Donna Jo Napoli
[The photo above is from May 2016. I was in a boat 25 miles offshore from the Florida keys, and an American Redstart landed on my hand. If you know my book ALBERT, you can imagine how thrilled I was.]
I haven't met an area of linguistics yet that doesn't fascinate me. Right now much of my work is on sign languages and linguistic as well as more broadly cognitive issues that arise from their analysis. My focus is on modality effects, including how iconicity is pertinent to word/sign order and how the biomechanics of language articulation affects phonology and the lexicon and what light that can shed on diachronic change. I'm also part of a team that works to protect deaf children's right to language. We publish regularly in medical journals, among other venues. You can access our articles here. Finally, I am engaged in developing materials to promote shared reading between deaf children and their parents (see below).
With respect to spoken languages, I work primarily on Italian, although sometimes I look at English and other languages. I have worked on syntax, semantics, morphology, phonology, in both diachronic and synchronic perspectives. Currently, I'm working on the history of taboo constructions in a number of Indo-European languages and what they can tell us about syntax and semantics.
I'm also generally interested in articulations of the body and how they grossly compare to articulations specific to language. I've published work comparing the structure of yoga asanas to that of syllables in spoken language, and applying a parametric approach used in the typology of languages to the typology of dance traditions. I'm presently engaged in exploring the notion of flow in dance and language.
Being a writer as well as a linguist, I am also interested in both the esthetic and linguistic properties of creative language, and I do research on poetry, story-telling, jokes, and taboo language. I organized a conference on Disrespected Literatures at Swarthmore College in spring 2017; you can see a short (3 minute) video about it here.
The LSA did a spotlight interview with me in April 2017.
For information on bilingual-bimodal ebooks produced in a collaboration of students at Gallaudet University and Swarthmore College since fall 2013 under the guidance of Gene Mirus and Donna Jo, go to the following sites. Many books are in ASL/English, but there are also books in other sign languages with the print of the ambient spoken language.
For a discussion of how we work and why we do what we do, go here.