At the University of Michigan, we are fortunate to have a number of faculty outside of the Linguistics Department who consistently demonstrate strong research commitments to linguistic issues through their partnerships with Linguistics faculty and students. We dedicate this academic year’s first installment of our blog series "Linguists outside of Linguistics" to Professor Susan Gelman, Interim Dean for the College of Literature, Science and the Arts and Heinz Werner Distinguished University Professor of Psychology.
Professor Gelman’s language-related research has primarily focused on the nature of children’s early semantic representations, how children solve the problem of induction, that is, how they acquire linguistic elements that pose challenges to simple learning models (e.g., associationist views of learning) that are prominent in psychology, and how subtle variations in wording affect children’s conceptual representations. The exploration of these topics has led her to study noun-noun compounds, proper vs. common nouns, nouns vs. adjectives, and generic noun phrases which she has analyzed from a semantic, acquisitional, and conceptual standpoint. Her work on generics culminated in her influential book The Essential Child (Oxford University Press, 2003), which received book awards from the American Psychological Association (Division 7) and the Cognitive Development Society. She has studied children learning English, Mandarin (with Twila Tardif), and Quechua (with Bruce Mannheim). In the Linguistics department, she is currently collaborating with Marlyse Baptista and Erica Beck on an OVPR-sponsored project examining convergence in creole genesis and she has just served as the external member of Erica Beck’s Ph.D. committee.
Besides her current position as LSA Interim Dean for the year, Professor Gelman has assumed key functions in the College, including Associate Dean for the Social Sciences, Assistant to the Dean of Faculty Appointments, and a member of the College Executive Committee. Within Psychology, she was the President of the Cognitive Development Society, and she is currently on the Board of the Association for Psychological Science.
Her research has received external funds from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (part of NIH), the National Science Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, among others.
Professor Gelman is a highly respected scholar in her field and one of its leading figures; she is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Association for Psychological Science, the American Psychological Association, and the Cognitive Science Society. She received the Distinguished Faculty Achievement Award from Rackham this year and was elected in 2012 to the National Academy of Sciences.