Wendy Sandler, Director
Education: PhD in linguistics, University of Texas – Austin (1987)
Wendy Sandler is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Haifa and Founding Director of the Sign Language Research Lab there. She has developed models of sign language phonology and prosody that exploit general linguistic principles to reveal both the similarities and the differences in natural languages in two modalities. More recently, her work has turned to the emergence of new sign languages and ways in which the body is recruited to manifest increasingly complex linguistic form within a community of signers. Sandler has authored or co-authored three books on sign language: Phonological Representation of the Sign (Foris); A Language in Space: The Story of Israeli Sign Language co-authored with Irit Meir (Hebrew version: University of Haifa Press; English version: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates/Taylor Francis); and Sign Language and Linguistic Universals, coauthored with Diane Lillo-Martin (Cambridge University Press). Wendy Sandler is currently conducting a multi-disciplinary research project, The Grammar of the Body, supported by the European Research Council.
Humans are the only species with language, and we have two kinds: spoken and signed. Scientists have much to learn from this embarrassment of riches. The question it poses propelled me into a career of research, and has sustained my interest ever since: How can humans ‘do’ language in the visual modality?
My work has focused primarily on the aspects of language that seem the most remote from one another in sign and speech: phonology and prosody. Phonology is the study of the meaningless sounds that make words, while prosody organizes and connects parts of utterances, interpreting their meaning through intonation and rhythm. Are the building blocks of words in sign language equivalent to sounds? Can facial expression, which accompanies all language, be recruited to perform the specific linguistic functions in sign language that intonation does in speech?
Through linguistic analyses of these systems, I have been able to identify surprising similarities but also particular differences. The similarities confirm that certain properties of language are universal, while the differences, attributed to physical modality, challenge the universal status of others.
In recent years I have had the opportunity to study a newly emerging sign language in the Bedouin village of Al-Sayyid, with my colleagues Mark Aronoff, Irit Meir, and Carol Padden. Through this research, we have been able to watch as the use of the hands, face, and body for language gradually leads to conventionalization, systematicity, and complexity of linguistic form. Inspired by the use of the body in manifesting the linguistic structure of sign languages, my current wide-ranging research project is exploring The Grammar of the Body as a reflection of the property of compositionality in language and its emergence.
- Sandler, Wendy. (2017). The challenge of sign language phonology. Annual review of Linguistics, 43-63
- Sandler, Wendy (to appear). What Comes First in Language Emergence? In N. Enfield (Ed.). Dependencies in Language: On the Casual Ontology of Linguistic Systems. Language Science Press, Studies in Diversity Linguistics Series.
- Sandler, Wendy, Aronoff, Mark, Padden, Carol & Meir, Irit. (2014). Language emergence. In J. Sindell, P. Kockelman & N. Enfield (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of linguistic anthropology (pp. 250-284). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Sandler, Wendy. (2012). Dedicated gestures in the emergence of sign language. Gesture 12/3, 265-307.
- Sandler, Wendy, Aronoff, Mark, Meir, Irit, Padden, Carol. (2011). The Gradual Emergence of Phonological Form in a New Language. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 29, 503-543.
- Sandler,Wendy. (2010). The phonology of movement in sign language. In Blackwell companion to phonology, Marc van Oostendorp, Colin Ewen, Keren Rice, and Elizabeth Hume (Eds.), Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. 577–603.
- Sandler, Wendy. (2010). The uniformity and diversity of language: Evidence from sign language. Response to Evans and Levinson. Lingua, 120(12), 2727-2732.
- Sandler, Wendy. (2010). Prosody and syntax in sign languages. Transactions of the Philological Society 108:3. 298-328.
- Sandler, Wendy. (2009). Symbiotic symbolization by hand and mouth in sign language. Semiotica 174 (1/4), 241-275
- Sandler, Wendy (2006). Phonology, Phonetics, and the Nondominant Hand. In Papers in Laboratory Phonology: Varieties of Phonological Competence, Louis Goldstein, D.H. Whalen, and Catherine Best (Eds.), 185-212. Berlin: Mouton-de Gruyter.
- Nespor, Marina, and Sandler, Wendy (1999). Prosodic Phonology in Israeli Sign Language. Language and Speech, 42 (2&3), 143-176.
Presentation about sign language for a general audience:
- Sandler, Wendy. (February 6, 2017). What sign language can tell us about human language. The Israel Academy of Sciences Conference on Languages.