Dr Gerardo Ortega BA, MA, PhD

Dr Gerardo Ortega, University of Birmingham

Department of English Language and Linguistics

Contact details

Frankland Building
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

I am a lecturer interested in the acquisition and emergence of manual communication. I specialise in the acquisition of a sign language as a first and second language, sign language processing, and the similarities between sign and gesture. I also explore the role of gesture and iconicity in sign language emergence and evolution.


  • PhD Cognitive, perceptual and Brain Sciences (University College London, UK) 2013
  • MA Applied Linguistics (Universidad de las Americas, Mexico) 2006
  • BA Environmental Engineering (Universidad de las Americas, Mexico) 2003


Gerardo completed his PhD at the Deafness, Language and Cognition Research Centre at University College London under the supervision of Gary Morgan and Bencie Woll. He then took a position as postdoctoral research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands under the supervision of Asli Ozyurek. After six years in the Netherlands, he accepted a lecturer position at the department of English Language and Linguistics at the University of Birmingham. In addition ot his research projects, Gerardo is actively engaged in the research community and contributes as ad hoc reviewer for journals and funding agencies including Sign Language and Linguistics, Second Language Research, Language Learning, Cognition. Psychological Science, and Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst.


I am currently teaching the under graduate modules Investigating Language, Theories of Language, and Applied Linguistics

Postgraduate supervision

I am always interested in discussing the possibility of supervising PhD students to pursue research on the acquisition of sign languages as a second or first language, sign language processing, the interface between gesture and sign.

Find out more - our PhD English Language and Applied Linguistics  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


The main focus of his research is to explore the underlying mechanisms behind the acquisition of a sign language. He primarily focuses on how hearing people - who already master a spoken language - go on to acquire a sign language as second language. He has also worked on sign language learning by deaf children. Using a wide range of techniques such as as naturalistic observation, behavioural tasks, and electrophysiological methods, he has investigated how iconicity and gesture contribute to sign learning and processing. In a different line of research he has also investigates how the different strategies to communicate with iconic gesture may serve as scaffolding for language emergence and evolution. He has carried out extensive research in different sign languages (British Sign Language, Sign Language of the Netherlands, Turkish Sign Language, and Mexican Sign Language) as well as cross-cultural studies in gesture production and comprehension.


Highlight publications

Ortega, G 2017, 'Iconicity and sign lexical acquisition: a review', Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 8, 1280. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01280

Ortega, G, Ozyurek, A & Peeters, D 2019, 'Iconic gestures serve as manual cognates in hearing second language learners of a sign language: an ERP study', Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. https://doi.org/10.1037/xlm0000729

Ortega, G, Sumer, B & Ozyurek, A 2017, 'Type of iconicity matters in the vocabulary development of signing children', Developmental Psychology, vol. 53, no. 1, pp. 89-99. https://doi.org/10.1037/dev0000161

Recent publications


Ortega, G, Schiefner, A & Özyürek, A 2019, 'Hearing non-signers use their gestures to predict iconic form-meaning mappings at first exposure to signs', Cognition, vol. 191, 103996. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2019.06.008

Ortega, G & Özyürek, A 2019, 'Systematic mappings between semantic categories and types of iconic representations in the manual modality: A normed database of silent gesture', Behaviour Research Methods. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13428-019-01204-6

Ortega, G & Özyürek, A 2019, 'Types of iconicity and combinatorial strategies distinguish semantic categories in silent gesture across cultures', Language and Cognition. https://doi.org/10.1017/langcog.2019.28

Ortega, G & Morgan, G 2015, 'Input processing at first exposure to a sign language', Second Language Research, vol. 31, no. 4, pp. 443-463. https://doi.org/10.1177/0267658315576822

Ortega, G & Gary, M 2015, 'Phonological development in hearing learners of a sign language: the role of sign complexity and iconicity', Language Learning, vol. 65, no. 3, pp. 660-688. https://doi.org/10.1111/lang.12123

Ortega, G & Gary, M 2015, 'The effect of sign iconicity in the mental lexicon of hearing non-signers and proficient signers: evidence of cross-modal priming', Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, vol. 30, no. 5, pp. 574-585. https://doi.org/10.1080/23273798.2014.959533

Ortega, G 2014, 'Acquisition of a signed phonological system by hearing adults: the role of sign structure and iconicity', Sign Language and Linguistics (Online), vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 267-275. https://doi.org/10.1075/sll.17.2.09ort

Ortega, G & Gary, M 2010, 'Comparing child and adult development of a visual phonological system', LIA Language, Interaction and Acquisition, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 67-81. https://doi.org/10.1075/lia.1.1.05ort


Ortega, G 2016, Language acquisition and development. in G Gertz & P Boudreault (eds), The SAGE Deaf Studies Encyclopedia. vol. 3, SAGE Publications, London, pp. 547. <https://uk.sagepub.com/en-gb/eur/the-sage-deaf-studies-encyclopedia/book239776>

Conference contribution

Ortega, G, Schiefner, A & Ozyurek, A 2017, Speakers’ gestures predict the meaning and perception of iconicity in signs. in G Gunzelmann, A Howe & T Tenbrink (eds), Proceedings of the 39th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. vol. Austin, Cognitive Science Society, Texas, pp. 889-894, 39th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, London, United Kingdom, 26/07/17. <https://mindmodeling.org/cogsci2017/papers/0176/paper0176.pdf>

Ortega, G & Ozyurek, A 2016, Generalisable patterns of gesture distinguish semantic categories in communication without language. in A Papafragou, D Grodner, D Mirman & J Trueswell (eds), Proceedings of the 38th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Cognitive Science Society, Austin, Texas, pp. 1182-1187, 38th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, Philadelphia, United States, 10/08/16. <https://mindmodeling.org/cogsci2016/papers/0212/index.html>

Ortega, G, Sumer, B & Ozyurek, A 2014, Type of iconicity matters: bias for action-based signs in sign language acquisition. in P Bello, M Guarini, M McShane & B Scassellati (eds), Proceedings of the 36th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (CogSci 2014). Cognitive Science Society. Annual Conference. Proceedings , vol. 36, Cognitive Science Society, Austin, Texas, pp. 1114-1119, 36th Annual Cognitive Science Conference, Quebec City, Canada, 23/07/14. <https://mindmodeling.org/cogsci2014/papers/198/paper198.pdf>

Ortega, G & Ozyurek, A 2013, Gesture-sign interface in hearing non-signers' first exposure to sign. in Proceedings of the Tilburg Gesture Research Meeting [TiGeR 2013]. University of Tilburg, Tilburg Gesture Research Meeting, Tilburg, Netherlands, 19/06/13. <https://tiger.uvt.nl/pdf/papers/ortega.pdf>

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