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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

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Karen Emmorey Karen Emmorey

Speech, Language Professor Named AAAS Fellow

Karen Emmorey will present research on bilingual speakers at the 2011 AAAS meeting.
By Golda Akhgarnia

Karen Emmorey, professor in SDSU’s School of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, has been named a 2010 Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), a top honor for researchers in all areas of science.

Emmorey is one of three Fellows chosen from the AAAS linguistics section and the fifth SDSU faculty member to receive the honor. She was nominated by peers in her program for her research on sign language and what it reveals about the nature of human language, cognition and the brain.

“What’s exciting about being a AAAS Fellow is that it’s a recognition of my achievement, not just in my own field of linguistics, but within the general sciences, and that’s very thrilling,” Emmorey said.

New findings on bilinguals

Emmorey will present her research during a symposium, titled “Crossing Borders in Language Science: What Bilinguals Tell Us about Mind and Brain,” on Feb. 18 at the 2011 AAAS annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

During the symposium, Emmorey and several other researchers will discuss the cognitive advantages found in people that speak more than one language. 

“When you speak two languages, you have to inhibit one when you speak the other. This ability to control languages leads to non-linguistic advantages in cognitive control, and it may even protect against Alzheimer’s disease.”

Emmorey’s research focuses on bimodal bilinguals, those who know spoken and sign languages. The inhibition requirements are quite different since one can produce a word and a sign at the same time.

According to Emmorey, bimodal bilinguals will sometimes do that, and much more often than switching between signing and speaking. Since it is not possible to produce words in two different languages at the same time, this has interesting implications for cognitive control.

Advantages to being bilingual

Emmorey added that bimodal bilinguals see advantages in other domains as well.

“With American Sign Language (ASL), you have to pay attention to facial features to understand the language, so ASL speakers tend to discriminate facial features better than non-ASL speakers.

“This is a skill that’s applicable to spoken language as well, as you can see differences in people’s faces while they’re talking, specifically in their eyes and mouths.”

Be it spoken or signed, research shows that knowing any kind of second language is beneficial. Language experience affects cognitive processing and brain organization in a positive way, and can improve certain abilities, and even job prospects, as there is a huge need for ASL English interpreters, said Emmorey.

AAAS Fellows

This year, 503 AAAS members were named fellows based on their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. Their names will be published in the Jan. 28 issue of the journal Science.

Other SDSU faculty members who have been named AAAS Fellows include:

The tradition of AAAS Fellows began in 1874. Currently, members can be considered for the rank of Fellow if nominated by the steering groups of the association’s 24 sections, or by any three Fellows who are current AAAS members (so long as two of the three sponsors are not affiliated with the nominee's institution), or by the AAAS chief executive officer. Each steering group then reviews the nominations of individuals within its respective section and a final list is forwarded to the AAAS Council, which votes on the aggregate list.