Sign Language Research

Can you help with our research on Sign Language and Brain Function?

If you are, or know someone, who is a deaf signer who has had a stroke

  • Or if you are a deaf signer between the ages of 45-85
  • Or if you are a deaf signer of deaf parents between 18 to 45

Contact the Laboratory for Cognitive Neuroscience by one of the following:

  1. Fill out the form below
  2. call the videophone (858) 768-0476
  3. e-mail Cindy Farnady,
  4. e-mail Svenna Pedersen,

Please click here for video translation»

Introduction: Sign language and the Brain


The Salk Institute, founded by Jonas Salk of the Polio Vaccine is one of the world’s leading research centers dedicated to the improvement of human health. The Lab for Cognitive Neuroscience was founded in 1970, with the research goals of increasing scientific understanding of sign languages, their grammars and how they are learned by babies and toddlers, how we recognize and remember signs. We are a team of Deaf and hearing researchers and our latest project is how signing is processed in the brain, and how it compares to spoken languages and other sign languages throughout the world.

Brain Function and Sign Language


Our brain controls all of our behavior, how we think and solve problems, our emotions, how we remember and how we communicate. Our Laboratory is interested in studying the relationship between the brain, sign language and cognition in the Deaf persons.

One way we learn about how the brain is involved in sign language is through the study of how strokes or other brain injury affect sign language ability.

A stroke occurs when there is a blockage of blood to the brain. This can cause a lack of oxygen of the brain and results in parts of the brain not working. When this happens it can have profound effects on behavior, for example it may effect:

  1. motor functions like walking or using your hand or arm, even swallowing.
  2. vision and memory.
  3. the ability to use and understand sign language, read or speak, or draw.

Our Commitment to the Deaf Community:


There are currently no programs for sign language rehabilitation. If a hearing person has a stroke they may go to a speech therapist to help them regain their ability to speak and understand language. There are no such services for Deaf signers, and we want to change that. Our research is designed to discover the best ways to help someone with a sign language communication problem. We are deeply committed to the Deaf community and having our research impact the lives of Deaf persons.

What do you mean by research? What do we do?


We first conduct an informal interview where we ask general background questions; for example, how did you learn sign language?, where did you grow up? We will ask questions about how a brain injury, like a stroke, may have affected everyday behaviors. What types of changes have occurred? Are there activities that once were easy to do, but now are more difficult?

We often use videophone (VP) for our initial meeting to help get to know our participants. We often will send researchers, who are fluent in ASL to meet and interview participants.

We also have specially designed tests that will help us understand how brain damage may have effected behavior, especially the ability to produce and understand ASL. We test patients individually, often in their own homes. All of the research is confidential; we do not share names or tests results with outside researchers. Doctors often find this research helpful in prescribing treatments for participants.

Do I get paid to participate?


You are reimbursed for your participation in the research studies. All experiments are conducted in ASL. Participation is voluntary.

How do I know if a person has had stroke or not?


Strokes can be subtle or very disruptive. In some cases they may have experienced sudden confusion, an inability to sign, fall down or even black out. All of these may be an indication that they have had a stroke. In severe cases, most people will go to a hospital and be seen by a doctor. Doctors may order a brain scan that can help researchers know more about the type of stroke.

Sounds Great! How can I help?


Currently, our research studies will investigate the impact of strokes on the brain and language and whether Deaf sign learners are similar to hearing learners and how this mode of communication may become impacted.

If you or someone you know are interested, please read the brochure and fill out the form below.

Your participation greatly impacts our collective understanding in how the brain works and important contributions to awareness of the needs of Deaf people and the development of therapies for those who may have suffered from brain stroke or injury. The Laboratory for Cognitive Neuroscience continues to work with the Deaf community in helping to increase awareness of Sign Language and the Deaf.



Salk Institute for Biological Studies
Dr. Ursula Bellugi, Director
Cindy Farnady, Senior Researcher
Svenna Pedersen, Research Assistant
Leila Hanaumi, Signer

Research Team
Dr. Greg Hickok, UC Irvine
Dr. David Corina, UC Davis

The research is funded by National Institute on Deafness
and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)

When a hearing person has a stroke and develops language difficulties, speech therapy is a tool to help improve or recover their language. Speech therapy does not help Deaf signers who have had a stroke. No other therapy is available to improve their language. Our hope is to change that, but we need your help to understand how brain injuries affect Deaf signers. With your participation, we can achieve this goal together.

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