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Aims & Objectives

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This project will also be the first to focus on key aspects of the grammar across three broad subtypes of signing communities:

(1) older macro-community sign languages, such as British Sign Language, used across an entire national deaf community

(2) older micro-community sign languages, such as Kata Kolok, which are used in smaller communities within a nation state

(3) younger sign languages, such as Nepali Sign Language, which has emerged since the 1960s.


Image by Mark Eveleigh


The driving research question is: sign languages are natural languages, but what kind of languages are they? 

SignMorph aims to better understand similarities and differences in the grammar of sign languages, and how these are shaped by language-internal and language-external factors.


The factors to be investigated in the study include:

(1) the role of iconicity in mapping grammatical meanings onto form

(2) the claim that sign languages are 'young' languages, and how their history has influenced the processes creating grammatical structure 

(3) the sociolinguistic structure of signing communities, particular the effect of the large proportion of child to child (rather than parent to child) transmission of sign languages, varying ages of first language acquisition, and variation in interaction individuals have with other deaf and hearing signers through their social networks.


Illustration by Shaun Fahey

SignMorph Research Questions

International Sign

  1. What is 'complexity' in sign language morphology?

  2. What can we learn about the morphology of sign languages by comparing data from different types of signing community?

  3. What is the relationship between the morphology of sign languages and iconicity?

  4. What is the relationship between the morphology of sign languages and learnability?

  5. What is the relationship between the morphology of sign languages and social structure in different types of signing communities?

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