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Dr Malcolm Edwards

Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication.

BA (C.N.A.A), Dip. Linguistics (London), Phd (London), MSc

Contact details

Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication
Birkbeck, University of London
26 Russell Square,

Research and teaching


  • My interest in linguistics centres on the insight that while languages appear to differ considerably from one another, all natural (human) languages share a number of formal properties, which are not immediately self-evident, and which don.t seem to be designed to facilitate communication. From this perspective, the grammatical phenomena of different languages provide a research space in which to explore what the linguist Jakobson called .similarity in difference.. Code-switching provides a different lens on the same issues, this time with respect to how different grammatical systems can be used in alternation, or merged. These strands of research are based on the premise that .grammar. is constitutive of what we call .language.
  • Researching code-switching, and an interest in translation, led me to consider how language (as opposed to dialogue) may be used as a resource in film

Research interests

  • My research interests lie in two main areas - descriptive and theoretical syntax with a focus on Arabic, and the grammatical dimensions of code-switching. Recently I have developed a further strand which looks at language in film.
  • In Arabic linguistics I have written about word order and the tension between formal and functional parameters of word order, the syntax and semantics of copular constructions, and the semantics and pragmatics of tense/aspect. Publications on these areas have appeared in SOAS Working Papers in Linguistics.
  • A paper for the Symposium on Information Structure in Arabic held at CASL, Maryland in 2006 argued that in the case of Cairene, word order could not be exhaustively explained in terms of informational factors, and that a full account of this area of grammar required a recognition of a specifically grammatical level of representation and a grammatical function of Subject whose distribution cannot be explained in discourse or informational terms.
  • At present I am engaged in the final editing of a monograph on the syntax of spoken Egyptian Arabic, to be published as part of the London Oriental and African Language Library series. The monograph presents a detailed description and analysis of the major syntactic structures of Egyptian Arabic, using data drawn primarily from original sources, and a number of recurrent themes in Arabic grammar, including word order, negation, clitic pronouns, copular constructions, tense/aspect distinctions, and agreement. Methodological issues arising from describing data from non-standard varieties are discussed, as well as issues concerning the boundaries between .grammar. and discourse.
  • Many areas of Arabic dialect grammar pose problems for both description and formal analysis, and have accordingly attracted the attention of descriptive and theoretical linguists. This study presents new analyses of a number of problematic aspects of Egyptian grammar. It also argues for the importance of the study of the grammars of non-standard - and hence uncodified - language varieties.
  • My second major strand of research, conducted with Professor Penelope Gardner-Chloros, investigates the role of .grammar. in codeswitching.
  • My research in this area, conducted with Penelope Gardner-Chloros, has demonstrated the inadequacies of many orthodox assumptions regarding .grammar. in codeswitching, and has argued for the need to recognise a creative role for the speaker. In this respect, the approach is opposed to analyses of code-switching which are based on the notion of a dichotomous relationship between two idealised grammatical systems, corresponding to two idealised .languages..
  • Such an approach has implications for the attempt to identify sentential and morphosyntactic constraints on codeswitching. It also entrains a number of methodological implications, in particular the need to place the individual speaker/user at the centre of research in this area. Such a speaker-based model can yield insights which models predicated on idealised .languages. cannot capture.
  • Two major publications on these topics have appeared in Transactions of the Philological Society and International Journal of Bilingualism (see list of publications). Another publication (with Jean-Marc Dewaele) has investigated language selection and use in trilingual speakers to conclude that there is no evidence that trilingual behaviour differs in essential respects from that of bilinguals. This finding, in turn, is consonant with the contention that the individual speaker (ie. the speaker.s individual and unique linguistic repertoire and behaviour) be regarded as the focus of investigation into codeswitching.
  • A long-term interest in the semantics and pragmatics of tense and aspect distinctions across languages led to another publication with Jean-Marc Dewaele which used empirical methodology to assess non-native speakers. perception of pragmatic, specifically affective, dimensions of meaning and use with English verb forms.
  • In the past two years I have developed a further strand of research which arose from teaching a module on translation, which looks at language in film, and specifically at the functions of language and languages in film which go beyond exposition and narrative development. In 2011 I presented a paper at the NEC Conference in London on the diegetic and symbolic significance of identity talk in a scene from Istvan Szabo.s 1984 film .Colonel Redl..


  • I am Director of undergraduate linguistic programmes in Applied Linguistics and Communication. My teaching includes these modules:
    • Approaches to Language (Undergraduate)
    • Analysing Language Structure and Use(Undergraduate)
    • Linguistic Analysis (Postgraduate)
    • Issues in Translation (Postgraduate)



Recent journal articles and book chapters

  • (2013) Language in media, health and law. In: Li, Wei (ed.) Applied Linguistics. Oxford, UK: Wiley Blackwell, pp. 228-244.
  • (2013) Translation and interpreting. In: Li, Wei (ed.) Applied Linguistics. Oxford, UK: Wiley Blackwell, pp. 245-261.
  • (2009) When the blueprint is a red herring: assumptions behind grammatical approaches to code-switching. In: Li, Wei (ed.)
  • Bilingualism and Multilingualism. Critical Concepts in Linguistics. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
  • (2009) Word order in Egyptian Arabic: formal and function. In: Owens, J. and Elgibali, A. (eds.) Information Structure in Spoken Arabic. Routledge Arabic Linguistics Series. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, pp. 93-106.
  • (2007) Compound verbs in Code-switching: Bilinguals Making Do? International Journal of Bilingualism, vol.11 no.1, 73-91.
    (2007) Trilingual conversations: A window into multicompetence? The International Journal of Bilingualism, 11 (2), 221-241 (with J.-M. Dewaele).
  • (2004) When the blueprint is a red herring: assumptions behind grammatical approaches to code-switching. Transactions of the Philological Society, 102, 1, 103-29. Reprinted in Li Wei (ed.)
  • (2010) Bilingualism and Multilingualism. Abingdon, UK & New York: Routledge, vol.1, 130-150 (with P. Gardner-Chloros).
  • (2004) Assumptions behind grammatical approaches to code-switching: when the blueprint is a red herring. Transactions of the Philological Society 102 (1), pp. 103-129 (with P. Gardner-Chloros).
  • (2004) Tense/aspect, verb meaning and perception of emotional intensity by native and non-native users of English. EUROSLA Yearbook 4. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 231-252. (with J.-M. Dewaele).
  • (2001) Conversations trilingues (arabe, français, anglais) entre mère et fille: un saute-mouton référentiel ? In C. Charnet (ed.), Communications réferentielles et processus réferentiels. Montpellier: Publications de Praxiling-Université Paul-Valéry, 193-214 (with J.-M. Dewaele).


Professional membership

Member of UCU.