Research Themes (2011-2015)


1. Sign Language Documentation and Change 

(Coordinator: Bencie Woll)
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Research projects in this strand will take advantage of technological advances for better documentation, editing and archiving and also use data from the BSL Corpus Project to create an online dictionary (BSL SignBank) and a basic reference grammar of phonology and morphosyntax for BSL. Language choices reflect changing identities and experiences; and these in turn are reflected in long-term changes in language. BSL is undergoing rapid change as the first generation of young deaf people with early diagnosis, a higher proportion of cochlear implants, and extended experience of mainstream schooling and higher education reach adulthood. To document language change we will collect linguistic data from signers with varying fluency in BSL and English through semi-structured interview and structured linguistic tasks. These data will be used to identify the factors promoting language change and the directions of change. A second study will explore BSL in contexts of language loss, with emphasis on deaf children before and after cochlear implantation. This study will use longitudinal case studies which will cover such topics as which parts of the BSL lexicon and grammar are maintained in the face of reduced or absent input, and whether BSL loss is counter-balanced by English development or whether it proceeds independently.

See also the DCAL-associated Digging into Signs project.

Researchers involved: 

Bencie Woll, Kearsy Cormier, Robert Adam, Kate Rowley, Jordan FenlonSannah Gulamani, Sandra Smith


2. Foundations of Communication 

(Coordinator: Gary Morgan)
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In this strand we looking at how language development and language use is multi-modal, involving combinations of signs, gestures and words. We are specifically investigating how young children understand the iconicity present in signs and how this influences language development. We will be using eye-tracking technology in this study. We are also studying cases of language isolation where deaf individuals come to the UK with limited or no previous sign language experience to explore how their communication changes as they enter the British Deaf community. These studies will help us understand how early language experience shapes cognitive and linguistic functions in deaf individuals. In a separate project we will begin to investigate by means of brain imaging how knowing more than one spoken or signed language impacts on brain structure.

Researchers involved: 

Gary Morgan, Mairead MacSweeney, Pamela Perniss


3. Online Measures of Communication 

(Coordinator: Mairead MacSweeney)
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In this strand we will study hemispheric dominance for language processing using functional transcranial Doppler sonography (fTCD). This safe, fast and portable technique allows us to determine whether there is greater blood flow to the left or right side of the brain, and therefore which side is more active during a language task. We will also study reading using eye-tracking. These studies will provide novel information concerning whether deaf and hearing people rely on similar processes during reading. Both the fTCD studies and the eye-tracking studies will first be conducted with adults, but will then be extended to studies with children.

Researchers involved: 

Mairéad MacSweeney, Gabriella Vigliocco, Bencie Woll, Eva Gutierrez, Heather Payne


4. Language and Cognition

(Coordinator: Gabriella Vigliocco)
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This strand looks at iconicity (i.e., the presence of a somewhat trasparent link between sign/word form and meaning), as a phenomenon present in signed and spoken languages that helps brdging between language and the world. In series of studies we will study whether iconicity failitate learning and processing of language in BSL and in different spoken languages, in both adults and children. In other projects we look at how motion of signs is understood in visual noise, how sign language classifiers are processed in the brain by hearing and deaf participants, and the characteristics of inner signing.

Researchers involved: 

Gabriella Vigliocco, Mairead MacSweeneyPamela Perniss, Gary Morgan, Joanna Atkinson


5. Cognitive Control: Attention, Working Memory and Executive Functions 

(Coordinators: Bencie Woll and Gary Morgan)
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Because executive functioning can be modified by experience such as bilingualism, we ask how deafness, delayed language development or sign language use may affect executive functions during development (control of attention, monitoring and switching between different tasks). We will perform a longitudinal study on a large sample of school-age deaf children and test their language (spoken and signed), executive function, & working memory. We will also look at executive function in acquired frontal neurological conditions. Another project will focus on cognitive control in interpreters who work between languages, neither of which is their first language.

Information about our research into executive function in children and adults can be found here.

Researchers involved: 

Bencie Woll, Gary MorganChloe Marshall, Joanna Atkinson, Nicola Botting

Page last modified on 15 oct 14 15:54