Breaking into sign language

Although much is known about how adults learn a second spoken language, very little research has focused on how they learn a sign language. Have you ever wondered whether there is a relation between gesture and sign language, or what learners of signed languages find most difficult?

Dr Vikki Janke, Head of the Department of English Language and Linguistics, is exploring those very questions with Chloe Marshall (UCL) and Marianne Gullberg (Lund) on a three year Leverhulme Research Project collaboration funded by a grant of £383,000.

Their project, entitled ‘Breaking into sign language: the role of input and individual differences’ comprises a team of five researchers, who are currently running experiments on hearing non-signers and learners of sign language across the UK and Sweden.

The project investigates how hearing adults “break into” a language that seems starkly different in form to their first. The project team investigate how the input (i.e. the signs that learners see) and learners’ individual cognitive differences contribute to the initial stages of learning.

By focusing on both production and comprehension, and combining naturalistic but controlled input with experimental cross-sectional and longitudinal methods, they address questions of theoretical and applied importance in this novel research area.


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