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 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, deaf literacy, multilingual workspaces for signers, and our international research hubs.
- Improved and professional development for marginalised groups (deaf sign language users), e.g. through involvement in educational attainment 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 , more effective training for sign language interpreters working in international contexts, and higher-quality services for deaf people who move abroad sign multilingualism
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.
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.
In 2010 we set up a . . 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. So far, over 50 students from India, China, Nepal, Uganda and Burundi have passed their BA
The iSLanDS Institute believes that technology has the power to open doors to the acquisition of reading and writing skills by . 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 (, ) has shown that platforms like the ELP are both effective and welcomed by deaf people.
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.
One of the goals of the 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 (). Through research, it is possible to raise the profile and prestige of rural sign languages.
Our 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.
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 and , 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.
Our Previous Projects
Endangered sign languages in village communities (EuroBABEL EUROCORES, European Science Foundation)
Deaf literacy (UKIERI)
We will soon add more information here about our impact. In the meantime, for more information about our impact, feel free to contact us
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.) 2005. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 11-43.The Yearbook of South Asian Languages and Linguistics
Dikyuva, H. & Zeshan, U. (2008) [Turkish Sign Language - Level One]. Nijmegen: Ishara Press.Turk Isaret Dili - Birinci Duzey.
Hendriks, B. & Zeshan, U. (2009) Sign Languages in the Arab World. In Versteegh, K., et al. (eds.): . Leiden: Brill.Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics (EALL)
Panda, S. & Zeshan, U. (2011) Reciprocal Constructions in Indo-Pakistani Sign Language. In Evans, N., Gaby, A., Levinson, S.C. & Majid, A. (eds.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 91-114.Reciprocals and Semantic Typology. Typological Studies in Language Series.
Perniss, P. & Zeshan, U. (eds.) (2008) Nijmegen: Ishara Press.Possessive and Existential Constructions in Sign Languages.Sign Language Typology Series No. 2.
Sagara, K. & Zeshan, U. (forthc.) . Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton & Nijmegen: Ishara Press.Semantic Fields in Sign Languages. Sign Language Typology Series No. 5
Schwager, W. & Zeshan, U. (2008) Word classes in sign languages – Criteria and classifications. In Ansaldo, U., Don, J. & Pfau, R. (eds.) 32(3):509–545.Parts of Speech: Descriptive tools, theoretical constructs. Special Issue of Studies in Language
Zeshan, U. (2006) Sign languages of the world. In Brown, K. (ed.) . Amsterdam: Elsevier.Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, 2nd edition
Zeshan, U. (ed.) (2006) Nijmegen: Ishara Press.Interrogative and Negative Constructions in Sign Languages. Sign Language Typology Series No. 1.
Zeshan, U. (2007) . Proceedings of the Conference on Language Documentation and Linguistic Theory, 7-8 December 2007, SOAS, London.The ethics of documenting sign languages in village communities
Zeshan, U. (2007) Roots, leaves and branches – The typology of sign languages. In Quadros, R.M. de (ed.) Forty five papers and three posters from the 9° Theoretical Issues In Sign Language Research Conference, Florianopolis, Brazil, December 2006. Petropolis: Editoria Arara Azul.Sign Languages: Spinning and unravelling the past, present and future.
Zeshan, U. (2010) Village sign languages - A commentary. In Napoli. D.J. & Mathur, G. (eds.) Oxford University Press, 221-230.Deaf Around the World: The impact of language.
Zeshan, U. & de Vos, C. (eds.) (2012) . Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton & Nijmegen: Ishara Press.Sign Languages in Village Communities: Anthropological and linguistic insights.Sign Language Typology Series No. 4
Zeshan, U. & Dikyuva, H. (forthc.) Documentation of endangered sign languages: The case of Mardin Sign Language. In Jones, M. & Ogilvie, S. (eds.) Cambridge a.o.: CUP.Keeping Languages Alive: Documentation, pedagogy and revitalization.
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. , vol. 55.NUSA: Linguistic studies of languages in and around Indonesia
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 took place in China from 12th-15th October 2014
The iSLanDS Seminar Series is held in our lab on Wednesdays during term time. This is a forum for visiting academics to share research findings on sign languages and deaf studies, and allow postgraduates to test their ideas and practise presenting. Visitors have included Professor Amy Wilson (pictured) on deaf communities in developing countries; Luigi Lerose on deixis and anaphora in Italian Sign Language; and Gail Caudrelier on British Sign Language syntax.
Presentations are ~45 minutes, followed by questions and discussion. All are welcome to join us; typically we have 10-15 people in attendance. If you would like to present, please contact co-ordinator Nick Palfreyman. Interpreters are usually available, but please check in advance to make sure. For details about the latest programme, please check our blog.
- Bachelors Preparatory Programme for Deaf Students (BPPDS)
- BA (Hons) Applied Sign Language Studies (BAASLS)
- MA by Research
We welcome students who are already on a postgraduate degree course to undertake a short study visit at iSLanDS.
Name: Eilidh Rose McEwan
Research Topic: ‘Agency in Deaf Communities in the Global South’
Dates of PhD: July 2017 – July 2020
My research is looking at deaf agency within various capacity-building projects in the Global South, including their development, implementation, and how the participation of deaf communities affects subjective experiences of agency. This investigation is within the context of two overarching iSLanDS projects: Peer to Peer Deaf Multiliteracies and a study called Patterns of Variation, which focuses on deaf communities in Indonesia.
Professor Ulrike Zeshan
Rita Fan Huhua, PhD student for our deaf literacy project
Eilidh Rose McEwan is a PhD student for our deaf multiliteracies project.
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
The iSLanDS Institute works in partnership with a number of national and international organisations. We have both academic partners and NGO partners.