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

Photograph of Dr Adam Schembri

Department of English Language and Linguistics
Reader in Linguistics

Contact details

Room 131, 3 Elms Road
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

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

Postgraduate supervision

I am currently working with PhD students working on Russian Sign Language and Cambodian Sign Language, and with a visiting scholar conducting doctoral research in Shanghai Sign Language.

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.


I am interested in research investigating sign languages and gesture.  I am currently working on two Australian Research Council (ARC) projects. An ARC Discovery Project  with Trevor Johnston (Macquarie University), Kearsy Cormier (University College London), and Onno Crasborn (Radboud University) is investigating similarities and differences between pointing gestures used by non-signers and pointing signs in sign languages. An ARC Linkage Project, together with Louisa Willoughby (Monash University) and Cathy Clark (Melbourne Polytechnic) is investigating individual differences in second language learners of Australian Sign Language (Auslan).  I am also conducting on-going research with colleagues Kearsy Cormier and Jordan Fenlon on data from the British Sign Language Corpus Project (www.bslcorpusproject.org).

Other activities

  • Academia.edu: http://bham.academia.edu/AdamSchembri
  • Chair, Organising Committee for the 12th International Conference on Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Research, Melbourne (www.tislr12.org)
  • Secretary, Sign Language Linguistics Society (www.slls.eu).
  • Associate Editor, Sign Language Typology Series, Ishara Press/Mouton De Gruyter
  • Editorial Board, Sociolinguistics in Deaf Communities, Gallaudet University Press
  • Editorial Board, Language in Society, Cambridge University Press



  • Schembri, A. & Lucas, C. (Eds.), (2015). Sociolinguistics and Deaf communities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Johnston, T. & Schembri, A. (2007). Australian Sign Language (Auslan): An introduction to sign language linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Peer-reviewed chapters/articles

  • Stamp, R., Schembri, A., Evans, B. & Cormier, K. (2016). British Sign Language (BSL) regional varieties in contact: Investigating the patterns of accommodation and language change. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 21(1): 70-82.
  • Cormier, K., Fenlon, J. & Schembri, A. (2015). Indicating verbs in British Sign Language favour use of motivated space. Open Linguistics 1: 684-707.
  • Fenlon, J., Cormier, K. & Schembri, A. (2015). Building BSL SignBank: The lemma dilemma revisited. International Journal of Lexicography 28(2): 169-206.
  • Bayley, R., Lucas, C. & Schembri, A. (2015). Variation and change in sign languages. In Schembri, A. & Lucas, C. (Eds.), Sociolinguistics and Deaf communities (pp. 61-94). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Johnston, T., Cresdee, D., Schembri, A. & Woll, B. (2015) FINISH variation and grammaticalization in a signed language: How far down this well-trodden pathway is Auslan (Australian Sign Language)? Language Variation and Change 27(1).
  • Johnston, T., van Roekel, J. & Schembri, A. (2015) On the conventionalization of mouth actions in Auslan (Australian Sign Language). Language and Speech 58(1).
  • Stamp, R., Schembri, A., Fenlon, J. & Rentelis, R. (2015). Variation and change in British Sign Language number signs. Sign Language Studies, 15 (2).
  • Fenlon, J., Schembri, A., Johnston, T. & Cormier, K. (2015). Documentary and corpus approaches to sign language research. In: E. Orfanidou, B. Woll & G. Morgan (Eds.), The Blackwell Guide to Research Methods in Sign Language Studies (pp. 156-172). Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Green, J., Kelly, B. & Schembri, A. (2014). Finding common ground: Sign language and gesture research in Australia. Australian Journal of Linguistics 34(2).
  • Stamp, R., Schembri, A., Fenlon, J. & Rentelis, R., Woll, B. & Cormier, K. (2014). Lexical variation and change in British Sign Language. PLoS ONE 9(4): e94053. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0094053.
  • Fenlon, J., Schembri, A., Rentelis, R., Vinson, D. & Cormier, K. (2014). Using conversational data to determine lexical frequency in British Sign Language: The influence of text type. Lingua 143, 187-202.
  • Cormier, K., Schembri, A., & Woll, B. (2013). Pronouns and pointing: where do sign languages fit? Lingua 137, 230-247.
  • Schembri, A., Fenlon, F., Rentelis, R., Reynolds, S. & Cormier, K. (2013). Building the British Sign Language Corpus. Language Documentation and Conservation 7, 136-154.
  • Fenlon, J., Schembri, A., Rentelis, R., & Cormier, K. (2013). Variation in handshape and orientation in British Sign Language: The case of the ‘1’ hand configuration. Language and Communication 33(1), 69-91.
  • Schembri, A. & Johnston, T. (2013). Sociolinguistic variation and change in sign languages. In: R. Bayley, R. Cameron & C. Lucas (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Sociolinguistics (pp. 503-524). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Johnston, T. & Schembri, A. (2013). Corpus analysis of sign languages. In: C.A. Chapelle (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics (pp. 479-501). Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Schembri, A. & Johnston, T. (2012). Sociolinguistic aspects of variation and change. In: R. Pfau, M. Steinbach & B. Woll (Eds.), Sign Language: An International Handbook (pp. 788-816). Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.
  • Cormier, K., Schembri, A., Vinson, D., & Orfanidou, E. (2012). First language acquisition differs from second language acquisition in prelingually deaf signers: Evidence from the grammatical processing of British Sign Language. Cognition 124(1); 50-65.
  • McKee, R., Schembri, A., McKee, D., & Johnston, T. (2011). Variable subject expression in Australian Sign Language and New Zealand Sign Language. Language Variation and Change 23(3), 1-24.
  • Lewin, D. & Schembri, A. (2011). Mouth gestures in British Sign Language (BSL): A case study of tongue protrusion in BSL narratives. Sign Language & Linguistics 14(1), 94-114.
  • Comrier, K., Schembri, A. & Woll, B. (2010). Diversity across sign languages and spoken languages–Implications for language universals (A response to Evans & Levinson). Lingua 120 (12), 2664-2667.
  • Schembri, A. (2010). Documenting sign languages. In: Austin, P. (Ed.) Language Documentation and Description Volume 7: Lectures in Language Documentation and Description (pp. 105-143). London: School of African and Oriental Studies.
  • Schembri, A., Cormier, K., Johnston, T., McKee, D., McKee, R., & Woll, B. (2010). Sociolinguistic variation in British, Australian and New Zealand sign languages. In: Brentari, D. (Ed.), Sign languages (pp. 479-501). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Johnston, T. & Schembri, A. (2010). Variation, lexicalization and grammaticalization in signed languages. In: B. Garcia &t M. Derycke (Eds.), Sourds et langue des signs: Normes et variation. Langage et société 131, 5-17.
  • De Beuzeville, L., Johnston, T. & Schembri, A. (2009). The use of space with indicating verbs in Australian Sign Language: A corpus-based investigation. Sign Language & Linguistics 12(1), 53-82.
  • Schembri, A., McKee, D., McKee, R., Johnston, T., Goswell, D. & Pivac, S. (2009). Phonological variation and change in Australian and New Zealand Sign Languages: The location variable. Language Variation and Change 21(2), 193-231.
  • Vinson, D. P., Cormier, K., Denmark, T., Schembri, A. & Vigliocco, G. (2008). The British Sign Language norms for acquisition, familiarity and iconicity. Behaviour Research Methods 40(4), 1079-1087.
  • Cormier, K., Schembri, A. & Tyrone, M. (2008). One hand or two?: A crosslinguistic analysis of the non-native lexicon in signed languages. Sign Language & Linguistics 11(1), 3-44.
  • Johnston, T., Vermeerbergen, M., Schembri, A. & Leeson, L. (2007). ‘Real data are messy’: Considering the cross-linguistic analysis of constituent ordering in Australian Sign Language (Auslan), Vlaamse Gebarentaal (VGT) and Irish Sign Language (ISL). In: Perniss, P., Pfau, R. & Steinbach, M. (Eds.), Visible variation: Comparative studies on sign language structure (pp. 163-206). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Schembri, A. & Johnston, T. (2007). Sociolinguistic variation in the use of fingerspelling in Australian Sign Language: A pilot study. Sign Language Studies 7:3, 319-347.
  • Johnston, T. & Schembri, A. (2006). Issues in the creation of a digital archive of a signed language. In: Barwick, L. & Thieberger, N. (Eds.), Sustainable data from digital fieldwork. (pp. 7-16). Sydney: University of Sydney Press.
  • Schembri, A., Johnston, T. & Goswell, D. (2006). NAME dropping: Location variation in Australian Sign Language. In: Lucas, C. (Ed.), Multilingualism and sign languages: From the Great Plains to Australia.(pp. 121-156). Washington DC: Gallaudet University Press.
  • Schembri, A., Jones, C., & Burnham, D. (2005). Comparing action gestures and classifier verbs of motion: Evidence from Australian Sign Language, Taiwan Sign Language, and non-signers’ gestures without speech. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 10:3, 272-290.
  • Schembri, A. (2003). Rethinking “classifiers” in signed languages. In: Emmorey, K. (Ed.). Perspectives on classifier constructions in sign languages. (pp.3-34). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Schembri, A., Wigglesworth, G., Johnston, T., Leigh, R., Adam, R. & Barker, R. (2002). Issues in the development of the Test Battery for Australian Sign Language Morphology and Syntax. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 7:1, 18-40.
  • Johnston, T. & Schembri, A. (1999). On defining lexeme in a sign language. Sign Language & Linguistics, 2:2, 115-185.