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Languages, Cultures and Visual Studies

Photo of Dr Birgul Yilmaz

Dr Birgul Yilmaz

Senior Lecturer in Intercultural Communication


  • 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

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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 and language learning in institutional settings. 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. I deal with critical perspectives on language and its role in humanitarian governmentality, international refugee law, and im/mobility infrastructures.

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 and teaching: identity, conflict and diaspora communities

In this resaearch strand, 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 sociolinguistics, 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. 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 initially on Lesvos island later in Athens, 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.

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I have extensive ethnographic fieldwork experience in the areas of language and migration, gained from sites such as refugee camps, squats and community based language learning intitiatives. I am open to supervising postgraduate students and doctoral candidates in the areas of

  • Sociolinguistics
  • Sociolinguistics of migration
  • Intercultural Communication
  • Forced displacement and langauge education
  • Ethnography and linguistic practice
  • Language learning and teaching: refugees and migrants
  • Language ideologies
  • Language attitudes
  • Heritage language learning
  • Classroom discourse
  • Languages and identities among diaspora communities
  • Interactional sociolinguistics
  • Critical / discourse analysis 
  • Social psychology of language
  • Language and precarity

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Copyright Notice: Any articles made available for download are for personal use only. Any other use requires prior permission of the author and the copyright holder.

| 2025 | 2024 | 2021 | 2020 | 2018 |


  • Sharifi A, Khezri H, Yilmaz B, Barwari Z, Ciziri N, Derince MS, Sheyholislami J. (2025) Teaching Kurdish as a heritage language in diaspora (In Press), Oxford Handbook of Kurdish Linguistics, Oxford University Press.



  • Yilmaz B. (2021) Language and Humanitarian Governmentality in a Refugee Camp on Lesvos Island, Exploring (Im)mobilities: Language Practices, Discourses and Imaginaries, Encounters.
  • Yilmaz B. (2021) The making of unaccompanied children, Language, Culture and Society, volume 3, no. 2, pages 255-277, DOI:10.1075/lcs.21016.yil. [PDF]


  • Yilmaz B. (2020) Doing linguistic ethnography in a refugee camp as an educational site: Experiences from fieldwork [in Greek], Refugees and Education: Studies and Issues, Stamoulis.
  • Yilmaz B. (2020) Language Attitudes and Religion: Kurdish Alevis in the UK, Kurdish Studies, volume 8, no. 1, pages 133-161, DOI:10.33182/ks.v8i1.512. [PDF]


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External impact and engagement


My research in refugee camps on Lesvos island appeared on BBC Radio 3's Free Thinking programme: What language did Columbus speak?

Understanding the linguistic capital of refugees in Greece.

Forthcoming. Speaking Subjects in Multilingualism Research.JSLX Conversations Podcast

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I lead and teach the core modules on the MA Intercultural Communication: a) Intercultural Communication: key concepts and theories and b) Dissertation. I have developed other modules on the MA programme based on my over a decade long ethnographic research in Sociolinguistics and Applied Linguistics.

As well as teaching key issues in intercultural communiation such as identity, transnatioanlism, and reflexivity, my teaching broadly deals with intercultural inequalities including discourse, power, critical discourse analysis, language ideologies, gender, class, ehnicity, race, intersectionality and interactional sociolinguistics in institutional settings.

Previously I taught and supervised students at SOAS University of London,  University of Reading and the Hellenic Open University. 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

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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 (UCL) that enabled me to continue my research with refugees in two neighbourhoods of Athens and conduct an 18 month long ethnography (2018-22). After completing my fellowship that dealt with language learning practices of refugees under precarious conditions, I went to Hong Kong and carried out fieldwork with domestic workers from the Philippines (2022). I was appointed as a Lecturer in Sociolinguistics at the University of Reading where I taught modules such as Discourse Analysis, Language and Globalisation, Language and Migration & Language and Gender (2022-23).

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), International Association for Languages and Intercultural Communication (IALIC) and The Lingusitic Ethnography Forum (LEF).

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