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Department of Linguistics

Professor Trevor Johnston

A/P Trevor Johnston

Formal name: Trevor Johnston

Position: Professor

Personal Title: Professor

Qualifications: B.A. (Hons) University of NSW, Ph.D. University of Sydney, D.Litt. (Honoris Causa) Macquarie University

Telephone: +61 2 9850 8067

Fax: +61 2 9850 9352


Location: C5A 546

Web Pages: Selected Publications


Professor Trevor Johnston is a native Auslan (Australian sign language) user and has extensive experience in signed language research and teaching. He coined the term ‘Auslan’ and together with members of the Australian deaf community helped achieve the recognition of Auslan as a community language by the Australian government in the 1980s.

Trevor compiled the first dictionary of Auslan which was also the first signed language dictionary in the world that used the principle of sequencing signs according to language internal principles, such as handshape, systematically throughout. The dictionary has been constantly expanded ever since and has appeared in several editions in book, CD-ROM and internet-based formats. The latest version, called Auslan Signbank, can be found at

Professor Johnston has made significant public and academic contributions both in Australia and internationally in the field of sign linguistics, language policy, and the professional development of teachers of the deaf and teachers of signed languages. He has conducted research in the areas of sign language lexicography, sociolinguistic variation, the grammar of signed languages and in the implementation of and evaluation of Auslan/English bilingual education programs.

In recent years Trevor has concentrated on documentary linguistics in order to strengthen the empirical basis of Auslan description. This has resulted in the creation of an Auslan corpus deposited at the Endangered Languages Archive which can be viewed at

Corpus-based research is ensuring that the content of Auslan teaching curricula and assessment instruments (e.g. child sign language developmental checklists, interpreter Auslan proficiency tests) are properly normed and evidence-based.

Current research projects include:

  • an ARC Discovery project comparing variation and grammatical change in corpora of Auslan and British Sign Language—a closely related signed language (with Prof Bencie Woll, Director, Deafness Cognition and Language research centre, University College London)
  • collaboration with researchers on the German Sign Language Corpus Project at the Institute for German Sign Language, Hamburg University on ensuring interoperability of the iLex sign language multi-media annotation and lexical database program (developed in Hamburg) with ELAN and Lexus (developed at the Max Plank Institute for Psycholinguistics)
  • a project to investigate in depth the interface between language and gesture by comparing the use of pointing in both co-speech gesture and in Auslan (and other signed languages).

Doctoral corpus-based research projects that Professor Johnston has recently supervised include:

  • an investigation of the behaviour of depicting signs in Auslan within the framework of Cognitive Linguistics (Lindsay Ferrara)
  • an investigation of the morphology of aspectual sign modifications in Auslan and its relationship to gesture (Michael Gray)

Current supervision includes:

  • a corpus-based typology of Auslan constructions and how they combine in natural discourse (Gabrielle Hodge)
  • an investigation of the comprehensibility of International Sign and the linguistic or representational constructions it shares with natural sign languages, such as Auslan (Lori Whynot)

Major research interests:

  • digital documentation and corpora of signed languages
  • signed language lexicography and lexicology
  • signed and spoken language typology
  • gesture and visual representation in signed languages
  • functional perspectives in the description of signed and spoken languages
  • grammaticalization in signed languages
  • sociolinguistic variation in signed languages

Other research interests:

  • Auslan assessment instruments of adult proficiency
  • child Auslan acquisition and Auslan developmental assessment instruments
  • Auslan/English bilingual education for deaf children


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