Sign Linguistics Research Projects

Language Processing in Cantonese and Hong Kong Sign Language Bimodal Bilinguals

The project aims to examine the processing mechanisms of bimodal bilinguals of Cantonese and Hong Kong Sign Language (HKSL). Bilinguals are endowed with the capability of co-activating two lexicons in language processing, which invites interactions in terms of lexical items and grammatical features. Cross-language activation in bimodal bilinguals is still an under-explored area. Different from unimodal bilinguals where both languages share the same audio-oral channel, bimodal bilinguals may use different channels - an audio-oral channel for spoken language and a visual-manual channel for sign language – in language production and comprehension. Therefore, it is commonly observed in the literature that bimodal bilinguals show a preference for code-blending (simultaneous production of a signed and a spoken language) rather than code-switching, suggesting dual lexical retrieval is less costly than language inhibition.

Further studies showed written/spoken language input activates sign language phonological information. Whether the same holds true for cross-language activation in the reversed direction is still unclear. In this project, we ask if recognition of a lexical sign would trigger activation of related spoken phonological information especially for a language with less phoneme to grapheme correspondence like Cantonese. We also explore how semantic and phonological relatedness play a role during linguistic processing and whether language non-specific phonological processing skills drive the cross-language activation.

Bimodal bilingual acquisition of nominal expressions in Hong Kong Sign Language and Cantonese

This project investigates how a congenitally deaf child (name coded WT) acquires nominal expressions in the two language that he is exposed to: Hong Kong Sign Language (since birth) and Cantonese (facilitated after cochlear implantation at age of 23 months), based on the Child HKSL-Cantonese Bilingual Corpus ( The data sets that the current project uses were extracted from this corpus and include 14 HKSL sessions and 14 Cantonese sessions, focusing on an age range from age 1 to 4;3 at an interval of every three months (e.g. 1 year old, 1 year and 3 months old, 1 year and 6 months old). We extracted all the nominals produced by the child in data observed, marking information in such regards as nominal structure (e.g. bare noun, Dem+N, N+Num), modality (e.g. pure HKSL without Cantonese mouthing, code-blending, pure Cantonese without manual signs/pointing), referentiality (e.g. indefinite specific, non-specific), grammatical function (e.g. subject, object, topic).

The objectives of this study are as follows: First, to explore issue of continuity (Guilfoyle and Noonan 1992, Lebeaux 1988, among others) in the acquisition of DP in early child language from a bimodal bilingual perspective. We want to see if the major constituents of DP (for HKSL: determiners, numerals, NPs; for Cantonese: determiners, numerals, classifiers and NPs) are available in the earliest stages of syntactic development. Second, we explore whether the child show any knowledge of syntax-semantics mapping between nominal form and referentiality in both languages. Third, we investigate if the child can acquire Cantonese numeral classifiers, whose counterparts are absent in HKSL (Li and Tang 2020). Fourth, we will analyze the types of code-blended nominals produced by the child for comparative study with children acquiring other language pairs, such as English-ASL (Lillo-Martin et al 2016), Italian-LIS (Branchini and Donati 2016).

Deaf Education Project

Sign Bilingualism and Co-enrolment in Deaf Education (SLCO) Programme

The Centre for Sign Linguistics and Deaf Studies of The Chinese University of Hong Kong introduced the "Sign Bilingualism and Co-enrolment in Deaf Education (SLCO) Programme" in 2006. This programme assumes an inclusive education philosophy and breaks the barrier of communication by enabling deaf and hearing children to receive education together in an environment that supports their bimodal bilingual acquisition in Hong Kong Sign Language and spoken languages as used in Hong Kong, including Cantonese, Putonghua and English. Since then, the Programme has developed various education programmes from preschool to secondary level all adopting the SLCO approach, supported by co-teaching between Deaf and hearing teachers in the classroom. For details, please visit:

Impact of sign language learning on the linguistic, cognitive and fine-motor development of hearing and deaf/hard-of-hearing children in Hong Kong

The hearing and D/HH children recruited in this study come from a baby crèche signing programme and Sign Bilingualism and Co-Enrolment in Deaf Education Programme (SLCO Programme). The infants at the crèches are mostly hearing, while the co-enrolment kindergarten and primary school admit up to six D/HH children at each grade level. The baby crèches are visited by a deaf instructor once a week who teaches HKSL to the hearing staff, infants and parents. In the daily activities, the hearing staff supplement their verbal communications with the infants with signs. In the co-enrolment classes of the kindergarten and primary school, the D/HH children study with other hearing children, and the teaching activities are conducted by a hearing speaking teacher and a deaf/hearing signing teacher. The project aims to investigate the effect of early and consistent sign language exposure on the linguistic, cognitive and motor skills development of young deaf and hearing children. The findings of this research will be of interest to bilingual researchers who want to find out how sign language learning may impact young second language learners in various developmental aspects. They will offer valuable insights to deaf education professionals in other countries who are considering the option of coenrolment for educating D/HH children in an inclusive setting.

Exploring the potential cognitive benefits of sign language learning for the hearing aging population in Hong Kong

This study aims at investigating whether learning sign language as a second language can improve the cognitive functioning of hearing older adults in Hong Kong. This study is part of a larger tentative research project that explores the long-term cognitive and social benefits of sign language learning for both hearing and deaf population in Hong Kong. Specifically, we would like to address two research issues. (1) Previous studies have shown that learning a second spoken language (i.e., bilingualism) can improve the cognitive functioning of hearing older adults (e.g., in task switching, filtering distracting information, etc.), thus serving as a potential cognitive therapy against aging. Can similar effects be seen in sign language learning as well? (2) Unlike spoken languages, sign languages make use of the visual-spatial modality. Can sign language learning improve the visual-spatial skills of hearing older adults as well?

Co-teaching and Role of Deaf Teacher in Sign Bilingualism and Co-enrollment (SLCO) Setting

As the number of deaf and hard-of-hearing students who are enrolled in mainstream education classes has escalated, the co-teaching practices as adopted in the SLCO Programme organized in an inclusive setting invite research particularly on how deaf and hearing teachers collaborate in a co-enrollment classroom. The impact of co-teaching on student learning, behavior, and students/teachers’ perception on collaborative teaching and learning are still an uncultivated area for research. Research questions are: (1) What are students and teachers’ perceptions toward co-teaching in SLCO setting? and (2) How do teachers and students perceive their role in co-teaching/learning in the SLCO setting?

Grammar and Literacy Learning of SLCO and non-SLCO Preschoolers in Hong Kong

This study investigated the relation between characteristics of home and school literacy environments and literacy outcomes of Deaf and Hard-of-hearing and hearing preschoolers who studied in a mainstream kindergarten that adopted the SLCO approach. Their results were compared with those from the non-SLCO preschoolers. The preschoolers’ literacy outcomes were measured using Pre-school and Primary Chinese Literacy Scale and Chinese Grammatical Assessment (kindergarten version). Two questionnaires were designed to collect information about Home Literacy Environment (HLE) and Classroom Literacy Environment (CLE) to investigate how teachers and parents organized literacy learning. Results showed no significant differences between the literacy outcomes of preschoolers from the SLCO and non-SLCO settings. Correlation analyses between the HLE and CLE dimensions and preschoolers’ literacy outcomes confirmed the important role of parents or teachers in supporting preschoolers’ literacy development, especially on the role played by Deaf teacher and Hong Kong Sign Language.

Community outreach projects

SLCO Community Resources

SLCO Community Resources Limited (SLCO-CR, was established in 2016 using the Sustainable Knowledge Transfer Project Fund of The Chinese University of Hong Kong. It is an independent, non-profit charitable organization providing self-sustainable community services and social ventures that combine findings of sign linguistics research with experiences in frontline services. The vision of SLCO-CR is to promote sign bilingualism in education and social communication, and to embrace diversity in society. The flagship project of SLCO-CR is the "Fun with Sign and Speech – Early Sign Bilingual Development Programme", Hong Kong's only early intervention programme for deaf, hearing and other special education needs children using both signed and spoken language as the medium of instruction and communication.

Speak Along Project

The objective of “Speak Along” – Enhancing Language Development of Special Needs Children through the Establishment of Online Resources Platform for Speech and Language Training is to improve the language skills of children. “Speak Along” targets children under the age of six who undergo a critical period of language development. The project, initiated in 2016, cooperates with different non-profit organizations in Hong Kong to enable families with vulnerable SEN children to effectively use the “Speak Along” online knowledge platform to support their children’s speech and language development. The project is funded by China CITIC Bank International Limited (‘CNCBI’).

“Speak Along” supports a wide range of activities, including an online knowledge platform, gamified mobile apps, seminar and workshop series for parents, direct speech therapy sessions and volunteer services, for pre- and primary-school underprivileged children with language delay. Since the establishment of “Speak Along”, more than 13,000 parents registered in this project. For details, please visit: