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Calling all budding quantitative linguists! PhD studentship available here at iSLanDS

3 March, 2023

iSLanDS is looking for our next PhD (via MPhil) student to conduct cutting-edge statistical analyses on sign language change!

Applications are invited for a PhD (via MPhil) studentship in the International Institute for Sign Languages and Deaf Studies (iSLanDS), funded through the UCLan Doctoral Training Centre for Industry Collaboration.

PhD (via MPhil) studentship avaiable at the iSLanDS Institute; the graphic shows the title and application deadline, with a selection of screenshots from the BISINDO (Indonesian Sign Language) corpus.

Studentships are tenable for up to 3.5 years full-time and provide an annual stipend in line with UKRI rates (currently £17,668 per year), subject to satisfactory progress.

Both Home and EU/International Applicants may apply but EU/International Applicants will be required to pay the difference in tuition fees between the UK and EU/International fee rates.

The PhD is entitled Quantitative approaches to the study of sign language change using the Indonesian Sign Language corpus. Further details about the project and studentship can be found here. The deadline for applications is 31 March 2023.

iSLanDS of the Caribbean: supporting deaf academics to create a new network

4 February, 2023

On Friday 3 February we launched an exciting two-year project with the aim of establishing a Deaf Caribbean Academic Network (DeafCAN).

Supported by the University of the West Indies and backed by £100,000 of Arts and Humanities Research Council funding, the project will support three deaf academics to produce research on how to make language policy work for deaf communities in the Caribbean:

  • Andre Witter is a deaf community leader from Jamaica with experience of youth activism, who is currently working to create a dictionary of Jamaican Sign Language.
  • Yarett Piñeiro Rodríguez is an education researcher from Puerto Rico, with experience of activism, consultancy and advocacy, including as a representative to the government.
  • Ian Dhanoolal from Trinidad & Tobago has carried out sign language research around the Caribbean, and recently worked on a project assessing access to public health information and services.

They will work with co-investigator Ben Braithwaite (University of the West Indies, Trinidad & Tobago) and principal investigator Nick Palfreyman (iSLanDS) to develop an innovative research agenda, with input from external experts on sign language recognition, language-in-education policy and linguistic diversity.

Project team members (top row, from the left) Ben, Nick, Andre, (middle row) Yarett and Ian are joined by Dr. Danielle Thompson and (bottom row) Dr. Kristin Snoddon at the online launch meeting on Friday.

At the heart of this project is the belief that deaf communities in different Caribbean nations face similar challenges, and should be working together and sharing their knowledge, experiences and resources with each other to speed up positive change.

On the design of this project, Ben said: ‘We start with three of the Caribbean’s most passionate deaf academics, and we expect the DeafCAN Network to grow to involve deaf people from many other islands’.

Nick added: ‘One of our main concerns at iSLanDS is to support deaf people in the Global South who are excluded from a place at the table when it comes to research. From the research hubs we have set up in India and Indonesia, we know the benefits that come from working together, and we can’t wait to help forge new connections in the Caribbean’.

We will be using the iSLanDS blog to report on our project as it develops – if you haven’t already signed up for updates, you can do so here (you may need to view this post as a webpage to be able to do this):

iSLanDS launches the CrossMoGram project

1 February, 2023

Today saw the launch of our new three-year project, Cross-modal perspectives on grammaticalisation: Aspect markers in creoles and sign languages, or CrossMoGram for short.

Funded jointly by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (part of UK Research and Innovation) and the German Research Council (DFG), and with an overall value of around £650,000, the CrossMoGram project runs for three years and is led by two PIs – deaf sociolinguist Dr. Nick Palfreyman (iSLanDS, UCLan) and hearing typologist Dr. Susanne Marie Michaelis (University of Leipzig).

The other members of the CrossMoGram team are Dr. Luigi Lerose (UCLan) and Leonie von Krosigk (University of Leipzig).

Members of the CrossMoGram team at the launch, together with BSL-English interpreters.

The CrossMoGram project aims to systematically compare large amounts of data on creole languages (CLs) and sign languages (SLs) in the context of the world’s languages.

We address two hypotheses:

1) Aspect markers in creoles and sign languages have dissimilar grammaticalisation pathways in that sign languages also use modality-dependent pathways compared to creoles (and other spoken languages).

2) In the domain of aspect, creoles and sign languages show more instances of early-stage grammaticalisation than non-creole spoken languages, and fewer examples of late-stage grammaticalisation.

One of the main outcomes of our project is the open-access CrossMoGram Database, which builds on German excellence in language databases and represents our vision for a cross-modal research process.

Nick said: ‘Susane and I are delighted to be able to get this ground-breaking international collaboration off to a strong start.

‘We have a great team in place, with two deaf researchers working on sign languages and two hearing researchers working on creoles – and we are committed to learning from each other about our respective modalities. Our deeply cross-modal working ecology will enable us to reflect on our experiences in a fresh way going forward.’

We will be using the iSLanDS blog to share our news as the project develops.


After a busy 2022: an exciting 2023!

30 December, 2022

The past year has been a very busy one for iSLanDS – so busy, in fact, that we have completely neglected our blog! To rectify this, we hereby post a round-up of news from over the year.

Further to this, we have three externally-funded research projects all due to start early in 2023, so we include a few teasers, with the promise of more details to come in the weeks that follow.

iSLanDS wins Major Documentation Project funding from ELDP

We are delighted to announce that we have been awarded over €90,000 from the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme to record endangered sign language varieties in Indonesia over the next three years.

The Major Documentation Project, due to start in January 2023, is co-ordinated by PUPET, our research hub in Indonesia. Deaf community activists Muhammad Isnaini and Ade Wirawan will lead project teams in West Java and Bali, and the project is supported by Connie de Vos and Satyawati at Tilburg University.

The project aims to document the language of older signers in the city of Bandung – home to Indonesia’s first deaf school – and in sites across Bali, where indigenous sign varieties are at risk from sign languages coming from outside the island. We will be launching this project at the beginning of the year – watch this space!

A busy year for our research hubs

Our research hubs in Indonesia and India are central to the work of iSLanDS, and we have been delighted to see this important work continue.

In India, we are working with teachers at Happy Hands, the residential deaf primary school established by former iSLanDS staff member Sibaji Panda, to understand more about how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted deaf children.

PUPET, our Indonesia hub, has finalised three stories in BISINDO (Indonesian Sign Language), written and produced by young deaf people. These stories, available with English and Indonesian subtitles, are inspired by the methodology of UCLan’s AHRC Stories2Connect project led by Prof. Candice Satchwell, and constitute an important addition to the BISINDO literature. More details about how these stories originated can be found here, in our report on the workhop we led.

The three stories (with links) are as follows:

In the eight years since we set up our research hubs, we have been able to work in partnership with deaf community leaders in the Global South to make a positive difference, and very recently we obtained funding to establish a third research hub.

We are hugely excited at the prospect of expanding our successful research hub network, and will be sharing further information about this in January.

iSLanDS makes a strong contribution to REF, the Research Excellence Framework

Every seven years, the UK government evaluates the quality of research outputs, impact and environment for universities across the UK, and in May the results of the 2014-21 REF period were announced.

Staff from iSLanDS contributed to the Modern Languages and Linguistics Unit of Assessment (in a submission co-ordinated by our Reader, Nick Palfreyman). Our Unit was very pleased to be ranked in the top 10 nationally for our research impact. Further details of our impact case study on improving the educational attainment and professional development of deaf children and youth in India, Ghana and Uganda through language and literacy education can be read on the REF website.

iSLanDS staff members Ulrike Zeshan, Jenny Webster and Nick Palfreyman all submitted outputs on topics such as language endangerment, typology, and sign language sociolinguistics. We are now working on our publication plans to ensure that we can make a strong contribution into the next REF period (2021-28), delivering innovative research activities that have a positive impact on deaf communities around the world.

News from friends of iSLanDS

Way back in March, we were thrilled to attend the PhD defense of iSLanDS affiliate Hannah Lutzenberger. Hannah, who was an international intern at iSLanDS in 2014, successfully defended her thesis, entitled Kata Kolok phonology – variation & acquisition at Radboud University.

Dr. Hannah Lutzenberger with Nick

We extend our congratulations to Hannah on her fantastic achievement! Hannah is now working on the SignMorph project at the University of Birmingham, which looks at morphology, language change, iconicity and social structure in signing communities.

In September, we attended the fourteenth Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Research (TISLR) conference in Osaka, Japan, which started with a keynote presentation from Nick.

It was brilliant to catch up with former staff and postgraduate students of iSLanDS, including Connie de Vos and Sara Lanesman. Two other friends of iSLanDS – Keiko Sagara and Kang-Suk Byun – received awards for Best Early Career Presentation and Best Student Presentation, respectively. Very well done, Keiko and Kang-Suk!

Friends of iSLanDS reunited at TISLR14: Nick Palfreyman, Sara Lanesman, Connie de Vos, Keiko Sagara and Kang-Suk Byun.

Meanwhile, our circle of friends here at iSLanDS continues to grow. Also in September, we welcomed a new affiliate, BSL & Deaf Studies lecturer Ricci Collins, who has started a part-time PhD with us on the sociolinguistics of BSL. We look forward to finding out more about Ricci’s research plans in due course!

Exploring social perspectives on sign languages remains high on our agenda

In November, Nick Palfreyman was invited to present at an online event hosted by the University of Bern. The hybrid workshop on Languages and Lives in Deaf Communities was hosted by the Centre for the Study of Language and Society, and featured 11 presentations from deaf researchers: Rezenet Moges-Riedel, Erin Moriarty, John Bosco Conama, Kristin Snoddon, Robert Adam, Joseph Hill, Nick Palfreyman, Annelies Kusters, Maartje De Meulder, Hilde Haualand and Joseph Murray.

Nick said, “This two-day workshop was one of the highlights of my year,” adding “It was hugely exciting to see the research outcomes of deaf sociolinguists, and really encouraging to see members of the Swiss deaf community respond so positively.”

The presentation that Nick gave, on the social meaning of sign language mouthing in multilingual settings, will hopefully soon be available to watch online (we will update this blog entry when the video is uploaded).

And finally…

We are thrilled to announce a successful grant application with a total value of £650,000 from a partnership between the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the German Research Foundation (DFG).

Nick Palfreyman will work with internationally-renowned German scholar and creole expert Susanne Maria Michaelis to deliver the project from 2023-26, on Cross-modal perspectives on grammaticalisation: Aspect markers in creoles and sign languages. We will of course be using the iSLanDS blog to keep our followers updated as this project progresses.

That’s it from us, for 2022. We would like to thank you for all of your support over the year, and we wish everyone a peaceful, joyful and fruitful 2023!

READ WRITE EASY: two new academic volumes showcase our work on deaf multiliteracies

22 December, 2021

Empowering deaf people to improve their literacy skills has long been a cherished aim at iSLanDS, and we are delighted to announce two new volumes in the Ishara Research Series focusing on deaf multiliteracies. Edited by iSLanDS academics Jenny Webster and Ulrike Zeshan, the volumes are called READ WRITE EASY: Research, practice and innovation in deaf multiliteracies.

The publications feature contributions from an array of academics mostly based in the Global South, including several deaf early-career researchers. These contributors have ties with our longstanding programme of research activities (2015-2021) funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council and the then Department for International Development (DfID).

(All publications in the Ishara Research Series are open access, which means that they are free to download. The links for PDFs of these volumes can be found further down the page.)

The latest volumes in the Ishara Research Series, which are edited by Jenny Webster and Ulrike Zeshan.

Each of the volumes is divided into two parts. The first contains research chapters covering topics such as the assessment of learners’ progress, pedagogical issues from teachers’ perspectives, and issues related to curricula. The second part features innovation sketches highlighting practices arising in the context of the research that break new ground; these are particularly relevant for practitioners interested in methodologies.

Our co-Director Ulrike Zeshan said, “It is particularly encouraging to have had more contributors from the Global South than from the North, as the balance is often the opposite in similar publications. It is hoped that this demonstration of outstanding Global South scholarship will be repeated in future academic publications.”

Jenny Webster, who edited the volumes with Zeshan, added: “We would like to join the contributors in acknowledging the involvement of all who have made these publications possible, especially the project participants, research team members and our partner institutes. Their dedication is even more remarkable given the unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are very grateful.”

The two volumes (PDF format) can be accessed using the links below:

READ, WRITE, EASY: Research, practice and innovation in deaf multiliteracies (Volume 1) (2021). Jenny Webster & Ulrike Zeshan (Eds.) Ishara Research Series 5.

Featuring contributions by: Christian Jones, Julia Gillen, Eilidh Rose McEwan, Rebecca Olivia Nankinga, Nirav Pal, Uta Papen, Daniel Waller, Jenny Webster and Ulrike Zeshan.

READ, WRITE, EASY: Research, practice and innovation in deaf multiliteracies (Volume 2) (2021). Jenny Webster & Ulrike Zeshan (Eds.) Ishara Research Series 6.

Featuring contributions by: Noah Ahereza, George Akanlig-Pare, Sukanta K. Mahpatra, Deepu Manavalamamuni, Anthony Mugeere, Sibaji Panda, Uta Papen, Rajani Ranjan Singh, Rajiv Kumar Singh, Jenny Webster and Ulrike Zeshan.

This is our last blogpost of 2021. We would like to take this opportunity to wish our readers a restful end-of-year break and a happy and healthy 2022!