Susan Goldin-Meadow is a psychologist recognized for her work on the emergence of language. She is known particularly for her studies of homesign – gestural systems created by individual deaf children who cannot learn spoken language and have not been exposed to sign language – and on the spontaneous gestures that hearing (and deaf) individuals produce when they talk or sign. Goldin-Meadow was born in New York City and grew up in Hillsdale, NJ. She graduated from Smith College in 1971 with a BA in psychology, and from the University of Pennsylvania in 1975 with a Ph.D. in psychology. While at Smith, she spent her junior year abroad in Geneva, Switzerland, where she took courses with Jean Piaget and got hooked on studying language and children in naturalistic settings. She joined the faculty of the University of Chicago in 1976. She has been president of the Association for Psychological Sciences, the International Society for Gesture Studies, and the Cognitive Development Society, and chair of the Cognitive Science Society, and both the Psychology and Linguistics sections of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She is the founding editor of the journal, Language Learning and Development, and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Research Interests

Goldin-Meadow's research focuses on the most basic building blocks of language and thought as they are developed in early childhood. She studies deaf children who have not been exposed to usable input from either a spoken or signed language. These children nevertheless create their own gesture systems, and those gestures are structured like natural language. Her research has thus uncovered linguistic components so fundamental to language that they will arise in a child's communication system even if that child has no access to linguistic input. Goldin-Meadow has also studied the spontaneous gestures learners, both hearing and deaf, produce when they talk or sign, and has discovered that these gestures can reveal the learner's readiness-to-learn language, math, and scientific concepts. Spontaneous gesture thus offers a privileged window onto thought, often conveying knowledge that the gesturer is unable to express in speech. Among Goldin-Meadow's numerous research findings are that blind children, who have never seen anyone gesture, move their hands when they talk. These congenitally blind children not only gesture, but their gestures look just like the gestures sighted children produce when they talk, a finding that highlights the robustness of gesture and its tight relation to speech. Goldin-Meadow is also the principal investigator of the Language Development Project, a longitudinal study funded since 2002 by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The goal of the project is to explore the extent and limits of the language-learning process in 60 typically developing children and 40 children with pre- or post-natal brain injury.

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Section 52: Psychological and Cognitive Sciences