Dr. Deborah Chen Pichler
  • Ph.D., University of Connecticut, Linguistics
  • M.A., University of Connecticut, Linguistics
Short Biography

Debbie Chen Pichler grew up in a bilingual environment, traveling frequently between the US and Taiwan. She began her first, informal studies of comparative syntax when, at the age of 12, she was hired by her local Taiwanese American Association to teach spoken Taiwanese to middle-school students. Faced with the fact that she didn't know any way to write Taiwanese (there is no standardized written form), Debbie set out to elucidate the rules of Taiwanese syntax on her own. Sadly, she never progressed very far in this task, but the experience whetted her appetite for linguistics, even if she remained unaware at the time that this was the name of the field she wanted to enter. In college, she declared biology as her major, but found herself compulsively signing up for elective classes in French, German, Italian, Chinese and American Sign Language as "diversions". Realizing at last that her interest in the structure of language far outstripped her interest (and abilities) in biology, she entered graduate school in the field of linguistics.

A member of the Gallaudet Linguistics faculty since 2002, Debbie has taught courses on first and second language acquisition, comparative studies (of ASL vs. English, or ASL vs. other signed systems) and generative syntax. Her research interests focus on the acquisition of ASL by deaf children and hearing bilinguals (coda children), as well as the acquisition of ASL as a second language. She is also involved in research on the syntax of Croatian Sign Language, continuing her original interest in investigating the grammar of previously understudied languages .


  • Chen Pichler (2012) Sign language acquisition (review). Sign Language Studies 11:4. (PDF)
  •  Chen Pichler (2012) Language acquisition. In R. Pfau, B. Woll and M. Steinbach (eds.) Handbook of Linguistics and Communication Science: Sign Language (pp. 647-686). Berlin: de Gruyter. (PDF)
  • Chen Pichler (2011) Sources of handshape error in first-time signers of ASL, in Napoli & Mathur (eds.) Deaf around the world. Oxford University Press, pp. 96-121. (PDF)
  • Lillo-Martin, Quadros, Koulidobrova and Chen Pichler (2010). Bimodal bilingual cross-language influence in unexpected domains. In Costa, Lobo and Pratas (eds.) Language acquisition and development: Proceedings of GALA 2009. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. (PDF)
  • Chen Pichler (2010) Using early ASL word order to shed light on word order variability in sign language, in Anderssen, Bentzen and Westergaard (eds.) Variation in the input: Studies in the acquisition of word order; Studies in Psycholinguistics, Vol. 39. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 157-177. (PDF)
  • Chen Pichler, Quadros and Lillo-Martin (2010) Effects of bimodal production on multi-cyclicity in early ASL and Libras. In Chandlee, Franich, Iserman and Keil (eds.) BUCLD 34 proceedings supplement: http://www.bu.edu/linguistics/BUCLD/proc.html.
  • Chen Pichler, Hochgesang, Lillo-Martin and Quadros (2010) Conventions for sign and speech transcription of child bimodal bilingual corpora in ELAN. Language, Interaction and Acquisition 1, 11-40. (PDF)
  • Chen Pichler (2009) Sign production in first-time hearing signers: A closer look at handshape accuracy, in Cadernos de Saúde, Número especial, Línguas gestuais. Vol 2:37-50. (PDF)
  • Chen Pichler (2009) Sign language development. In K. de Bot et al. (eds.) Language development over the life- span. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, pp. 217-241. (PDF)
  • Chen Pichler & Hochgesang (2009) An overview of possessives and existentials in American Sign Language. In U. Zeshan & P. Perniss (eds.) Possessive and existential constructions in sign languages. Sign Language Typology Series No. 2. Nijmegen: Ishara Press, pp. 213-233. (PDF)
  • Chen Pichler (2008) Acquisition of word order: Then and Now. In Quer (ed.) Signs of the Time: Selected papers TISLR 8. Seedorf, Germany: Signum Verlag, pp. 293-315. (PDF)
  • Lillo-Martin & Chen Pichler (2008) Development of Sign Language Acquisition Corpora, in Proceedings of the 3rd Workshop on the Representation and Processing of Sign Languages: Construction and Exploitation of Sign Language Corpora, Marrakesh, Morocco, pp. 129-133.
  • Chen Pichler, Schalber, Wilbur & Hochgesang (2008) Possession and existence in three sign languages, in Quadros (ed.), Sign Languages: spinning and unraveling the past, present, and future from TISLR9. Petropolis, Brazil: Editorar Arara Azul, pp. 440-458.  (Website)

L1 acquisition of ASL by deaf children; bilingual acquisition of English and ASL by hearing children of deaf parents (codas); L2 acquisition of ASL; cross-linguistic study of sign language syntax

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