Nick Palfreyman

Research Fellow

School of Humanities, Language and Global Studies

Harrington Building, HA216

Subject Areas: Deaf Studies and Sign Languages

Nick Palfreyman is a deaf academic working in the fields of (socio)linguistics and international development. He has worked with the Indonesian deaf community since 2007, and is particularly interested in second and third wave sociolinguistics, applied linguistics, and corpus-informed sign language teaching.

Full Profile

Nick is currently a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Research Fellow (2016-19). More details about his project ‘Patterns of variation and local identities in Indonesian sign language varieties’ can be found on the iSLanDS webpages.

Nick’s foray into academia was sparked by his knowledge of and interest in varieties of Indonesian Sign Language (BISINDO) and those who use them. This led to further interests, including linguistic typology, language endangerment and sociolinguistics. He has recently turned to examine how deaf people construct social identities using language, and is looking at how Indonesian signers exploit variation to generate social meaning. His efforts to apply social constructionist approaches to sign language research were acknowledged at TISLR12 (January 2016), the largest international sign linguistics conference, where he was awarded best presentation by an early career researcher.

For his PhD research – published as a monograph by De Gruyter in 2017 – he compared varieties of BISINDO used in Solo (Java) and Makassar (Sulawesi), focusing on grammatical variation in the expression of completion and negation. He assembled corpus of conversational data together with local deaf assistants, and identified linguistic and social factors that influence lexical and grammatical variation across the two communities.

As research fellow at UCLan, Nick has made regular fieldtrips to Indonesia to share knowledge and skills with indigenous signers, in accordance with the iSLanDS Institute’s long-term aim of empowering community members to conduct research on their own language. In 2014 he established PUPET, a deaf research centre based in Java, which is run by local deaf consultants, to create a continuous research presence in Indonesia.

Nick has supported Gerkatin (the Indonesian Association for the Welfare of the Deaf) with several development initiatives to share skills and information with deaf people across Indonesia, as per his focus on applied sign linguistics (i.e. using linguistic research to make changes to real sign language use). In so doing he aims to increase sign language teaching capacity and improve education for deaf children, following on from his volunteer work in Indonesia from 2007 to 2009 as a deaf rights and advocacy trainer with two deaf organisations in Java and with NGOs in Flores and West Timor.

Nick supervises a PhD student on applied linguistics, and co-ordinates the iSLanDS Seminar Series. He is on the editorial board for the Sign Language Typology series (De Gruyter) and the Sociolinguistics of Deaf Communities series (Gallaudet University Press). Nick also serves on the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) Expert Group for Sign Language and Deaf Studies.


Ph.D. Sign Linguistics/Deaf Studies, University of Central Lancashire, 2015.

B.A. History, Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge, 2004.


Palfreyman, Nicholas Barrie (2013). 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.

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