (awarded in 2018)
  • Supervisor (100%) for Neil Bowen, ESRC funded - Modelling the dynamics of choice in digital text construction: organised complexity in the development of L1 and L2 academic writing (awarded 2016)
  • Supervisor (100%) for David Schönthal - The influence of the contextual environment on the structure of English binominal noun phrases (awarded 2016)
  • Supervisor (100%) for Katy Jones, AHRC funded - The use of indefinite expressions for definite reference in English discourse (awarded 2014)