2015 William James Fellow Award

Susan Goldin-Meadow

University of Chicago

Susan Goldin-Meadow is internationally renowned for her groundbreaking research on children’s invention of symbolic communication systems. In her early work, she investigated deaf children whose hearing losses prevented them from acquiring a spoken language and who had not been taught a sign language. She discovered that despite these extremely impoverished conditions, these children were nonetheless able to invent their own gestural symbolic systems (called homesign). Her subsequent cross-linguistic studies have revealed that homesign systems are found around the world and that they share some key semantic and structural properties with each other and with spoken language. This work—summarized in her important treatise, The Resilience of Language—has led to profound insights on the nature of the human capacity for language acquisition.

Goldin-Meadow also pioneered another major area of investigation: the role of gesture in revealing and guiding cognition. She has shown that gesture can serve as a window to the mind, revealing aspects of cognition that are normally implicit and difficult to observe. In her influential work on the role of gesture in learning, she found that when children are learning a new principle, some understanding of the principle often shows up in gesture before the child can express the idea verbally. Further, variability in children’s gestures can be an indicator of readiness for conceptual change. Goldin-Meadow’s influential book, Hearing Gesture: How Our Hands Help Us Think, is the definitive treatise on the role of gesture in cognition. Her work has inspired a large number of studies of gesture in learning and development.

Susan Goldin-Meadow’s research examines deep, enduringly important issues about the nature of human thought and language. Her massive influence on the field stems both from her trail-blazing research and from her lucid exposition of the implications of her work for human cognition.

See Goldin-Meadow’s award address presented at the 2015 APS Annual Convention in New York, NY, USA.