Renowned language researcher Elissa Newport, chair of the University of Rochester's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, has been elected a member of the American Philosophical Society.
The Philosophical Society is a highly selective body of leading intellectuals and artists in all disciplines from physical sciences to the humanities. Founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin, the organization is older than the country itself. Thirty new members are elected each year and they remain members for life.
An expert in the field of language acquisition, Newport has done pioneering work on how humans and other animals learn to communicate. She is currently focusing on the mechanisms by which children learn languages, both in the field and in the laboratory. Along with colleagues, she is developing a theoretical approach to language acquisition called statistical learning, which postulates that humans learn language by detecting statistical information about patterns in sound sequences. Their evidence shows that, in addition to absorbing and reproducing language patterns from the language they are taught, young children are capable of remedying inconsistencies and inventing new structures in those languages.
Newport is the George Eastman Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester, and has been the chair of that department for 12 years. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Psychological Society, and the Cognitive Science Society (of which she is on the governing board). She is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences, where she just became the chair of the psychology section.
Newport received her doctorate in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and was a Sloan Fellow in Linguistics and Cognitive Science at Penn and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has been on the faculty at the University of California at San Diego, the University of Illinois, and, since 1988, the University of Rochester.