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Prof. Ulrike Zeshan, OBE

Director, International Institute for Sign Languages and Deaf Studies

School of Language and Global Studies

Harrington Building, HA227

+44 (0) 1772 89 3104

Ulrike Zeshan is Professor of Sign Language Linguistics and Director of UCLan's International Institute for Sign Languages and Deaf Studies (iSLanDS). After her PhD in linguistics from the University of Cologne, she worked at the Research Centre for Linguistic Typology in Melbourne and then headed the Sign Language Typology Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands before coming to Preston. Her research is grounded in many years of fieldwork, particularly in India and in Turkey, and her current areas of interest include sign language typology, sign multilingualism, sign language endangerment, and applied sign linguistics.
In 2015, Prof Zeshan was awarded an Honorary OBE for "services to Higher Education and international deaf communities".

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Ulrike's research focuses on the documentation and analysis of sign languages in non-Western countries, including endangered sign languages in rural communities with hereditary deafness, and on large-scale comparative studies of grammatical structures - such as negation, questions, possession, and numerals - across sign languages around the world. Her research on the use of sign languages in multilingual settings (Sign Multilingualism) is funded by the European Research Council. She is editor of the Sign Language Typology series and the Sign Languages and Deaf Communities series by De Gruyter Mouton and Ishara Press.

In line with the mission of the iSLanDS Institute, Ulrike’s work combines sign language research with community capacity building. Her applied research focuses on literacy teaching and peer education in developing countries, and she is involved in curriculum and materials development together with NGOs, academics, and governmental departments serving deaf communities in India and in Turkey. Ulrike is Director of the International Deaf Empowerment Foundation (iDEF) and editor-in-chief of the Ishara Press, a social enterprise under the iDEF. She is an ambassador for Deaf Parenting UK. In 2014, Ulrike was elected to the Academia Europaea.



Zeshan, U. & Panda, S. (2015) Two languages at hand: Code-switching in bilingual signers. Sign Language & Linguistics 18(1): 90–131.

Zeshan, U. (2015) “Making meaning” - Communication between sign language users without a shared language. Cognitive Linguistics 26(2): 211–260.

2013 [with H. Dikyuva]. Documentation of Endangered Sign Languages – The Case of Mardin Sign Language. In: Jones, Mari & Sarah Ogilvie (eds.): Keeping Languages Alive: Documentation, Pedagogy, and Revitalization. Cambridge: CUP. pp. 29-41.

2013. Sign Languages . In: Dryer, Matthew S. & Haspelmath, Martin (eds.) The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

2012 [with C. de Vos]. Sign languages in village communities– Anthropological and linguistic insights. Sign Language Typology Series No. 4. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton & Nijmegen: Ishara Press.

Journal articles

2013 [with C.E. Escobedo Delgado, H. Dikyuva, S. Panda & C. de Vos]. Cardinal numerals in rural sign languages – Approaching cross-modal typology. Linguistic Typology 17(3): 357-396.

Complete list of publications


Research Projects

Sign Language Typology – The cross-linguistic study of sign languages (German Science Foundation (DFG), 2003 – 2008, £650,000)

Distance education for sign language users (UK-India Education and Research Initiative, 2007 - 2011, £51,000)

Training and employability for the deaf communities in Ghana and Uganda (Education Partnerships in Africa, 2008 - 2010, £58,000)

Endangered sign languages in village communities (European Science Foundation, 2009 – 2012, £216,000)

Signing in a deaf family – documentation of Mardin Sign Language, Turkey (Endangered Languages Documentation Programme, 2010-2013, £74,980).

Multilingual behaviours in sign language users (European Research Council, 2011-2016. £990,000)

Supervision of research degrees:

A descriptive grammar of morphosyntactic constructions in Ugandan Sign Language (Sam Lutalo-Kiingi)

Lexical and Morphosyntactic Variation in Indonesian Sign Language (Nicolas Palfreyman)

A cross-linguistic comparison of numeral systems in sign languages, with particular attention to Japanese Sign Language (Keiko Sagara)

Developing a Profession/Developing a Community: Teacher Training for Deaf people in Jordan (Paul Scott)

A Virtual Learning Environment: English Literacy for Deaf Indian Adults (Rita Fan Huhua)