If you made any changes in Pure these will be visible here soon.

Personal profile

Research interests

Research blog: https://makingsenseofmakingsense.tumblr.com/

Researchgate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Gemma_Williams19

Twitter: @DjzemaLouiz



Gemma Williams is a University of Brighton Studentship awardee, investigating autistic language use via a synthesis of interdisciplinary tools and theories, largely influenced by Relevance Theory.

Prior to beginning this PhD course, Gemma taught English as a Foreign Language for eight years, latterly focusing on Business English. This led to her completing a Masters in ELT (English Language Teaching) at the University of Sussex where her research interests included teacher cognition, Intercultural Communicative Competence and English as a Lingua Franca. Gemma also spent several years as a recording and internationally touring musician.


My PhD research 

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterised by impaired communication and social interaction, with pragmatic ‘deficits’ in autistic language use commonly attributed to an impaired theory of mind, or ‘mindblindness’- the inability to detect or make sense of the states of others. From this perspective the onus of failures in mutual understanding is placed within the brains/minds of the autistic individuals involved. However, recent research in the social sciences and critical autism studies is beginning to provide evidence of the difficulties that non-autistic people have understanding autistic people too, and to reframe the communicative difficulties as a two-way, ‘double empathy problem’.

The aim of this thesis is to apply this difference-not-deficit approach to an investigation of adult autistic language use. Can Relevance Theory, a cognitive account of utterance interpretation, make sense of what is happening pragmatically? Is a radical reframing of the difficulties observed in autistic-neurotypical communication as essentially an intercultural problem, valuable? Can English as a Lingua Franca and its associated accommodative efforts offer any insights? This thesis will draw on Sociology, Anthropology, Philosophy of Mind and Critical Autism studies to augment its core Pragmatics tools in attempting to answer these questions.

A piece of Gemma's autoethnographic creative writing from her PhD thesis, 'We're All Strangers Here', was awarded Honorable Mention in the Society for Humanistic Anthropology 2019 Ethnographic Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Prize. 


Education/Academic qualification

Master, University of Sussex


  • PE English
  • Autism
  • Neurodiversity
  • Relevance Theory
  • Pragmatics
  • cognition
  • ELT
  • Intercultural communication
  • Loneliness
  • Engaged research

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics where Gemma Williams is active. These topic labels come from the works of this person. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • 11 Similar Profiles
autism Social Sciences
pragmatics Social Sciences
language Social Sciences
deficit Social Sciences
communication Social Sciences
empathy Social Sciences
foreign language Social Sciences
normativity Social Sciences

Research Output 2017 2019

Forum on English as a lingua franca (ELF)

Williams, G., Camerer, R., Duarte, A. & Mader, J., Feb 2019, In : IATEFL Brighton 2018 Conference Selections.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Conversing at the Edge of Meaning

Williams, G., 2018.

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearchpeer-review


Theory of Autistic Mind: Unpicking Assumptions in Autistic Language Use Research

Williams, G., 2018.

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearchpeer-review

Theory of Mind
Language Use
Construct State

Business English teachers and ELF

Williams, G., 2 Oct 2017, In : Business Issues.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearch