Professor Adam Schembri BA, DipEd, M.Litt, PhD

Photograph of Dr Adam Schembri

Department of English Language and Linguistics
Professor of Linguistics

Contact details

Frankland Building
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

I am a Professor of Linguistics in the Department of English Language and Linguistics at the University of Birmingham.  I teach modules on sociolinguistics, language and gesture, and linguistic diversity. My research focuses on the linguistics of sign languages, especially Australian Sign Language (Auslan) and British Sign Language (BSL).


  • Bachelor of Arts (English Literature), University of Sydney, 1988
  • Diploma in Education (English/English as a Second Language), Sydney College of Advanced Education, 1989
  • Master of Letters (Linguistics), University of Sydney, 1992
  • Diploma in Interpreting (Australian Sign Language/English), Sydney Institute of Technical and Further Education, 1996
  • PhD (Linguistics), University of Sydney. Title: “Issues in the analysis of polycomponential verbs in Australian Sign Language (Auslan)”, 2002


I began working at the University of Birmingham in January 2016. Prior to that, I was associate professor at La Trobe University in Melbourne (Australia) during 2011-2015, and senior research fellow at the Deafness Cognition and Language (DCAL) Research Centre at University College London during 2006-2010. I was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Newcastle and Macquarie University (both in Sydney, Australia) during 2003-2006. I worked as a lecturer at the Centre for Deaf Studies at the University of Bristol during 2000-2002 while completing my PhD.


I teach on the BA and MA programmes on the following modules: Sociolinguistics, Language and Gesture and Exploring Linguistic Diversity. 

Postgraduate supervision

At the University of Birmingham, I have worked with PhD students conducting research into the morphology of Russian Sign Language (Masha Kyuseva) and interpretation between African-American Vernacular English and American Sign Language (Sharon Hill). Current PhD students are working on co-speech gestures in Polish/English bilinguals (Paulina Poplawksa), attitudes towards sign language variation in Algeria (Hadjira Cherif), on the grammar of Kufr Qassem Sign Language (Marah Jaraisy) and of Nepali Sign Language (Arjun Shrestha). I am also co-supervising a PhD student in Psychology with Robin Thompson who is working on sign language attitudes in younger deaf people (Kate Groves), and another student at the University of Melbourne leading on research into signing varieties in deaf communities of Hawai (Eleanor Jorgensen).
I am primarily interested in supervising students with an interest in sign language linguistics, gesture studies, as well as sociolinguistic variation and change in both spoken and signed languages.

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


I am interested in research investigating the sign languages of deaf communities. I am currently working on the European Research Council SignMorph project, looking at the relationship between the grammar of sign languages and iconicity, language age, and social structure in signing communities. I am working on an Australian Research Council Linkage Project with Louisa Willoughby (Monash University) and Melbourne Polytechnic investigating individual differences in second language learners of Auslan (the majority sign language in Australia), see I am also continuing to work with colleagues Kearsy Cormier (University College London) and colleagues on the BSL Syntax Project (

Other activities


Recent publications


Lutzenberger, H, Mudd, K, Stamp, R & Schembri, A 2023, 'The social structure of signing communities and lexical variation: A cross-linguistic comparison of three unrelated sign languages', Glossa, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 1-40.

Bajić, DR, Vermeerbergen, M, Schembri, A & van Herreweghe, M 2021, 'Constituent order in Serbian Sign language declarative clauses', Glossa, vol. 6, no. 1, 39.

Hodge, G, Sekine, K, Schembri, A & Johnston, T 2018, 'Comparing signers and speakers: Building a directly comparable corpus of Auslan and Australian English', Corpora, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 63-76.

Schembri, A, Cormier, K & Fenlon, J 2018, 'Indicating verbs as typologically unique constructions: Reconsidering verb 'agreement' in sign languages', Glossa, vol. 3, no. 1, 89.

Fenlon, J, Schembri, A & Cormier, K 2018, 'Modification of indicating verbs in British Sign Language: A corpus-based study', Language, vol. 94, no. 1, pp. 84-118.

Schembri, A, Fenlon, J, Cormier, K & Johnston, T 2018, 'Sociolinguistic typology and sign languages', Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 9, no. FEB, 200.,

Johnston, T, van Roekel, J & Schembri, A 2016, 'On the conventionalization of mouth actions in Australian sign language', Language and Speech, vol. 59, no. 1, pp. 3-42.,

Stamp, R, Schembri, A, Evans, BG & Cormier, K 2016, 'Regional Sign Language Varieties in Contact: Investigating Patterns of Accommodation', Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 70-82.

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

Schembri, A, Stamp, R, Fenlon, J & Cormier, K 2018, Variation and change in English varieties of British Sign Language. in N Braber & S Jansen (eds), Sociolinguistics in England. 1 edn, Palgrave Macmillan Ltd.


Schembri, A, Stamp, R, Fenlon, J & Cormier, K 2018, Variation and change in varieties of British Sign Language in England. in N Braber & S Jansen (eds), Sociolinguistics in England. Palgrave Macmillan, London, pp. 165-188.

Book/Film/Article review

Schembri, A 2017, 'Form, Meaning and Focus in American Sign Language by Miako N.P. Rankin (Review)', Sign Language Studies, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 281-284. <>


Palfreyman, N & Schembri, A 2022, 'Lumping and splitting: sign language delineation and ideologies of linguistic differentiation', Journal of Sociolinguistics, vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 105-112.

Entry for encyclopedia/dictionary

Stamp, R & Schembri, A 2019, Sociolinguistics of sign languages. in MJ Ball & JS Damico (eds), The SAGE Encyclopedia of Human Communication Sciences and Disorders. vol. 4, SAGE Publications. <>

Schembri, A 2017, Australian Sign Language (Auslan). in MJ Ball & JS Damico (eds), The SAGE Encyclopedia of Human Communication Sciences and Disorders. SAGE Publications.

Schembri, A 2017, British Sign Language (BSL). in MJ Ball & JS Damico (eds), The SAGE Encyclopedia of Human Communication Sciences and Disorders. SAGE Publications.

View all publications in research portal