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Topics in Linguistics D: Introduction into the linguistics of sign languages


Admission requirements



This course presents an introduction into the linguistics of sign languages. The following topics will be covered:
1. Intro: deaf communities, history of the field & current challenges
2. Iconicity in phonology, morphology & syntax
3. Sign language typology
4. Sign language acquisition
5. Gesture and Sign
6. Language emergence

Course objectives

At the end of the course, students will be able:

  • To define notions central and sometimes specific to the field of sign linguistics and Deaf studies and reflect on how they relate to equivalent concepts in the field of spoken language linguistics.

  • To explain and give examples of how modality (visual-manual as opposed to oral-aural) influences linguistic systems, including the role of iconicity.

  • To list several sign languages differing in terms of social setting and explain how this impacts the shape these sign languages take.

  • To explain to what extent sign languages differ from each other and to illustrate this with some examples.

  • To describe how the acquisition of sign languages compares to the acquisition of spoken languages.

  • To list basic differences and similarities between co-speech gestures and sign language structures.

  • To reflect on how the study of sign languages contributes to our understanding of language emergence.


Linguistics Research

Mode of instruction

Seminar, with weekly readings. Each student will present a paper during the course. The final assignment consists of a paper on a related topic.

Course load

Total 140 hours (5 EC x 28 hours)

  • Contact hours: 12

  • Preparation for class, including presentation: 80 hours

  • Final paper: 48 hours

Assessment method

  • Presentation & participation 40%

  • Final paper 60%



Reading list

The papers to be read will be distributed on the course’s Blackboard website.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Prospective students, please check the Study Abroad/Exchange website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

Coordinator of Studies

Programme Linguistics Research