Elissa L. Newport, Ph.D., is Professor of Neurology, Rehabilitation Medicine, Psychology, and Linguistics, Co-Director of the Ph.D. Concentration in Cognitive Science, and Director of the Center for Brain Plasticity and Recovery at Georgetown University. She moved to Georgetown in 2012, after 24 years at the University of Rochester, where she was the George Eastman Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and served for 12 years as Department Chair. Her primary research interests are in language acquisition in healthy children and recovery of language after pediatric stroke. Her research has been funded by the NIH since 1980. She has received the NIH Claude Pepper Award of Excellence, the APS William James Lifetime Achievement Award for Basic Research, the Benjamin Franklin Institute Medal for Computer and Cognitive Science, the Norman A. Anderson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for Experimental Psychology, and this year the American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award. She has been a member of the National Academy of Sciences since 2004.

Research Interests

My research focuses on language acquisition, with an interest in the mechanisms that underlie this remarkable type of pattern learning. I study language acquisition in children as compared with adults, to understand how young children learn their native languages with ease and why they surpass adults in this ability. We have proposed a type of learning known as 'statistical learning,' and we have developed techniques for assessing the computational mechanisms underlying such learning. We also study natural sign languages that are learned in a variety of unusual circumstances, permitting us to ask what types of linguistic structure appear in children who receive little or no linguistic input, and how young children exposed to reduced linguistic input can nonetheless make languages more regular and more complex. Taken together, these lines of work suggest that humans display an extraordinary ability to develop and learn languages and shed light on the processes by which they accomplish these feats. Our most recent research investigates the brain mechanisms that underlie language learning, by examining neural activation to language in healthy children and also by studying the outcome when the normal brain regions for language are damaged by stroke in infancy and early childhood.

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Primary Section

Section 52: Psychological and Cognitive Sciences

Secondary Section

Section 51: Anthropology