Diane Brentari

Diane Brentari

Mary K. Werkman Professor, Department of Linguistics, and Humanities Collegiate Division
Rosenwald 205D
(773) 702-5725

My broad interests address issues in sign language grammars, particularly problems at the intersection of morphology, phonology, and prosody. My work has primarily focused on sign language phonology as a way to understand the effects of communication mode (or modality) on language, as well as the flexibility of the human language capacity in constructing spoken and signed languages. My current research involves language variation among sign languages, and how the mental lexicon emerges in historical time, which includes the relationship between gesture, homesign systems, and well-established sign languages.  I am one of three Directors of the Center for Gesture, Sign and Language.

Recent Publications 


  • Brentari, D. 2010. (ed.) Sign Languages: A Cambridge Language Survey. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  • Brentari, D. 2001. (ed.) Foreign Vocabulary in Sign Languages: A Cross-linguistic Investigation of Word Formation. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Brentari, D. 1998. A Prosodic Model of Sign Language Phonology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Lapointe, S., D. Brentari, and P. M. Farrell (eds.). 1998. Morphology and its Relation to Syntax and Phonology. Stanford University, CSLI Publications.
Selected Articles and Book Chapters
Links to the .pdfs for these and other publications can be found at: https://signlanguagelab.uchicago.edu/page/publications
  • Coppola, M., and D. Brentari. 2014.  From iconic handshapes to grammatical contrasts: Longitudinal evidence from a child homesigner. Frontiers in Psychology: Language Sciences. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00830
  • Berent, I., A. Dupuis, and D. Brentari. 2014. Phonological reduplication in sign language: Rules rule. Frontiers in Psychology: Language Sciences. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00560
  • Brentari, D., G. Marotta, I. Margherita, and A. Ott. 2013. The interaction of pitch accent and gesture production in Italian and English. Studi e Saggi Linguistici, 51(1), 81-102.
  • Berent, I., A. Dupuis, and D. Brentari. 2013.A modal aspects of linguistic design: Evidence from sign language. PLOS ONE, 8(4), 1-17.
  • Brentari, D., M. Coppola, A. Jung, and S. Goldin-Meadow. 2013.  Acquiring word class distinctions in American Sign Language:  Evidence from handshape. Language Learning and Development, 9(2), 130-150.
  • Brentari, D. and M. Coppola. 2013. What Sign Language Creation Teaches Us About Language. Wiley's Interdisciplinary Reviews (WIREs): Cognitive Science, 4, 201–211. doi:10.1002/wcs.1212
  • Brentari, D., M. Nadolske, and G. Wolford.  2012. Can experience with gesture influence the prosody of a Sign Language?: ASL prosodic cues in bimodal bilinguals. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition,15(2), 402-412.
  • Brentari, D., M. Coppola, L. Mazzoni, and S. Goldin-Meadow. 2012. When does a system become phonological?  Handshape production in gesturers, signers, and homesigners. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, 30(1), 1-31.
  • Brentari, D., C. González, A. Seidl, and R. Wilbur. 2011. Sensitivity to visual prosodic cues in signers and nonsigners. Language and Speech, 54(1), 49-72.


The Sign Language Linguistics Laboratory is directed by Diane Brentari and located in Walker 009 and Wieboldt 313. The lab is designed to analyze linguistic data from sign languages and gestures pertinent to her ongoing research projects, which include two NSF-funded projects and a third award by the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society. These projects concern the linguistic structure of sign languages and their expression in conversation, narrative and performance, as well as the gestures of hearing people and homesign systems. Motion capture, as well as a variety of tools for video analysis and transcription, are employed in this work. For more information about the projects, people and resulting publications, please direct your attention to: http://signlanguagelab.uchicago.edu.

  • Ph.D., University of Chicago, 1990.