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Karen Emmorey

Distinguished Career Award

The Society for the Neurobiology of Language is pleased to announce the 2020 Distinguished Career Award winner: Karen Emmorey.

The Distinguished Career Award is generously sponsored by Language, Cognition and Neuroscience.

Karen EmmoreyHand it to sign languages

Speaker: Karen Emmorey, Distinguished Professor, San Diego State University, California, USA

Sign languages and the deaf and hearing people who use them have taught us a tremendous amount about the neurobiology of language. Only by studying sign languages can we understand what is universal to all human languages and what properties depend on the auditory-vocal or visual-manual modalities. Further, some questions are best answered with sign languages, such as whether iconicity (motivated form-meaning mappings) impacts neural representation or processing. Bimodal bilinguals (those who know a spoken and a signed language) offer unique insights into language representation and control because their two languages do not share phonological features or an orthography. Deaf bilinguals also provide insights into the neurobiology of reading because they reveal alternative paths to skilled reading. This talk will provide a personal walk through these issues, highlighting some of what we have learned and what exciting questions remain.

About Karen Emmorey

Dr. Karen Emmorey is a Distinguished Professor at San Diego State University where she is the Director of the Laboratory for Language and Cognitive Neuroscience. During her career she has made many outstanding contributions to our understanding of the neurobiology of language. Trained as a linguist at the University of California, Los Angeles, Dr. Emmorey started her career studying voice recognition, morphemic parsing, and prosody. She then moved to the Salk Institute, San Diego, where she quickly became one of the main figures leading the development of sign language research, not only from a linguistic perspective but also from neurobiological and psycholinguistic perspectives. Her research, consistently funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, has brought users of sign languages into the mainstream of behavioral and neuroscience research for what they tell us about how language is organized in the brain; about the constraints and plasticity associated with language in a visual modality; and about the consequences of bilingualism for hearing individuals who both sign and speak. Her contributions to all these areas have been novel and transformational.

Dr. Emmorey has authored over 300 peer-reviewed publications and 4 books (including “Language, cognition, and the brain: Insights from sign language research”, cited over 1,000 times). She has served as Chair of the Linguistics section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2018 and was recognized as a Fellow of the Linguistics Society of America in 2019.

Dr. Emmorey’s impact is not limited to her own research. She is a strong and energetic leader who has acted as a supervisor and mentor to a large number of researchers and students, both deaf and hearing. She brings a special collaborative energy to her research so that researchers, as well as members of her research communities, are brought into the center of her research program. The Society for the Neurobiology of Language is extremely lucky that she brought this energy and leadership to bear during her term as Chair of SNL (2017/18).  We congratulate Dr. Emmorey as an extremely well-qualified recipient of the SNL Distinguished Career Award 2020.