I was born in Washington, DC, the second deaf child of deaf parents who were both faculty at Gallaudet University. I attended pre-school and the first two grades at Kendall School for the Deaf on the Gallaudet campus. In third grade, I transferred to a public school and remained in the public school system until I graduated from high school. The experience of leaving a small and intimate school for deaf children for a large and unfamiliar public school was a long adjustment, one which I often describe as being “educated abroad.” My interest in language is deeply rooted in the experience of moving back and forth between different worlds, and communicating across cultures. I was often the only deaf child among hearing classmates, but at the end of the day, I could return home to where I was like my parents and my family.
My interest in language and culture led me to pursue a career in Linguistics. While an undergraduate at Georgetown University, I worked with Bill Stokoe at Gallaudet in the Linguistics Research Laboratory. After graduation, I worked briefly for the National Association of the Deaf before entering graduate school in Linguistics at UC San Diego where I studied with David Perlmutter and Ursula Bellugi at the Salk Institute. Upon completing my Ph.D in 1983, I accepted a faculty position in the Department of Communication at UC San Diego. I teach courses to hearing undergraduate and graduate students on mind and culture, gesture and language, including sign language. The Communication Department is an interdisciplinary department whose faculty view communication through the lens of critical studies. In addition to my central research questions, my work has also explored: history and contemporary life in Deaf culture, how adults and teachers plan reading instruction for young deaf children, and the future of Deaf people in the age of cochlear implants and genetic engineering.
I am married to Tom Humphries, and we have a daughter who is hearing and bilingual in ASL and spoken English. She holds a Ph.D in Molecular Biology from UC San Diego, and works at a biotechnology company in the Bay Area. Tom and I volunteer for a number of community organizations. My past service includes the Board of Directors of Deaf Community Services of San Diego, the Board of Trustees of Gallaudet University and the Board of Directors of the Deaf West Theater in Los Angeles, California.