Signs beyond borders: Meaning-making across sign and spoken languages


This seminar series examines the daily life interactions between deaf and hearing people to identify ways in which people with different visual / gestural and auditory / oral experience of language communicate and understand each other.

Series convenors

Elisabetta Adami (PI, School of Languages, Cultures and Societies); James Simpson and Ruth Swanwick (Co-PIs, School of Education)

Project overview

The series will focus on daily life interactions between deaf and hearing people that present particular sensorial asymmetries. In particular it will ask:

  • How do deaf and hearing interactants communicate when they share limited (sign and / or spoken) linguistic resources?
  • What semiotic resources do they draw upon and what communicative strategies do they use?
  • What can we learn from their practices about not only deaf / hearing interaction, but also all human communication and how we use all available resources to make meaning?
  • How can the understanding of these practices be used to empower (1) deaf / hearing participants in their daily life encounters, and (2) people who live, work and communicate in multilingual/multicultural contexts?

The series will be the first in the UK to bring together deaf and hearing researchers of sign-language, multimodality, trans-languaging, and interpreting to develop new theoretical, trans-disciplinary approaches for the understanding of sign/spoken language communication.

We propose to shift the observational perspective onto sign / spoken language interaction. Instead of the traditional linguistic take, which looks at levels of proficiency in given ‘codes’ (either sign-language or speech), we will be looking at how deaf and hearing interactants use semiotic resources and communicative strategies to co-construct situated understanding beyond cultural and linguistic barriers, to fulfil their communicative needs in specific situations of daily life, in shops / streets, in families, at school, and in interpreter-mediated events.

The series will build a trans-disciplinary approach by integrating multimodality, sign and spoken language interaction, and studies on trans-languaging / multilingualism. To focus these perspectives and develop this approach in action, each seminar will involve close scrutiny of video-recorded data of sign/spoken language interactions among deaf/hearing children and adults in multilingual and cross-modal contexts.

This work will advance knowledge about sign/spoken language interaction in the first instance and, more broadly, about the multimodal nature of human communication. We envisage potential applications for education, interpreting and communication practices in deaf / hearing communities and multilingual/multicultural contexts more generally.


Monday, 16 October between 2-3pm – Towards a trans-disciplinary investigation of deaf-hearing interactions: Multimodality, Trans-languaging and sign-language studies

Friday, 17 November between 1-3pm – Family and social milieu

Friday, 15 December between 1-3pm – Urban contexts and neighbourhoods

Monday, 15 January 2018 between 1-3pm – Interpreting in professional contexts

Friday, 23 February between 1-3pm – Learning and teaching

Friday, 23 March between 9am-5pm – Workshop on ELAN, software tool for video-data annotation and analysis

Monday, 23 April between 1-3pm – Where to from here?

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