Sign Language Typology – Semantic Domains Project

How are colour, numerals and kinship terms expressed in sign languages around the world?

Sign Language Typology is the systematic comparative study of sign languages. The iSLanDS Institute has researched several domains over the past decade, including possession, negation and interrogatives.

We are now surveying the semantic fields of colours, numerals, and kinship within the lexicons of over 30 sign languages from around the world, with the help of an international network of co-researchers.

Our Sign Language Typology projects aim to document and compare the linguistic structures of sign languages around the world, with a particular focus on those in non-Western countries and in village communities with hereditary deafness.

The results of comparative analyses of these data can be related to what is known about spoken languages, which will aid our understanding of linguistic universals and typological generalisations across the whole range of human language, both signed and spoken.



This project has social, political and educational benefits for deaf communities, particularly in developing countries, through the involvement of deaf collaborators.

This knowledge transfer is an important step towards establishing the field of sign language linguistics in the target countries, so that educational resources can be developed and sign languages can be officially recognised.

Palfreyman, Sagara and Zeshan (2015) describe the impact that sign language typology (and its relation, cross-modal typology) can have on sign language communities:

“The quest to show how sign languages are similar to and different from spoken languages is helpful in reinforcing the understanding that sign languages are equal in value to spoken languages, while the commitment of typology to the documentation of minority languages can lead to the empowerment of sign communities, especially those whose sign languages are endangered and devalued.