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Standing Room Only as Distinguished Scholar-Teacher Jeff Lidz Declares Children Human

On November 19th, scores of language scientists joined members of the wider campus community to hear Jeff Lidz, Distinguished Scholar-Teacher, answer the timeless question: “Are Children Human? (The View from Language Acquisition)”. The room was filled to capacity as Jeff showed how familiar examples of children’s language use demonstrate knowledge of complex linguistic structure, and how humans’ understanding of quantity words like 'most' reveals that language meaning is built not only from experience but is shaped by the human mind.

Whether you know Jeff as a colleague, teacher, or mentor, the news that the University of Maryland is honoring him as a Distinguished Scholar-Teacher comes as no surprise. Each year, the University of Maryland bestows this title on a small handful of faculty members who, “as men and women of outstanding scholarly accomplishment, combined with excellence in teaching, personify our image of the professoriate.” 

Jeff is known internationally for his research in linguistics and cognitive science, with a breadth that few can match. His expertise spans lab-based studies with infants and children, fieldwork in India, computational modeling, psychophysical studies with adults, and comparative linguistic analyses. In his research and teaching he collaborates with experts from philosophy, psychology, education, hearing & speech sciences, second language acquisition, and computer science. He pulls together all of these areas in order to answer fundamental questions about the human ability to learn and use language.

Mentoring and teaching are closely intertwined with Jeff’s research, and his classes and busy child language lab bring together graduate and undergraduate students at all stages of their education. Many undergraduate students have had their first exposure to language research in Jeff’s lab, and many of these have gone on to graduate school and careers in related areas.

Jeff is also a leader in bringing language science to a broader audience: he developed a language science outreach program that has reached over a thousand K-12 students and families in the past 5 years. His talk was a great illustration of his capacity to make language science research accessible and relevant to all.

One of only five faculty members across the university to be named Distinguished Scholar-Teachers this year, Jeff joins a select group of recipients since the award was established in 1978, including a handful of fellow language science faculty: Paul Pietroski (2007-2008), Howard Lasnik (2008-2009), Colin Phillips (2011-2012), and Carol Espy-Wilson (2012-2013).

In case you missed the talk or want to relive the experience, the video is posted in two parts on our Vimeo page: Part I, Part II.