Dr Melanie Bell

Principal Lecturer in Linguistics

Affiliated with Positive Ageing Research Institute

Faculty:Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

School:Humanities and Social Sciences

Location: Cambridge

Areas of Expertise: Language and linguistics

Research Supervision:Yes

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 both between individuals and in the same individual across their lifespan.



After completing a degree in Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge, Melanie qualified as a Registered Mental Nurse and worked for several years in psychiatry. Seeing the particular difficulties experienced by patients whose first language was not English, she trained to teach English as a Foreign Language and, becoming increasingly intrigued by language, eventually moved into teaching full time. In 2004, she returned to the University of Cambridge and went on to gain a PhD in English and Applied Linguistics.

Melanie’s present work combines her interests in language and the mind with the benefits of her training in natural science. Her recent research has concerned how we store and retrieve words from memory, how we interpret words and word combinations we haven’t heard before, and how we coin new words for new concepts or for the purposes of creativity. In 2015 she was awarded a Mercator Fellowship at the University of Düsseldorf, to investigate how information is conveyed by small variations in the pronunciation of complex words. In 2017-18, she was Principal Investigator for the EU-funded project, Default Meanings in Compound Interpretation, which explored the relationship between word meanings and other sources of information, such as context.

Research interests

  • Semantics of complex words and multiword expressions
  • Relationship between lexical semantics and pragmatics
  • Relationship between phonetic detail and word meaning
  • Phonological prominence
    • The role of predictability in language production and processing
    • Individual differences in production and interpretation of multiword expressions
    • The boundary between word-formation and syntax
    • Second language acquisition
    • Approaches to learning and teaching
    • Communication in nursing and psychiatry

Areas of research supervision

  • Word formation and the mental lexicon
  • Phonetics and phonology of English
  • Second language acquisition
  • Approaches to learning and teaching
  • Communication in nursing and psychiatry

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.


  • Language and Data
  • English Phonetics and Phonology
  • Research Methods in English Language, Linguistics and TESOL
  • Empirical Linguistics
  • Undergraduate Major Project in English Language, Linguistics and TESOL

Melanie is an Anglia Ruskin University Teaching Fellow


  • 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 the Linguistics Association of Great Britain
    • Member of the International Society for the Linguistics of English
    • Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

    Research grants, consultancy, knowledge exchange

    Selected recent publications

    Bell, Melanie 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), 219–227.

    Bell, Melanie J. & Martin Schäfer. 2016. Modelling semantic transparency. Morphology 26(2), 157–199.

    Arndt-Lappe, Sabine, Melanie J. Bell, Martin Schäfer & Barbara Schlücker. 2016. Introduction: Modelling compound properties. Morphology 26(2), 105–108.

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

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

    Bell, Melanie J. & Ingo Plag. 2013. Informativity and analogy in English compound stress. Word Structure 6(2). 129–155.

    Bell, Melanie J. & Martin Schäfer. 2013. Semantic transparency: challenges for distributional semantics. In Aurelie Herbelot, Roberto Zamparelli & Gemma Boleda (eds.), Proceedings of the IWCS 2013 workshop: Towards a formal distributional semantics, 1–10. Potsdam: Association for Computational Linguistics.

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

    Recent presentations and conferences

    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).