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Professor Ulrike Zeshan

School of Humanities, Language & Global Studies

Ulrike is Professor of Sign Language Linguistics and Co-Director of the International Institute for Sign Languages and Deaf Studies (iSLanDS). Her team has pioneered research in the comparative study of sign languages worldwide, and in the multilingualism of deaf sign language users. Ulrike is also Co-Director of the transdisciplinary Institute of Citizenship, Society and Change. She is a member of the European Academy of Sciences and has been awarded an Honorary OBE.

Ulrike is committed to supporting deaf people both as staff and as research degree students at the iSLanDS Institute. Over the years, she has supervised MA by Research, MPhil and PhD projects undertaken by deaf people from Uganda, India, Japan, Israel, Turkey, and the UK. She has held several major grants from funders including the Economic and Social Research Council and the European Research Council. As Co-Director of the Institute of Citizenship, Society and Change, Ulrike’s role has included the launch of a research satellite called AlterNEXT, which is located on an eco-village campus in rural eastern India. She has also pursued her interest in developing Serious Games for facilitating work with diverse stakeholders from different societal sectors, such as NGOs, public services, and academia.

Before coming to the University of Central Lancashire, Ulrike headed a research group on the comparative study of sign languages (Sign Language Typology) at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands. Her theoretical research is grounded in many years of fieldwork, particularly in India and in Turkey. In line with the mission of the iSLanDS Institute, Ulrike’s work combines sign language research with community capacity building. Since 2008, she has been involved in various initiatives for the development of training curricula and the implementation of training programmes with deaf learners in Ghana, Uganda, India, and Turkey. The iSLanDS team also created the SIGN conferences, a series of international conferences of sign language users. Together with Indian partners, Ulrike and her colleagues developed and implemented India’s first BA in Applied Sign Language Studies, a unique programme that graduated students from 10 different countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America until 2015. Since then, her applied research has focused on literacy and deaf peer education in countries of the Global South. As a result of her work on endangered sign languages in small-scale rural communities, Ulrike worked as a consultant for UNESCO's Atlas of World Languages in 2017. Since 2017, Ulrike’s role as Co-Director of the Institute of Citizenship, Society and Change has initiated a re-focus on transdisciplinarity in her work. Her 2020 book details the development and use of Serious Games in her work. Serious Games are games that are used for purposes other than entertainment, for example in educational contexts or in co-creative meetings and workshops. Moreover, through the research satellite AlterNEXT in India, a UK-Indian team is experimenting with co-creative workshops on sustainable agriculture and with innovations in education, based on work at a local primary school for deaf children. Ulrike is editor-in-chief of the Ishara Press, a social enterprise in the UK. She is also co-editor of the Sign Language Typology series and the Sign Languages and Deaf Communities series by De Gruyter Mouton and Ishara Press. In 2014, Ulrike was elected to the Academia Europaea (European Academy of Sciences). In 2015, she was awarded an Honorary OBE for “services to Higher Education and international deaf communities”.