Professor Ulrike Zeshan

Prof. Ulrike Zeshan, OBE

Director, International Institute for Sign Languages and Deaf Studies

School of Humanities, Language and Global Studies

Harrington Building, HA227

+44 (0) 1772 89 3104

Ulrike Zeshan is Professor of Sign Language Linguistics and Director of UCLan's International Institute for Sign Languages and Deaf Studies (iSLanDS). After her PhD in linguistics from the University of Cologne, she worked at the Research Centre for Linguistic Typology in Melbourne and then headed the Sign Language Typology Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands before coming to Preston. Her research is grounded in many years of fieldwork, particularly in India and in Turkey, and her current areas of interest include sign language typology, sign multilingualism, sign language endangerment, and applied sign linguistics.
In 2015, Prof Zeshan was awarded an Honorary OBE for "services to Higher Education and international deaf communities".

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Ulrike's research focuses on the documentation and analysis of sign languages in non-Western countries, including endangered sign languages in rural communities with hereditary deafness, and on large-scale comparative studies of grammatical structures - such as negation, questions, possession, and numerals - across sign languages around the world. Her research on the use of sign languages in multilingual settings (Sign Multilingualism) is funded by the European Research Council. She is editor of the Sign Language Typology series and the Sign Languages and Deaf Communities series by De Gruyter Mouton and Ishara Press.

In line with the mission of the iSLanDS Institute, Ulrike’s work combines sign language research with community capacity building. Her applied research focuses on literacy teaching and peer education in developing countries, and she is involved in curriculum and materials development together with NGOs, academics, and governmental departments serving deaf communities in India and in Turkey. Ulrike is Director of the International Deaf Empowerment Foundation (iDEF) and editor-in-chief of the Ishara Press, a social enterprise under the iDEF. In 2014, Ulrike was elected to the Academia Europaea.

Ulrike is Co-Director of UCLan’s transdisciplinary Institute of Citizenship, Society and Change.



Byun, K.S., Bradford, A., Zeshan, U., Levinson, S. C., & de Vos, C. (2017) First encounters: Repair sequences in cross-signing. Topics in Cognitive Science, Special Issue on Miscommunication, pp. 1-21. doi: 10.1111/tops.12303

Gillen, J., Panda, S., Papen, U. & Zeshan, U. (2016) Peer to peer deaf literacy: Working with young deaf people and peer tutors in India. Language and Language Teaching 5(2): 1-7. ISSN 2277-307X

Pfau, R. & Zeshan, U. (2016) Positive signs – How sign language typology benefits deaf communities and linguistic theory. Linguistic Typology 20(3): 547-559. ISSN 1430-0532

Zeshan, U. (2015) “Making meaning”: Communication between sign language users without a shared language. Cognitive Linguistics 26(2): 211-260. ISSN 0936-5907

Zeshan, U. & Palfreyman, N. (2017) Sign Language Typology. In A.Y. Aikhenvald & R.M.W. Dixon (eds.) The Cambridge Handbook of Linguistic Typology (pp. 178-216). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Zeshan, U. & Panda, S. (2015) Two languages at hand: Code-switching in bilingual deaf signers. Sign Language & Linguistics 18(1): 90-131. ISSN 1387-9316

Zeshan, U. & Panda, S. (2017) Sign-speaking: The structure of simultaneous bimodal utterances. Applied Linguistics Review 9(1): 1-34. doi: 10.1515/applirev-2016-1031


Complete list of publications


Research Projects

Endangered sign languages in village communities (European Science Foundation, 2009 – 2012, £216,000)

Multilingual behaviours in sign language users (European Research Council, 2011-2016. £990,000)

Literacy development with deaf communities using sign language, peer tuition, and learner-generated online content: sustainable educational innovation (Education and Social Research Council and Department for International Development, 2015-2016, £125,000)

Peer to Peer Deaf Multiliteracies: Research into a sustainable approach to the education of deaf children and young adults in the Global South (Education and Social Research Council and Department for International Development, 2017-2020, £436,000)

Multilingual work spaces for sign language users: An online portal driving social innovation (SIGNSPACE) (European Research Council, 2017-2018, £149,723)

Supervision of research degrees:

A descriptive grammar of morphosyntactic constructions in Ugandan Sign Language (Sam Lutalo-Kiingi)

Lexical and Morphosyntactic Variation in Indonesian Sign Language (Nicholas Palfreyman)

A cross-linguistic comparison of numeral systems in sign languages, with particular attention to Japanese Sign Language (Keiko Sagara)

Developing a Profession/Developing a Community: Teacher Training for Deaf people in Jordan (Paul Scott)

A Virtual Learning Environment: English Literacy for Deaf Indian Adults (Rita Fan Huhua)

Agency within deaf communities in capacity-building projects in the Global South (Eilidh Rose McEwan)

Algerian Jewish Sign Language: Its emergence and survival (Sara Lanesman)