Professor Melanie J. Bell

Faculty of Arts, Humanities, Education and Social Sciences
Humanities and Social Sciences
Areas of Expertise:
Language and linguistics
Research Supervision:

Melanie is Professor of Quantitative Linguistics at ARU.

Melanie is fascinated by words: how people coin and understand new words, how small differences in pronunciation can reflect differences in meaning, and how understanding varies between individuals.

[email protected]

Visit Melanie's website


The big questions underlying Melanie's research are: How do people use speech sounds to convey meaning? And how do they learn to do this?

Her work has focussed mainly on compound nouns in English, where she has shown that there is far more variability, both in pronunciation and understanding, than received wisdom would predict.

The variation in pronunciation occurs both at the level of perception and at the level of fine-grained phonetic detail, where differences might normally go unnoticed. Nevertheless, there is evidence that both types of variation are associated with aspects of meaning and especially with interrelationships between word meanings.

Methodologically, Melanie uses a combination of big data (corpus linguistics), acoustic analysis (phonetics) and experimentation (laboratory phonology). She is currently especially interested in exploring the commonalities between language acquisition and other types of learning, including machine learning.

A recent project, in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Tübingen, used computational modelling to better understand how words are learned in a second or third language; the results highlighted the particular problems posed by homophones, words with the same pronunciation but different meanings. The team are currently expanding the model to explore language learning at sentence level.

Spoken Languages
  • English (native speaker)
  • French (intermediate)
Research interests
  • The mental lexicon
  • Prosody
  • Predictability in language
  • Contextual influences on pronunciation and meaning
  • Inter-speaker variation
  • Language acquisition, including second language acquisition
Areas of research supervision
  • Word formation and the mental lexicon
  • Phonetics and phonology of English
  • Second language acquisition
  • Approaches to language learning and teaching

Melanie has successfully supervised MA and PhD dissertations in the areas of English linguistics, second language acquisition and language teaching. She is interested in supervising projects on any of the topics listed above. She would also be interested in supervising projects that apply empirical and quantitative techniques to the study of language more generally.

  • Introduction to Linguistics
  • English Phonetics and Phonology
  • Research Methods in English Language, Linguistics and TESOL
  • Using Linguistics (computational, forensic and clinical applications)
  • Global English
  • Research Methods in Applied Linguistics
  • PhD English and Applied Linguistics, University of Cambridge
  • MPhil English and Applied Linguistics, University of Cambridge
  • BA Natural Sciences, University of Cambridge
Memberships, editorial boards
  • Member of UK Economic and Social Research Council peer review college
  • Member of UK Cognitive Linguistics Association
  • Senior Fellow, UK Higher Education Academy
Research grants, consultancy, knowledge exchange
  • EU Horizon 2020, Marie Curie Research Fellowship for Martin Schäfer for ‘Default Meanings in Compound Interpretation’, 2017-18, €97,727
  • Mercator Fellowship, Spoken Morphology: Phonetics and phonology of complex words, German Science Foundation Research Unit FOR 2373, University of Düsseldorf, 2015-2018, €50,750
  • European Science Foundation NetWords grant for visit by Carmen Portero Muñoz from the University of Cordoba, 2015
  • European Science Foundation NetWords grants for visits by Martin Schäfer from the University of Jena, 2014
  • British Academy Skills Acquisition Award, funding research visits to the University of Tübingen, 2013
Selected recent publications

Yu-Ying, C., Bell, M. J., Banke, I., Harald Baayen, R., 2020. Bilingual and multilingual mental lexicon: a modeling study with Linear Discriminative Learning. Language Learning.

Schäfer, M., Bell, M. J., 2020. Constituent polysemy and interpretational diversity in attested English novel compounds. The Mental Lexicon, 15(1), pp. 42–61.

Bell, M. J., Ben Hedia, S., Plag, I., 2020. How morphological structure affects phonetic realisation in English compound nouns. Morphology, pp. 1–34.

Bell, M. J., 2018. Lexical deconstruction - review of Giegerich, H., Lexical structures: Compounding and the modules of grammar, Edinburgh studies in theoretical linguistics, vol. 1. Morphology, 28(1), pp. 219–227.

Bell, M. J., Schäfer, M., 2016. Modelling semantic transparency. Morphology, 26(2), pp. 157–199.

Arndt-Lappe, S., Bell, M. J., Schäfer M., Schlücker, B., 2016. Introduction: Modelling compound properties. Morphology, 26(2), pp. 105–108.

Bell, M. J., 2015. Inter-speaker variation in English compound prominence. Lingue e Linguaggio, 14(1), pp. 61–78.

Bell, M. J., 2015. Basic relations and stereotype relations in the semantics of compound nouns. Journal of Cognitive Science, 16(3), pp. 224–260.

Bell, M. J., Plag, I., 2013. Informativity and analogy in English compound stress. Word Structure, 6(2), pp. 129–155.

Bell, M. J., Schäfer, M., 2013. Semantic transparency: challenges for distributional semantics. In: Herbelot, A., Zamparelli, R., Boleda, G. (Eds.), 2013. Proceedings of the IWCS 2013 workshop: Towards a formal distributional semantics (Potsdam: Association for Computational Linguistics), pp. 1-10.

Bell, M. J., Plag, I., 2012. Informativeness is a determinant of compound stress in English. Journal of Linguistics, 48(3), pp. 485–520.

Bell, M. J. 2011. At the boundary of morphology and syntax: Noun noun constructions in English. In: Galani, A., Hicks G., Tsoulas, G. (Eds.), 2011. Morphology and its interfaces (Linguistics Today 178) (Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins), pp. 137–167. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Recent presentations and conferences

Do novel compounds come with default interpretations? UK Cognitive Linguistics Conference, Birmingham, 25–29 July 2020.

Linguistic Experience Shapes Word-Formation Patterns: Novel Formations by Native and Non-Native Speakers of English. 19th International Morphology Meeting. Vienna, 6–8 February 2020.

The Measurement Construction in English, ENP2019 - The English Noun Phrase, Vienna, 12 July 2019 (with Carmen Portero Muñoz).

One person's acid cap: the multiple polysemy of compound nouns. University of Glasgow, 21 February 2019, invited talk.

The Role of Constituent Disambiguation in the Interpretation of Novel Noun-noun Constructions. Workshop on Psycholinguistic and Computational Perspectives on Non-Compositional Meaning in Phrases. University of Tübingen, 29–30 November 2018. Keynote speaker.

Interpretational diversity in novel compounds and what the head noun has to do with it, 11th International Conference on the Mental Lexicon, Edmonton, Canada, 28 September 2018 (with Martin Schäfer).

Default meanings in compound interpretation, 2018 Annual Meeting of the Linguistics Association of Great Britain, Sheffield, 12 September 2018 (with Martin Schäfer).

Novel English compounds: how do we know what they mean?, Fifth International Conference of the International Society for the Linguistics of English (ISLE), London, 20 July 2018 (with Martin Schäfer).

Adjective Noun constructions in English: a large-scale corpus investigation Fifth International Conference of the International Society for the Linguistics of English (ISLE), London, 18 July 2018 (with Carmen Portero Muñoz).

Predictability and boundary strength in English compound nouns, The role of predictability in shaping human sound systems, LabPhon16 satellite event, Lisbon, 23 June 2018 (with Sonia Ben Hedia and Ingo Plag).

Interpreting Novel Compounds. Invited talk, University of Trier, 30 May 2018.

Interpreting novel compounds, 18th International Morphology Meeting, Budapest, 11 May 2018 (with Martin Schäfer).

Morphological gemination and boundary strength: Evidence from English compounds, 40th Annual Meeting of the German Linguistic Society, University of Stuttgart, 7-9 March, 2018 (with Sonia Ben Hedia and Ingo Plag).

Some distributional properties of proper noun modifiers in the British National Corpus, 7th Biennial International Conference on the Linguistics of Contemporary English, University of Vigo, 28-30 September 2017.

Semantic entropy measures and the semantic transparency of noun-noun compounds, 39th Annual Conference of the German Linguistic Society, Saarland University, Saarbrucken, 8-10 March 2017 (with Martin Schäfer).

Compounding in context, Expanding the lexicon - Linguistic Innovation, Morphological Productivity, and the Role of Discourse-Related Factors, University of Trier, 17-18 November 2016.

A comparison of the interviewing styles of English L1 and Tamil L1 psychiatric nurses in the NHS. British Association of Applied Linguistics Annual Conference, Anglia Ruskin University, 1-3 September 2016.

Semantic transparency in English compound nouns. Invited talk, University of Düsseldorf, 12 July 2016.

The English noun-noun construct: Prosody and structure. Invited talk, University of Edinburgh, 29 October 2015.

Expectedness and perceived transparency in English compound nouns, First International Quantitative Morphology Meeting (IQMM1), University of Belgrade, 11-15 July 2015 (with Martin Schäfer).

Modelling semantic transparency in English compound nouns, Word Structure and Word Usage: the NetWordS Final Conference, Pisa, 30 March - 1 April 2015 (with Martin Schäfer).