Ted Supalla

Ted Supalla

Contact Information

  • Sign Language Research Center
  • University of Rochester
  • Rochester, NY 14627

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Research Overview

The study of signed languages of the world, particularly those which have emerged naturally within communities of deaf people, provides unusual insight into the way humans process and develop communication systems. From such research we are beginning to learn that, to a surprising degree, the structure of languages and the processes by which they are formed are the same for spoken and signed languages, and are therefore constrained by factors that cross input and output modalities.

My research involves three main lines of work. First, I am interested in universals of language, including the comparison between spoken languages and signed languages, as well as the similarities and differences among sign languages themselves. In this research I conduct linguistic analyses of American Sign Language (ASL), particularly its morphology, and I also analyze related structures in 20 different sign languages in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Secondly, I am interested in how sign languages are formed. Part of this work examines the continuum from nonlinguistic gesture to gestural language, comparing gesture as used by hearing people, "home sign" systems devised within families who have deaf members, and full sign languages such as ASL, to determine where and how linguistic properties appear in the evolution from nonlinguistic to linguistic use of the same modalities. I am also interested in the grammaticalization of gestural features during early stages in the formation of signed languages. In historical linguistic work, I am reconstructing the grammar of ASL in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, through an analysis of ASL filmed by the National Association of the Deaf in the 1910's. Comparisons between early and modern ASL, and also among other young versus well-developed sign languages around the world, can provide an understanding of how languages form and change, and whether the processes of language change for sign languages are the same as those for spoken languages.

Thirdly, I am interested in the on-line processing of ASL, including studies of sentence comprehension and memory as well as fMRI studies asking what parts of the brain are activated during visual-gestural language processing.

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Selected Publications

  • Supalla, T. and Clark, P. (in press). Sign Language Archeology: Understanding History and Evolution of American Sign Language. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.
  • Supalla, T. (in press). Film and Deaf Culture. San Diego, CA: Dawn Sign Press.
  • Koo, D. & Supalla, T. (in press). Nativization of bi-modal co-articulation in Cued Speech: Phonological Representations and Processes in Deaf Cuers, In C. LaSasso & J. Kelly (eds.), Cued Speech and Cued Language Development of Deaf Students. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.
  • Supalla, T., Clark, P., Neumann Solow, S., & Quadros Mueller, R. (in press) A protocol for interpreter coordination at international conferences. In R. McKee & J. Davis (eds.), Studies in Interpretation Series, Volume 5. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.
  • Bavelier, D., Newport, E.L., Hall, M., Supalla, T., & Boutla, M. (2008). Ordered short-term memory differs in signers and speakers: Implications for models of short-term memory. Cognition, 107, 433-459.
  • Supalla, T. (2008). Sign Language Archeology: Integrating Historical Linguistics with Fieldwork on Young Sign Languages. In R. M. de Quadros (ed.), Sign Languages: Spinning and unraveling the past, present and future. Proceedings of the The Ninth International Conference on Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Research. Florianopolis, Brazil, December 2006. Petropolis, Brazil: Editora Arara Azul.
  • Hauser, P.C., Paludenviciene, R., Supalla, T., & Bavelier, D. (2008). ASL-Sentence Reproduction Test: Development and Implications. In R. M. de Quadros (ed.), Sign Languages: Spinning and unraveling the past, present and future. Proceedings of the The Ninth International Conference on Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Research. Florianopolis, Brazil, December 2006. Petropolis, Brazil: Editora Arara Azul.
  • Supalla, T. (2008). Prologue for WFD Sign Lexicon. Spanish Association of the Deaf.
  • Bavelier, D., Newport, E.L., Hall, M., Supalla, T., & Boutla, M. (2006). Persistent differences in short-term memory span between sign and speech: Implications for cross-linguistic comparisons. Psychological Science, 17, 1090-1092.
  • Boutla, M., Supalla, T., Newport, E.L., & Bavelier, D. (2004). Short-term memory span: insights from sign language. Nature Neuroscience, 7, 997-1002.
  • Supalla, T. (2004). The validity of the Gallaudet Lecture Films. Sign Language Studies, 4, 261-292.
  • Bavelier, D., Newport, E.L., & Supalla, T. (2003). Children need natural languages, signed or spoken. Cerebrum, 5, 19-32.
  • Supalla, T. (2003). Revisiting visual analogy in ASL classifier predicates. In K. Emmorey (ed.), Perspectives on classifier constructions in sign language. Mahwah N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc.
  • Supalla, T. (2002). Making historical sign language materials accessible: A prototype database of early ASL. Sign Language and Linguistics, 4, 285-297.
  • Newport, E.L., & Supalla, T. (2000). Sign language research at the millennium. In K. Emmorey and H. Lane (Eds.), The Signs of Language Revisited: An Anthology in Honor of Ursula Bellugi and Edward Klima. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Newport, E.L., & Supalla, T. (1999). Sign languages. In R. Wilson and F. Keil (Eds.), The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Osugi, Y., Supalla, T., & Webb, R. (1999). The use of word elicitation to identify distinctive gestural systems on Amami Island. Sign Language and Linguistics, 2, 87-112.
  • Senghas, A., Coppola, M., Newport, E.L., & Supalla, T. (1997). Argument structure in Nicaraguan Sign Language: The emergence of grammatical devices. In E. Hughes, M. Hughes, and A. Greenhill (Eds.), Proceedings of the 21st Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development: Vol.2. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.
  • Metlay, D. & Supalla, T. (1995). Morpho-syntactic structure of aspect and number inflections in ASL. In K. Emmorey and J. Reilly (Eds.), Sign, Gesture and Space. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Supalla, T., & Webb, R. (1995). The grammar of International Sign: A new look at pidgin languages. In K. Emmorey and J. Reilly (Eds.), Sign, Gesture and Space. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Supalla, T. (1994). Charles Krauel: A Profile of a Deaf Filmmaker. 30 min., VHS, Color/b&w. Documentary videotape. San Diego, CA: DawnSign Pictures.
  • Supalla, T. (1991). Deaf folklife film collection project. Sign Language Studies, 70, 73-82.
  • Supalla, T. (1990). Serial verbs of motion in American Sign Language. In S. Fischer (Ed.), Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Research. University of Chicago Press.
  • Supalla, T. (1986). The classifier system in American Sign Language. In C. Craig (Ed.), Noun Classification and Categorization. J. Benjamins.
  • Supalla, T., & Newport, E. (1978). How many seats in a chair? The derivation of nouns and verbs in American Sign Language. In P. Siple (Ed.), Understanding Language through Sign Language Research. Academic Press.

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Research Collaborators

  • Daphne Bavelier, Associate Professor, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester
  • Patricia Clark, Staff Interpreter, Research Assistant, Sign Language Research Center, University of Rochester
  • Marie Coppola, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Chicago
  • Peter Hauser, Assistant Professor, Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Betsy McDonald, Research Associate, University of Rochester
  • Don Metlay, Laboratory Technician, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester
  • Elissa L. Newport, George Eastman Professor, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester
  • Yutaka Osugi, Director, Japanese Federation of the Deaf
  • Ann Senghas, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, Barnard College

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Research Support

My research is supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. I have also received grants from the Japan Foundation and New York State Department of Education to support the ASL program, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support research on Early ASL and sign languages of the world.

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