Dr Alison May

Dr Alison May


I have taught in H.E. since 1994 at Westhill College of H.E and the universities of Birmingham, Huddersfield and Leeds. I began my working life as a police officer in the West Midlands Police, before taking my first degree as a mature student. My B.Ed degree in primary school education with English as a specialist subject led to my interest in linguistics, and, by the end of my degree, I realised I wanted to wanted to pursue further study and follow an academic career.

My MA in Special Applications of Linguistics was funded by the British Academy and at that point I decided to do doctoral research in forensic linguistics, after meeting Professor Malcolm Coulthard who was in the process of establishing this new and exciting field and the International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law. Malcolm has become a collaborator leading to four books over the last two decades: first and second editions of our textbook and handbook in forensic linguistics. 

2020. The Routledge Handbook of Forensic Linguistics (London: Routledge) [co-edited with Malcolm Coulthard and Rui Sousa Silva] (first edition in 2010 with Malcolm Coulthard).
2017. An Introduction to Forensic Linguistics: Language in Evidence. 2nd Edition (London: Routledge) [co-authored with Malcolm Coulthard and David Wright] (first edition in 2007 with Malcolm Coulthard).

I have also provided expert reports to the courts, solicitors, and the police in legal cases and have appeared as an expert witness in Crown Courts in England. 


  • Teaching and research in English Language
  • Specialist teaching and research in forensic linguistics

Research interests

My research is in corpus-based forensic linguistics, language in legal settings. My work draws on and informs pragmatic, discourse, interactional sociolinguistic, and corpus linguistic theory. I am an editor of the International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, an active member of the International Association for Forensic and Legal Linguistics (IAFLL) and the International Pragmatic Association (IPrA), and I have regularly presented papers at conferences organised by these associations.

My research interests include the sister areas of authorship studies and plagiarism, including copublication with Professor Malcolm Coulthard, Dr Rui Sousa Silva, Mr David Woolls, and Dr David Wright. I am also working on historical forensic linguistic research, using the Old Bailey Proceedings 1674-1913, a corpus of nearly 200,000 criminal trials. Recent conference papers and articles focus on a corpus of 18th century rape trials and the role of medical experts and defence barristers in 19th century trials involving an insanity defence. Formerly a police officer for six years, my doctoral research explored the use of questions in police interviews with both adults and children and I continue to research the form and function of questions in legal settings in articles on narrative evaluation an transformation in the police interview, the use of quotation in interviewing and trial discourse, and impoliteness in trial discourse.

I currently supervise the following research students and topics in forensic linguistics:

  • Adegbite, Matthew. Discursive Management of Power in Police/Suspect Interrogation in Nigeria (co-supervised with Dr Bethan Davies). 
  • AlAmr, Mashael. Authorship attribution, idiolectal style, and online identity in a specialized corpus of Najdi Arabic tweets (co-supervised with Professor Eric Atwell).
  • AlAmri, Albatool. Cross-lingual computational stylometry (English and Arabic) (co-supervised with Professor Eric Atwell).
  • AlRabie, Maram. The stability of collocation as a style marker across genres (co-supervised by Dr Brett Greatley-Hirsch).
  • Chen, Yan. A corpus-assisted study of defendant questioning in Chinese criminal trials (co-supervised by Professor Binhua Wang). 
  • Jones, Natalie. Representing Reality in Derek Chauvin’s Courtroom Trial: Lawyer strategies in opening speeches and closing arguments (Masters by Research).

The following are former PhD and Masters by Research students who have completed their research and graduated and who are now working all over the world:

  • Ahmad Sani, Nurshafawati. Strategies in Malaysian Criminal Proceedings: A Corpus-Based Forensic Discourse Analysis.
  • Abdullah, Ashraf. An Ethnographic Sociolinguistic Study of Arab and Anglo-American Virtual Identity in Second Life.   
  • Al Saeed, Neveen. Power and Resistance in Interrogations of Suspects in the Egyptian Judicial Process.     
  • Alian, Najat. The Representation of the Arab Spring Narrative in English and Arabic News Media.
  • Laporte, Camille. Expressing Political Leadership in the UK, US, and France.
  • Nickel, Sandra. The (Re)Construction and Reflection of Religious and Socio-Political Reality through Linguistic Power in 19th Century Yoruba Mission Texts.
  • Sarfo, Emmanuel. Speech Acts in Ghanaian Parliamentary Discourse.
  • Satia, Emmanuel. Professional and Lay Interactants’ Use of Language to Construct and Negotiate Identities in Legal Contexts. (with Professor Kembo, Moi University, Kenya).
  • Wright, David. Stylistics versus Statistics: A Corpus-linguistic Approach to Combining Techniques in Forensic Authorship Analysis Using Enron Emails.
  • Grounds, Madeleine. Sick puppy or terrorist? Investigating newspaper representations of white and ethnic minority mass shooters (Masters by Research).
  • Murdoch, Millicent. A Forensic Linguistic Authorship Study into the Intra-author Variation across a Range of Different Electronic Communication Types (Masters by Research).

I am happy to supervise research students (MA by Research and PhD) in the School of English (and in collaboration with other Schools) in areas closely concerned with my primary research interests in Forensic Linguistics: authorship, contemporary and historical courtroom discourse, and police interviewing.

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • PhD in Forensic Linguistics, School of English, University of Birmingham, 2005
  • MA in Special Applications of Linguistics, CELS, University of Birmingham, 1994 (Distinction)
  • B.Ed (Hons.), University of Birmingham, 1992 (First class).

Professional memberships

  • International Association for Forensic and Legal Linguistics
  • International Pragmatics Association

Student education

I teach English language in the School of English over a range of modules and at all levels. Particular areas of teaching expertise are descriptive and functional grammar, corpus linguistics, discourse analysis, and forensic linguistics. I offer specialist option modules in forensic linguistics, supervise undergraduate dissertations, and supervise postgraduate research.

Current postgraduate researchers

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>