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Designed by: Shani Yules, Computing Division, University of Haifa

Wendy Sandler, Director


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 at these levels of structure in natural languages in two modalities. With her colleagues, she is investigating the emergence of phonology, morphology, prosody, and other levels of grammar in the new sign language of a small, insular community with a high proportion of deaf members: Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language.  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: University of Haifa Press; English version: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates); and Sign Language and Linguistic Universals, coauthored with Diane Lillo-Martin (Cambridge University Press). 

Research Overview

My primary research interest is in the discovery of essential properties of natural language through the study of sign languages. My work has charted a particular course in this discovery process, focusing primarily on the linguistic character of components most closely linked to the physical means of transmission: the meaningless units that signs are made of and their organization (phonology) and the rhythmic and intonational patterns that mold and link the utterances of the language (prosody). For the past decade, my colleagues and I have been investigating the emergence of language structure in a new sign language in a Bedouin village. Through this work, we are identifying the most basic ingredients of language and beginning to understand the role of social contact and community in language emergence.



Sandler, Wendy.  (1989). Phonological Representation of the SignLinearity and Nonlinearity  in American Sign Language,  Dordrecht: Foris. 

Meir, Irit and Sandler, Wendy. (2004). safa bamerxav:  ashnav al sfat hasimanim hayisraelit (Language in Space:  A Window on Israeli Sign Language)  University  of Haifa Press.  

Sandler, Wendy and Lillo-Martin, Diane. (2006).  Sign Language and Linguistic Universals.  Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Meir, Irit and Sandler, Wendy. (2008)  A Language in Space: The Story of Israeli Sign Language.  New York:  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

Phonological Representation of the Sign: Linearity and Nonlinearity in American Sign Language

Wendy Sandler

A central goal of Phonological Representations of the Sign is to answer the question: what does it mean to say that a sign language has a phonology? As a point of departure, the author explores claims of some scholars that the phonemes of American Sign Language (ASL) are simultaneously organized, and of other that signs also have sequential internal organization. She concludes that both claims are accurate, and draws on theories of nonlinear phonology and morphology to represent both properties formally. The study aims to make testable claims about ASL structure, and to facilitate meaningful comparison of signed and spoken languages.



Sign Language and Linguistic Universals

Wendy Sandler and Diane Lillo-Martin

The authors compare sign languages with spoken languages in order to seek the universal properties they share. Drawing on general linguistic theory, they describe and analyze sign language structure, showing a range of linguistic universals in the phonology, morphology, and syntax of sign languages. The differences between the two modalities that emerge from the study highlight aspects of sign language structure, and of spoken language structure as well, that must be attributed to the modality of transmission. No prior background in sign language linguistics is assumed, and numerous pictures are provided to make descriptions of signs and facial expressions accessible to readers.


A Language in Space: The Story of Israeli Sign Language

Irit Meir and Wendy Sandler

A Language in Space: The Story of Israeli Sign Language is an introduction to sign language for a general audience, using Israeli Sign Language (ISL) as a model. The authors also offer a glimpse into the Deaf community from its inception to the present, including narratives by members of the community about their experience and their language.  An underlying premise of the book is that language is a mental system with universal properties, and that language lives through people. This book is intended for linguists (with or without a background in sign language), psychologists, sociologists,educators, students, and anyone with an interest in the human capacity for language.


Sandler, Wendy (1986). The Spreading Hand Autosegment of American Sign Language. Sign Language Studies 50,1-28.

Sandler, Wendy (1987). Assimilation and Feature Hierarchy ASL, in Chicago Linguistics Society Parasession on Autosegmental Phonology, A. Bosch, B. Need, and E. Schiller (Eds.), 266-278

Sandler, Wendy (1990). Temporal Aspects and ASL Phonology. In Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Research.Vol I: Linguistics, Susan Fischer and Patricia Siple (Eds.), Chicago:University of Chicago Press. 7-36.

Sandler, Wendy (1991). On the Organization of Natural Feature Classes in American Sign Language, in Proceedings of LP '90, B. Palek (Ed.), 555-567. Prague: Charles University Press.

Sandler, Wendy (1993). Sign Language and Modularity, Lingua 89 (4), 315-351.

Sandler, Wendy (1993). Linearization of Phonological Tiers in ASL, in Current Issues in ASL Phonology, Phonetics and Phonology Volume 3, Geoffrey Coulter (Ed.), 103-129, San Diego: Academic Press.

Sandler, Wendy (1993). A Sonority Cycle in American Sign Language, Phonology 10(2), 209-241.

Sandler, Wendy (1993). Hand in Hand: The Roles of the Nondominant Hand in Sign Language Phonology, The Linguistic Review 10, 337-390.

Corina, David and Sandler, Wendy. (1993). On the Nature of Phonological Structure in Sign Language, Phonology 10 (2), 165-207.

Sandler, Wendy (1994). One Phonology or Two? Sign Language and Phonological Theory, GLOT International Journal of Linguistics ("state of the article"). 3-8.

Sandler, Wendy (1994). Phonological Characteristics of Sign Languages: Similarities and Differences. Trondheim Working Papers in Linguistics 23, 18-37.

Van der Hulst, Harry, and Sandler, Wendy (1994). Phonological Theories Meet Sign Language: Two Theories of the Two Hands, Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics, 13 (1), 43-73.

Sandler, Wendy (1995). Markedness in the Handshapes of Signs: A Componential Analysis. In Leiden in Last: Holland Institute of Linguistics Phonology Papers, Jeroen van der Weijer and Harry van der Hulst, (Eds.), 369-399, The Hague: Holland Academie Graphics.

Sandler, Wendy (1996). Representing Handshapes. International Review of Sign Linguistics, 115-158.

Sandler, Wendy. (1996). Establishing Evidence for Major Phonological Categories: The Case for Movements in Sign Language, Lingua 98, 197-220.

Nespor, Marina, and Sandler, Wendy (1999). Prosodic Phonology in Israeli Sign Language. (PDF) Language and Speech, 42 (2&3), 143-176.

Sandler, Wendy (1999). Prosody in Two Natural Language Modalities. Language and Speech 42 (2&3), 127-142.

Sandler, Wendy (1999). The Medium and the Message: Prosodic Interpretation of Linguistic Content in Sign Language. Sign Language and Linguistics 2 (2), 187-216.

Sandler, Wendy (1999). Cliticization and Prosodic Words in a Sign Language. (PDF) In Studies on the Phonological Word, Tracy Hall and Ursula Kleinhenz (Eds.), 223-255. (Current Studies in Linguistic Theory). Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Sandler, Wendy (2000). One Phonology or Two? Sign Language and Phonological Theory. In The GLOT International State-of-The-Article Book, Lisa Cheng and Rint Sybesma (Eds.), 349-384. The Hague: Holland Academie Graphics.

Aronoff, Mark, Meir, Irit, and Sandler, Wendy. (2000). Universal and Particular Aspects of Sign Language Morphology. University of Maryland WPL 10, 1-33.

Sandler, Wendy, and Lillo-Martin, Diane (2001). Natural Sign Languages. (PDF) In Mark Aronoff and Janie Rees-Miller (Eds.), Blackwell Handbook of Linguistics. Oxford: Blackwell. 533-562.

Sandler, Wendy (2003). On the Complementarity of Signed and Spoken Languages. (PDF) In Language Competence Across Populations: Towards a Definition of SLI, Yonata Levy and Jeannette Schaeffer (Eds.), 383-409. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc.

Aronoff, Mark, Meir, Irit, Padden, Carol, and Sandler, Wendy (2003). Classifier Complexes and Morphology in Two Sign Languages. (PDF) In Perspectives on Classifiers in Signed Languages, Karen Emmorey (Ed.), 53-84. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc.

Sandler, Wendy (2003). Sign Language Phonology. (PDF) In William Frawley (Ed.), The Oxford International Encyclopedia of Linguistics.

Aronoff, Mark, Padden, Carol, Meir, Irit, and Sandler, Wendy (2004). Morpological Universals and the Sign Language Type. (PDF) In Yearbook of Morphology 2004, Geert Booij and Jaap van Marle (Eds.), 19-40. Dordrecht / Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Aronoff, Mark, Meir, Irit, and Sandler, Wendy (2005). The Paradox of Sign Language Morphology. (PDF) Language 81 (2), 301-344.

Sandler, Wendy and Lillo-Martin, Diane (2005). Sign Language. In Contemporary Linguistics: An Introduction. William OGrady, John Archibald, Mark Aronoff, and Janie Rees-Miller (Eds). Fifth Edition. 343-360. Boston/New York: Bedford St. Martins.

Sandler, Wendy, Meir, Irit, Padden, Carol, and Aronoff, Mark. (2005). The Emergence of Grammar in a New Sign Language. (PDF) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 102 (7), 2661-2665.

Sandler, Wendy (2005). Prosodic Constituency and Intonation in Sign Language. (PDF) Linguistische Berichte 13, 59-86.

Sandler, Wendy (2005). An Overview of Sign Language Linguistics. (PDF) In Keith Brown (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, Vol 11, 2d Edition, 328-338. Oxford, UK: Elsevier.

Sandler, Wendy (2006). Phonology, Phonetics, and the Nondominant Hand. (PDF) In Papers in Laboratory Phonology: Varieties of Phonological Competence, Louis Goldstein, D.H. Whalen, and Catherine Best (Eds.), 185-212. Berlin: Mouton-de Gruyter.

Meir, Irit, Padden, Carol, Aronoff, Mark, and Sandler, Wendy (2007). Body as subject (PDF) Journal of Linguistics 43, 531-563.

Padden, Carol, Meir, Irit, Sandler, Wendy, and Aronoff, Mark (in press). Against all expectations: Encoding subjects and objects in a new language. (PDF) In Hypothesis A/Hypothesis B: Linguistic Explorations in Honor of David M. Perlmutter, D. Gerdts, J. Moore & M . Polinsky, (Eds.), Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Aronoff Mark, Meir, Irit, Padden, Carol, & Sandler, Wendy (2008). The roots of linguistic organization in a new language. (PDF) In Holophrasis, Compositionality And Protolanguage, Special Issue of Interaction Studies. Derek Bickerton and Michael Arbib (Eds.), pp. 133-149.

Sandler, Wendy (2008). The syllable in sign language: Considering the other natural modality. (PDF) In The Syllable in Speech Production, Barbara Davis and Kristine Zajdo (Eds.) 379-408., New York: Taylor Francis.

Meir, Irit, Sandler, Wendy, Padden, Carol, & Aronoff, Mark (in press).  Emerging sign languages. (PDF)  In Oxford Handbook of Deaf Studies, Language, and Education, Volume 2.  M. Marschark and P. Spencer (Eds.).  

Sandler, Wendy.  2009. Symbiotic symbolization by hand and mouth in sign language. (PDF) Semiotica 174 (1/4), 241-275

Dachkovsky, Svetlana and Sandler, Wendy (2009) Visual intonation in the prosody of a sign language. (PDF) Language and Speech 52 (2/3), 287-314.

Israel, Assaf and Sandler, Wendy (2009). Phonological category resolution: A study of handshapes in younger and older sign languages. (PDF)  In  A. Castro Caldas and A. Mineiro (Eds.)  Cadernos de Saúde, Vol 2, Special Issue Línguas Gestuais, UCP: Lisbon. 13-28.
also to appear in R. Channon & H. van der Hulst (Eds.). Formational Units in Sign Language. Ishara Press. 

Sandler, Wendy.  2010.  The uniformity and diversity of language: Evidence from sign language.  Response to Evans and Levinson.  Lingua 120:2727-2732.

Sandler, Wendy, Meir, Irit, Dachkovsky, Svetlana, Padden, Carol, and Aronoff, Mark.  to appear.  The emergence of complexity in prosody and syntaxLingua.

Sandler, Wendy, Aronoff, Mark, Meir, Irit, Padden, Carol.  in press.  The gradual emergence of phonological form in a new languageNatural Language and Linguistic Theory.

Sandler, Wendy. 2011. Prosody and syntax in sign language. Transactions of the Philological Society 108:3. 298-328.

Sandler, Wendy. to appear (2013). Dedicated gestures the emergence of sign language. Gesture 12/3.

Sandler, Wendy. to appear. (2013) Vive la différence. Sign language and spoken language in language evolution. Language and Cognition.