Centre for Behaviour and Evolution

Staff Profile

Dr Rebecca Woods

Senior Lecturer in Language and Cognition



I joined SELLL in September 2019 as a Lecturer in Language and Cognition and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2022. I work on the syntax, semantics and pragmatics of questions in adult and in child language. Though much of my work focuses on Germanic languages (especially English and German), I am interested in multilingual language acquisition of any and all language combinations.

In addition to conducting research and teaching in linguistics, I have two admin roles. I am SELLL's academic lead for employability and engagement. I'm always looking for ways to improve students' experiences at university, especially for students from 'non-traditional' or 'widening participation' backgrounds, as I was a first-generation university student. I am also ethics convenor for SELLL, advising on ethical protocols for research studies at all levels.

I am also interested in sharing linguistics with wider audiences outside academia. I am one of the 2023 cohort of AHRC-BBC New Generation Thinkers and I have written for The Conversation and Babel, as well as speaking on Voice of Islam DAB radio and The Good Robot podcast.

Past academic positions

2023 Visiting Researcher, Leibniz-Zentrum für Sprachwissenschaft

2015-2019 Senior Lecturer in Language Acquisition, University of Huddersfield


2012-2016 PhD Linguistics, University of York

Fall 2014 Visiting student, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

2011-2012 MA Psycholinguistics, University of York

2006-2010 BA French and Linguistics, University of Sheffield

A life before academia...

Prior to becoming an academic I had a range of jobs including assistant librarian, English language assistant in France, lifeguard and leisure attendant, bar staff, retail, waiting staff, and French-English translator and proofreader.


I am primarily interested in questions, both main and embedded. I am trying to understand their syntax, semantics, discourse properties, and how they are acquired by children. This plays into a broader interest in the acquisition of speech acts by children - how do they use their knowledge of syntax, semantics, pragmatics, prosody and gesture to map structures to meanings?

Relatedly, I also work on clausal embedding, particularly embedded Verb Second and discourse particles.

Another strand of interest concerns codeswitching in multilingual communities.

Past projects have included bilingual first language acquisition, dative constructions, clitic doubling, sentential adverbs and possessives.

Please note that I do not work on language education (e.g. second language learning, children's literacy etc.) so if you are interested in pursuing further study in an area of language education, please contact other colleagues in the first instance.


Since 2024:

Semester 2

SEL3438/8695 The Black Box of Child Language Acquisition

Since 2019:

Semester 1

SEL1008 Nature of Language

Semester 2

SEL2230/8683 Multilingualism

Past teaching:

2020-2022 SEL1028 Introduction to the Structure of Language II: Meaning strand