PhD Project Studentship – SignMorph Project

Level of study
Postgraduate research masters
Subject area
English Language and Linguistics
EU, Overseas (Non-EU), UK
Type of Award
Deadline for applying
Closed 08/10/2021 (Note: competition closed for this year)

Award Description

Prof. Adam Schembri is leading a research project funded by the European Research Council – the SignMorph Project (Full title: The Dynamics of Sign Language Grammar: Morphology, Language Change, Iconicity, and Social Structure in Signing Communities). SignMorph aims to address two of the most fundamental questions in the language sciences: how much do the languages of the world resemble each other and how do they differ, and what factors account for both the cross-linguistic similarities and the differences? SignMorph will provide answers to these questions about the nature of human language through a focus on the signed languages of deaf communities.

This project will also be focus on key aspects of the grammar across three distinct types of signing communities: (1) established macro-community sign languages used across an entire national deaf community (e.g., British Sign Language), (2) established micro-community sign languages which are languages in smaller communities within a nation state (e.g., Kata Kolok), and (3) emerging sign languages which are sign languages that have only begun to emerge in the late 20th century (e.g., Cambodian Sign Language).

SignMorph aims to better understand similarities and differences in the grammar of sign languages, and how these are shaped by language-internal and language-external factors. The factors to be investigated in the study include (1) the role of iconicity in mapping grammatical meanings onto form, (2) the relatively recent emergence of sign languages, and how their short history has impacted on the processes which create grammatical structure, and (3) the sociolinguistic structure of signing communities, particular the effect of varying ages of sign language acquisition, and differences in interaction individuals have with deaf and hearing heritage and new signers through their social networks. The study of this distinctive combination of characteristics in sign languages means that this project will make a vital contribution to an understanding the human language capacity more generally.

The student would work on a dissertation exploring topics related to the role of iconicity in signed language morphology, the learnability of specific signed language morphological structures for adults, and/or the sociolinguistic structure of signing communities; share research outcomes via participation in national and international conferences and seminars; and contribute to the project Twitter feed, blog, and website.

Value of Award

This award includes funding for one full-time PhD project studentship to begin on 1st January 2021. The award covers UK tuition fees and a stipend of £15,000 per annum, or possibly international student fees for an exceptional candidate from outside the UK.

Eligibility Criteria

The student should have an excellent first degree and/or masters degree in Linguistics, Psychology, Anthropology or related fields. Applications from candidates interested in interdisciplinary research are especially welcome. Candidates must be able to excellent communication skills in both written English and a signed language.

Studentships will be supervised by Professor Adam Schembri (English Language and Linguistics), with possibly joint supervision with other University of Birmingham academic staff.

The successful applicant will benefit from:

• A fully-funded three-year PhD (tuition fees plus stipend of £15,000 per annum) in a leading UK university

• Guidance from leading experts in the field and research training from the University of Birmingham Graduate School

• Resources to attend and present at conferences

• A vibrant research environment as part of the SignMorph team as well as in the Department of English Language and Linguistics, featuring regular public lectures, workshops and conferences, and research seminars.

We believe that signed language research should be carried out by students and staff from a range of backgrounds. However, in light of the under-representation of deaf scholars and professionals in academia, we are committed to doctoral opportunities for deaf scholars. In addition to meeting the eligibility requirements, we therefore strongly encourage deaf individuals to apply.

How to Apply

Informal enquiries may be addressed to Adam Schembri (email:

To apply, please send a CV and a writing sample, together with a covering letter outlining your suitability for the studentship and two references to Adam Schembri (

Closing date: 8th October 2021.


Adam Schembri