Research environment

  • International Institute for
    Sign Languages
    and Deaf Studies (iSLanDS)


The International Institute for Sign Languages and Deaf Studies (iSLanDS) is a unique hub for the study of sign languages and deaf studies. We combine cutting-edge research with outputs and project activities that contribute to the empowerment of deaf communities. We have been part of UCLan since 2006.

Our mission is:

  • To engage in cutting-edge research and high quality teaching in the areas of sign languages and deaf studies as an international Centre of Excellence
  • To contribute to the empowerment of deaf communities around the world through a wide range of educational and research activities.

We keep a blog with news stories and announcements, and we are on Facebook and Twitter.

We study dozens of diverse sign languages and deaf communities, and use our research to teach ground-breaking theoretical and applied courses. Much of our work focuses on developing countries.

Our international academic team conducts research and teaching in sign linguistics and deaf studies on a global scale. Most of our staff, students and collaborators are deaf, and come from countries such as Germany, India, Turkey, Japan and the USA.

We have many areas of interest, including sign language typology, endangered sign languages, applied linguistics and the unprecedented sign multilingualism project, funded by the European Research Council.


See this information in British Sign Language (Simeon, left) And International Sign (Keiko, right)

Contact Us:

International Institute for Sign Languages and Deaf Studies
Vernon Annexe- VE028
University of Central Lancashire
United Kingdom
Fax: +44 (0)1772-894933
iSLanDS Blog

Where We Work

Endangered sign languages

The iSLanDS Institute is putting endangered sign languages “on the map” thanks to a collaboration with UNESCO, resulting in the unprecedented inclusion of sign languages in UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. This work was inspired by a three-year European Science Foundation project on endangered sign languages in village communities.

Sign language typology

Most sign languages in the world are only marginally described or even entirely unknown. The iSLanDS Institute specialises in extensive documentation of sign languages, particularly in developing countries.

Currently, iSLanDS scholars are studying the semantic fields of colours, numbers and kinship in the lexicons of over 30 sign languages, including village sign languages. The involvement of deaf participants, who may not have a background in linguistics, is a key component of our research. Therefore, we make data collection materials accessible in deaf-friendly formats such as International Sign and plain English. All research and publications from our Sign Language Typology research group have input from deaf community members. There are now four volumes in our Sign Language Typology series, and the fifth book, Semantic Fields in Sign Languages, is due to be released in 2014.

Capacity building in Deaf communities

The iSLanDS Institute has established higher education (HE) partnerships between the UK and India through the UK-India Education and Research Initiative (funded by a large number of stakeholders in both countries), and between the UK and sub-Saharan Africa through the Education Partnerships in Africa programme (which is funded by the UK government and managed through the British Council). Our project partnerships include Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), the University of Ghana, Kyambogo University in Uganda, and deaf associations / NGOs in India, Ghana and Uganda. We aim to focus on developing generic academic skills for deaf students, in particular their literacy which will contribute to their employability generally; improving access to the workplace, in particular the availability of sign language interpreters; and the development of new job profiles in applied sign language studies.

Sign multilingualism

Thanks to a grant from the European Research Council, the iSLanDS Institute is conducting a ground-breaking study of multilingual behaviours in sign language users and laying the foundation for a new sub-discipline, Sign Multilingualism studies. Led by Professor Ulrike Zeshan, this three-strand study showcases people’s linguistic capabilities and involves international participants from a wide range of countries including India, Turkey, Japan and Indonesia. The project’s three strands are ‘cross-signing’ (the development of improvised communication between users of different sign languages); ‘sign-switching’ (code-switching between sign languages); and ‘sign-speaking’ (the simultaneous production of sign and speech, where the different structures of both languages are kept largely intact).


Sign Multilingualism


Expertise and Subject Areas in British Sign Language (Simeon, Left) and International Sign (Keiko, Right)


Key impact

  • Improved educational attainment (LINK to Deaf Literacy project page) and professional development for marginalised groups (deaf sign language users), e.g. through involvement in typology research
  • Linguistic rights for sign language users through engagement with international policy makers, non-governmental organisations and professional bodies (in India, in Turkey, and with international bodies)
  • Greater awareness of the endangerment of sign languages, previously largely ignored, e.g. through work with UNESCO
  • Through a better understanding of sign multilingualism, more effective training for sign language interpreters working in international contexts, and higher-quality services for deaf people who move abroad

Empowering deaf communities through our research and teaching activities is at the heart of what we do at the iSLanDS Institute. Here, we share some examples of the impact we have had on deaf communities around the world.

Sign language teaching

In India, Turkey and Jordan, we have worked with deaf people to set up sign language courses. Our work in India and Turkey has been underway for several years, and deaf people in these countries have become more aware of their own sign languages, developing the skills and confidence necessary to teach their languages.
In India and Turkey there is now training for sign language interpreters, which have a positive effect on the lives of deaf people. This training would not be possible without deaf sign language experts. We continue to support teaching in Jordan, and we are also now working with the Indonesian deaf community in this area.

Creating tertiary education opportunities

In 2010, in partnership with IGNOU in Delhi, we set up a BA course in India (LINK to Deaf Literacy project page). So far, over 50 students from India, China, Nepal, Uganda and Burundi have passed their BA. They are among the first deaf people in their countries to get a BA-level qualification. We also set up a foundation-level course to prepare deaf people for entry into the BA course.

Literacy for deaf adults through long-distance online learning

The iSLanDS Institute believes that technology has the power to open doors to the acquisition of reading and writing skills by deaf people. In 2008, we set up the English Learning Platform (ELP), an online resource for teaching English through sign language and the use of interactive materials.

Through the ELP, deaf Indian students were able to learn English in their own sign language, often for the first time. Our deaf-led research (Sahasrabudhe 2011, Denmark 2013) has shown that platforms like the ELP are both effective and welcomed by deaf people.

Supporting deaf organisations

Alongside research on linguistics and deaf studies, we work with deaf organisations and deaf community leaders to share information and skills, and to promote links between deaf communities in different countries. For example, in 2012 we hosted a six-week visit by three deaf people from Indonesia, Jordan and Japan, with trips to deaf organisations in London, Manchester and Lancashire.

Drawing attention to endangered sign languages

One of the goals of the EuroBABEL project was to promote the documentation of rural sign languages around the world, and to raise awareness of the contribution that these sign languages make to our understanding of linguistic diversity. Many rural sign languages are critically endangered, and in some cases their users have a low opinion of their own sign language (Lanesman 2013). Through research, it is possible to raise the profile and prestige of rural sign languages.

Our endangered sign languages work aims to add data about these languages to UNESCO’s Atlas of Endangered Languages for the first time. Little has been written about the causes of sign language endangerment, and our project is the first that attempts to assess the degree to which different sign languages are endangered.

Making the academic world more accessible

iSLanDS runs the SIGN conference series, an international conference on sign linguistics and deaf studies. Unlike most other international conferences, presentations at SIGN are all given in sign language. This is an important development for deaf academics and deaf communities alike, as it exemplifies the use of signed languages at an international academic level, and validates the right of deaf and hearing people to present in sign language.

Our projects, especially those on sign multilingualism and sign language typology, rely on the expertise of deaf researchers, collaborators and participants. In many cases this experience allows these deaf individuals to gain valuable skills and knowledge which they can use to build capacity and become role models within their own deaf communities.

Since we started, we have also supported deaf academics in their studies at the iSLanDS Institute. Seven deaf students, mostly from developing countries, have now studied for an MA or PhD at iSLanDS. On returning home, several have become leading figures nationally and internationally. For example, Hasan Dikyuva is now a board member of the World Federation of the Deaf.

Our Previous Projects

We will soon add more information here about our impact. In the meantime, for more information about our impact, feel free to contact us.

Publications and Outputs

Here is a selection of our main publications and outputs

Aboh, E., Pfau, R. & Zeshan, U. (2006) When a wh-word is not a wh-word: The case of Indian Sign Language. In Singh, R., and Bhattacharya, T. (eds.) The Yearbook of South Asian Languages and Linguistics 2005. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 11-43.

Dikyuva, H. & Zeshan, U. (2008) Turk Isaret Dili - Birinci Duzey. [Turkish Sign Language - Level One]. Nijmegen: Ishara Press.

Hendriks, B. & Zeshan, U. (2009) Sign Languages in the Arab World. In Versteegh, K., et al. (eds.): Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics (EALL). Leiden: Brill.

Panda, S. & Zeshan, U. (2011) Reciprocal Constructions in Indo-Pakistani Sign Language. In Evans, N., Gaby, A., Levinson, S.C. & Majid, A. (eds.) Reciprocals and Semantic Typology. Typological Studies in Language Series. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 91-114.

Perniss, P. & Zeshan, U. (eds.) (2008) Possessive and Existential Constructions in Sign Languages. Sign Language Typology Series No. 2. Nijmegen: Ishara Press.

Sagara, K. & Zeshan, U. (forthc.) Semantic Fields in Sign Languages. Sign Language Typology Series No. 5. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton & Nijmegen: Ishara Press.

Schwager, W. & Zeshan, U. (2008) Word classes in sign languages – Criteria and classifications. In Ansaldo, U., Don, J. & Pfau, R. (eds.) Parts of Speech: Descriptive tools, theoretical constructs. Special Issue of Studies in Language 32(3):509–545.

Zeshan, U. (2006) Sign languages of the world. In Brown, K. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, 2nd edition. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Ulrike Zeshan's publications | Nicholas Palfreyman's publications

Sibaji Panda's publications | Keiko Sagara's publications

Zeshan, U. (ed.) (2006) Interrogative and Negative Constructions in Sign Languages. Sign Language Typology Series No. 1. Nijmegen: Ishara Press.

Zeshan, U. (2007) The ethics of documenting sign languages in village communities. Proceedings of the Conference on Language Documentation and Linguistic Theory, 7-8 December 2007, SOAS, London.

Zeshan, U. (2007) Roots, leaves and branches – The typology of sign languages. In Quadros, R.M. de (ed.) Sign Languages: Spinning and unraveling the past, present and future. Forty five papers and three posters from the 9° Theoretical Issues In Sign Language Research Conference, Florianopolis, Brazil, December 2006. Petropolis: Editoria Arara Azul.

Zeshan, U. (2010) Village sign languages - A commentary. In Napoli. D.J. & Mathur, G. (eds.) Deaf Around the World: The impact of language. Oxford University Press, 221-230.

Zeshan, U. & de Vos, C. (eds.) (2012) Sign Languages in Village Communities: Anthropological and linguistic insights. Sign Language Typology Series No. 4. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton & Nijmegen: Ishara Press.

Zeshan, U. & Dikyuva, H. (forthc.) Documentation of endangered sign languages: The case of Mardin Sign Language. In Jones, M. & Ogilvie, S. (eds.) Keeping Languages Alive: Documentation, pedagogy and revitalization. Cambridge a.o.: CUP. 

Zeshan, U., Escobedo Delgado, C.E., Dikyuva, H., Panda, S. & De Vos, C. (forthc.) Cardinal numerals in village sign languages: Approaching cross-modal typology. Linguistic Typology.

Palfreyman, Nicholas Barrie (in press) Form, function, and the grammaticalisation of completive markers in the sign language varieties of Solo and Makassar. NUSA: Linguistic studies of languages in and around Indonesia, vol. 55.

Events and News

SIGN conference series

SIGN is a conference series especially for sign language users, which aims to broaden the international research base in sign language linguistics and deaf studies, and enable a worldwide community of Deaf academics to come together at a conference that they regard as their own. All presentations are given in International Sign or the host country’s sign language.

Coordinated by iSLanDS, SIGN began as a workshop called Cross-linguistic Sign Language Research (CLSLR) in 2006 at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, The Netherlands. This was repeated in Nijmegen in 2007 and at UCLan in 2008, where the series was renamed SIGN. In 2009, SIGN4 was held in India, followed by SIGN5 in Turkey (2011) and SIGN6 in Goa (2013). SIGN7 will take place in China from 12th-15th October 2014.

For more information, please visit the SIGN website or email Simeon Hart. Updates are also available on our blog.

Linguistics Research Symposium

The iSLanDS Institute helps organise the Linguistics Research Symposium (LRS) lecture series, which is co-organised by English Language and Linguistics, and the School of Language, Literature and International Studies (SoLLIS). The LRS is usually held every fourth Wednesday of the month at UCLan from 4 to 6pm, and includes presentations that revolve around the main linguistic research interests at UCLan, such as corpus linguistics, deaf literacy, endangered languages, discourse analysis, cross-modal linguistics, pragmatics, prosody and sociolinguistics. Details about forthcoming LRS presentations can be found on the UCLan What’s On calendar, and those relevant to iSLanDS are announced on our blog.

Courses and Postgraduate Study

  • Bachelors Preparatory Programme for Deaf Students (BPPDS)
  • BA(Hons) Applied Sign Language Studies (BAASLS)
  • MA by Research
  • MPhil/PhD


Professor Ulrike Zeshan

Sibaji Panda

Keiko Sagara

Anastasia Bradford

Simeon Hart

Jenny Webster

Nick Palfreyman

Philip Howarth

Our associates and partners for the project ‘Multilingual behaviours in sign language users’ (funded by the European Research Council) include:

  • Prof Karen Emmorey, San Diego State University, USA
  • Dr Susanne Michaelis, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany
  • Prof Stephen Levinson, Dr Connie de Vos, and Kang-Suk Byun, at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
  • Prof İclâl Ergenç, Dr Selçuk İşsever, Bahtiyar Makaroğlu, and Hasan Dikyuva, MA, at Ankara University, Turkey
  • Dr Samuel Mathew, National Institute of Speech and Hearing, Kerala, India

Related Research Groups

The iSLanDS Institute works in partnership with a number of national and international organisations. We have both academic partners and NGO partners.

Academic Partners

Ankara University, Turkey is working with iSLanDS on the project on Multilingual Behaviour in Sign Language Users (Multisign), funded by the European Research Council.

The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, the Netherlands works with the iSLanDS Institute on the Sign Language Typology project as well as the Multisign project, and is where the Sign Language Typology Research Group originated.

The National Institute of Speech and Hearing (NISH), in Trivandrum, Kerala, India, is an academic partner in our Multisign project and works with us on deaf literacy and applied sign linguistics initiatives.

Ishara Foundation is a Mumbai-based Indian trust devoted to improving the education of Deaf students in India at all levels, including the tertiary level. A partner in the UKIERI project, Ishara is run mainly by Deaf people and provides programmes in a culturally and linguistically Deaf environment.

University of Ghana, Legon, Accra is a partner in our Education Partnerships in Africa project.

Kyambogo University, Kampala, and Uganda National Association of the Deaf are our Ugandan partners in the Education Partnerships in Africa project, which is providing the first-ever accessible university education for deaf students in East Africa.

The University of the West Indies (UWI), the oldest fully regional institution of higher learning in the Commonwealth Caribbean, has a Jamaican Language Unit in its Department of Language, Linguistics and Philosophy, which works in partnership with the iSLanDS Institute on the documentation of Country Sign.

The University of Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, in the Kantō region of Japan, is involved with our Sign Language Typology project and the creation of a typology database for numerals.

The iSLanDS Institute also works with the Emotions, Credibility and Deception Group at UCLan


British Deaf Association (BDA) – the largest Deaf organisation in the UK, run by and for the British Sign Language (BSL) community. The BDA promotes the use of BSL in education and public life and is a partner in the Distance Education for Sign Language Users project.

Deaf Empowerment Foundation (DEF) – a group of academics aiming to provide university-level education to the many talented deaf people in developing countries. iSLanDS staff Zeshan and Panda are board members of this Foundation. One of the areas of collaboration is Ishara Press, the publishing division of the DEF.