Nathan Sanders

Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream
Department of Linguistics, University of Toronto

University of Toronto logo
Nathan Sanders headshot


office:Sidney Smith Hall 4070
Department of Linguistics
100 St. George Street
Toronto, ON M5S 3G3
hours: by appointment
phone:+1 (416) 978-1766
(use email instead)
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In the Media

"Intersecting STEM and the humanities", by Shankhalika Srikanth for The Innis Herald (2019)

"IPA Hunt and IPA Discard (How to play Battleship and Uno with the International Phonetic Alphabet)", on All Things Linguistic (2019)

"'Language construction is part art, part science': Linguist Nathan Sanders on conlangs", by Alexa Zulak for the University of Toronto Faculty of Arts & Science news (2018)

open letter to Neil deGrasse Tyson on aliens and linguistics, with Kevin Schluter, Stephen Politzer-Ahles, and Carrie Gillon (2017)

"Sign languages provide insight into universal linguistic short-cuts", Linguistic Society of America press release (2016)

Research Interests

Phonology, especially its interface with phonetics and morphology; sign language phonetics; derivational opacity; linguistic typology; ludlings (language games, like Pig Latin); constructed languages (like Esperanto and Klingon), especially their use as an educational tool; Polish and Slavic phonology; historical phonology; mathematical and statistical models of linguistic phenomena; and in general, the physical, biological, and cognitive factors that shape language.

I've most recently been working on the articulatory and perceptual phonetics of more than two dozen sign languages, phonetically-informed historical reconstruction for sign languages, the effects of prosody on eye gaze in reading tasks in English, the history of language construction, and linguistics pedagogy.

I've adapted Cascadilla Press's original IPA Bingo for the specific notation I use when teaching the phonology of general North American English (calling cards, bingo cards), and I worked with Fatimi Hamlaoui in adapting these materials for French (calling cards, bingo cards).

I've also designed two new educational games for learning the Internatinal Phonetic Alphabet: IPA Discard (rules, cards), a shedding card game based on Crazy Eights for learning IPA consonants; and IPA Hunt (rules and playsheet), a guessing game based on Battleship for learning IPA vowels.


Fall 2019:
LIN 197: Language and Social Justice
LIN 200: Introduction to Language
LIN 228: Phonetics

Winter 2020:
LIN 200: Introduction to Language
LIN 305: Quantitative Methods in Linguistics
LIN 402: Linguistic Typology and Constructed Languages

other courses taught:
phonology, syntax, semantics, historical linguistics, research methods


SB in Mathematics, minor in Linguistics, MIT (1996)

MA and PhD in Linguistics, University of California, Santa Cruz (2000, 2003)

PhD dissertation: Opacity and sound change in the Polish lexicon [ PDF ]

Recent Work

— 2019 —

Napoli, Donna Jo, and Nathan Sanders. Under review. Iconicity and biomechanics in the historical reconstruction of sign languages: A case study of the movement parameter in the Old LSF family. [ PDF (draft) ]

Punske, Jeffrey, Amy Fountain, and Nathan Sanders, eds. In progress (expected 2019). Language invention for linguistics pedagogy. Oxford University Press.

Sanders, Nathan. In progress. A primer on constructed languages. In Punske et al. (eds.), Language invention for linguistics pedagogy. [ PDF (draft) ]

Sanders, Nathan, and Christine Schreyer. In progress. Moving beyond linguistics: The interdisciplinarity of conlangs. In Punske et al. (eds.), Language invention for linguistics pedagogy.

Sanders, Nathan. In progress (expected 2019/2020). A modular introduction to phonetics and phonology [tentative title]. Oxford University Press.

Knowles, Rebecca, and Nathan Sanders. In progress. Data driven approaches. In Nancy Ritter and Harry van der Hulst (eds.), Handbook of vowel harmony. Oxford University Press.

— 2018 —

Sanders, Nathan. 2018. Articulation versus perception in sign language movement. Invited talk given at Gallaudet University. [ PDF (slides) ]

Sanders, Nathan. 2018. Some issues in the perceptual phonetics of sign language: Motion-in-depth and the horizontal-vertical illusion. Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics 40. Special issue from the CRC-Sponsored Phonetics/Phonology Workshops. [ PDF ]

Sanders, Nathan. 2018. Articulatory and perceptual patterns in sign language lexicons. Keynote speech at the 11th Annual Toronto Undergraduate Linguistics Conference [TULCon11]. [ PDF (slides) ]

Sanders, Nathan. 2018. A case study in teaching linguistics to middle school students with language-based learning differences. Poster presentation in Expanding the Reach of Linguistics: Collaborations with Other Disciplines and Beyond, organized session at the 92nd Annual Meeting of the Linguistics Society of America. [ PDF (poster) ] [ PDF (materials) ]

— 2017 —

Sanders, Nathan. 2017. Some issues in the perceptual phonetics of sign language: Motion-in-depth and the horizontal-vertical illusion. Talk given at the 2017 CRC-Sponsored Summer Phonetics/Phonology Workshop at the University of Toronto. [ PDF (handout) ]

Sanders, Nathan. 2017. Scales of effort in sign language articulation and perception. Invited talk at the University of Delaware. [ PDF (slides) ]

Sanders, Nathan. 2017. What sign languages tell us about phonetics: Expanding the notion of articulatory effort. Invited talk at the University of Toronto on joint work with Donna Jo Napoli. [ PDF (slides) ]

Sanders, Nathan. 2017. Constructed languages as a bridge to interdisciplinary teaching. Presentation in Teaching Linguistics with Invented Languages, organized session at the 91st Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America. [ PDF (slides) ]

— 2016 —

Sanders, Nathan, and Donna Jo Napoli. 2016. A cross-linguistic preference for torso stability in the lexicon: Evidence from 24 sign languages. Sign Language & Linguistics 19(2). 197–231. [ PDF (preprint) ] [ DOI ]

Sanders, Nathan, and Donna Jo Napoli. 2016. Signs of efficiency: Maintaining torso stability affects sign language vocabulary. Natural History 124(9). 28–32. [ PDF ]

Sanders, Nathan. 2016. Constructed languages in the classroom. Language 92(3). e192–e204. [ DOI ]

Sanders, Nathan, and Donna Jo Napoli. 2016. Reactive effort as a factor that shapes sign language lexicons. Language 92(2). 275–297. [ DOI ]

Sanders, Nathan. 2016. nslxIPA. Unicode IPA keyboard layout and documentation. v1.0. [ website ]

— older work —


• boardgames
• TV shows
• photography

Other Links

• my full CV, as of April 2019 (PDF)
• OTtablx (beta version), LaTeX package for drawing OT tableaux
• nslxIPA, keyboard layout for IPA symbols on Macs
• Language Log, a linguistics blog
• Jonathan Dowse's awesome clickable IPA chart