I am interested in how people create meaning during face-to-face interactions and how we can unify all the different ways that humans communicate within a social semiotic theory of language. For example, how do sensory experiences such as deafness shape our interactions? What social and interactional factors influence the communicative choices we make? I am also interested in how enactment and other less conventional strategies for making meaning fit into language description and comparison, the different reasons we might use these strategies, and what this all tells us about why languages differ. You can watch an Auslan vlog or read a blog about this topic here.
I often use corpus methods to analyse, describe and compare the multimodal strategies used by signers and speakers during face-to-face interactions. A corpus is a machine-readable database of language use from many people in a language community. Corpus methods allow us to differentiate what is common across social and language groups and what is unique to individuals. The corpora I use are all videos of people signing or speaking and gesturing.
I have worked with the Auslan Corpus to describe how Auslan signers integrate different semiotic strategies within signed clause utterances and how enactment enables signers to perform important parts of their stories. More recently, we have investigated how Auslan signers coordinate different strategies to refer to humans, animals and things. We are expanding this study to compare how signers do this in ISL (Irish Sign Language), NTS (Norwegian Sign Language), STS (Swedish Sign Language) and suomalainen viittomakieli (Finnish Sign Language).
By analysing conversation data in the BSL Corpus, we are beginning to see how BSL signers do reference too. We are also using this corpus to investigate other aspects of BSL grammar, such as how signers ask questions, signal negation, and organise their utterances during dyadic conversations. These studies are illuminating new aspects of signed language linguistics, including how different sociolinguistic factors and social actions shape language variation and use.
I led the building and archiving of the first directly comparable corpus of a deaf community signed language (Auslan) and the ambient spoken language (Australian English). This corpus will enable us to compare how deaf signers and hearing speakers negotiate meaning during deaf/deaf and hearing/hearing face-to-face interactions, as well as comparing minority and majority language use in a range of discourse contexts.
A subset of this corpus is also archived at PARADISEC as part of the Social Cognition Parallax Interview Corpus Project. This project is a collaboration between linguists working with data from over twenty languages from around the world. We are investigating different grammatical categories relevant to social cognition, such as how signers and speakers of different languages talk about humans, quote actions and dialogue, and so on. Auslan is the only signed language in this project. Our first SCOPIC paper explains how corpus typology methods can help account for variation within and across language groups.
We use ELAN software and mostly draw from the Auslan Corpus Annotation Guidelines to annotate signed language corpus data. We recently undertook a dialogue about how signed language corpus linguistics and linguistic ethnography methods can complement each other as we work to decolonise sociolinguistics and language research. Soon we will publish a book chapter summarising best practices in annotating signed language corpora.
It is important for linguistic theory to reflect how language is used in the real world, and to enable continuity across different applied contexts. The creation of signed language translations, whereby a written or spoken source text is translated into a signed target text, is one area where theory and practice cross-over. We have investigated what makes an effective signed language translation for deaf audiences. We also developed technical guidelines for improving the production of these translations.
Recently we published a paper about what deaf signing diversity means for the creation of signed language translations and language theory more generally. We consider less well-understood but potentially powerful factors influencing signed language variation, such as childhood language deprivation and the necessity of interpreters in different communicative domains, as well as the personal and systemic challenges of signing within majority language hegemonies.
I love dance and music. I have written about what happened when deaf signers of Auslan and hearing non-signing speakers of English and other languages collaborated on a contemporary dance performance in Australia. How did they communicate during the development and rehearsal stages, and what did the final performance look like? What does this say about deaf and hearing communication practices more broadly? This ethnographic work is published in an edited book about sign language ideologies in practice. You can watch an International Sign vlog or read a blog about this topic here.
Deafness & disability research
I am proud to be a deaf person. However, living in a hearing-centric world is often challenging. I have written about how deafness can emerge as a disability in specific social interactions, and how to survive and succeed as a deaf postgraduate student in Australia. I am also collaborating on a project with other deaf academics about what it means to "trust" signed language interpreters. How do we evaluate and choose the interpreters we work with? Is it time to rethink how we work together?
signed Language DEVELOPMENT RESEARCH
Assessing deaf children's signed language development is hugely challenging. I have worked with deaf and hearing colleagues to adapt the BSL Receptive Skills Test and Productive Skills Test to Auslan, and am involved in training teachers how to use these tests effectively.
I love the deaf community and care deeply about positive outcomes for deaf people. I have led a project to improve the ability of deaf signers to prepare, respond and recover from natural hazard emergencies such as bushfire and flood. I also collaborated on a project investigating what would make a good deaf community centre for the deaf community in Melbourne.