Linguistics Department’s Lisa Selkirk Recognized as American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Fellow
Wednesday, February 1, 2023
Wednesday, February 1, 2023
Lisa Selkirk, professor emerita in the College of Humanities & Fine Arts Department of Linguistics, is one of two UMass Amherst professors to be recognized this year as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). AAAS is the world’s largest multidisciplinary scientific society and a leading publisher of cutting-edge research through its “Science” family of journals.
The esteemed honor recognizes Selkirk for her distinguished contributions leading to the development of a new field in linguistics, the phonology-syntax interface, which examines how the arrangement of words and phrases relates to how languages or dialects systematically organize their sounds.
“I feel very proud that my career-long research concerning the phonology-syntax interface in the theory of grammar has been recognized in my being named a fellow of the AAAS,” Selkirk says. “My dissertation on English and French looked at the way the syntactic structure of a sentence constrains the distribution of elements of the sound system of a language, for example the deletiion vs. maintenance of word-final consonants, or the quality of vowels. This grew into a lifelong project of understanding how the syntactic structure that organizes the words of a sentence may influence the pronunciation of a sentence.”
Selkirk joins the ranks of previous AAAS fellows from the UMass Amherst Department of Linguistics, including Barbara Partee, distinguished university professor emerita of linguistics and philosophy; Angelika Kratzer, professor emerita of linguistics; and John McCarthy, distinguished university professor and provost emeritus.
“This is a significant recognition of her contributions to the field over many years,” says Joe Pater, professor and chair of the Department of Linguistics.
For her contributions, Selkirk will be acknowledged with a certificate and rosette, and invited to attend the annual Fellows Forum in Washington, D.C., in spring 2023.
During her time as a professor at UMass Amherst, Selkirk’s areas of research have included phonology, studies how languages or dialects systematically organize their sounds; prosody, the rhythm, stress, and intonation of speech; and interfaces of phonology with syntax and semantics. Her work has focused mostly on the English and Japanese languages.
Among Selkirk’s notable research is a paper on syntax-semantics-pragmatics-phonology of information structure, “Deconstructing information structure,” which she co-authored with Kratzer. It was published in Glossa: a journal of general linguistics in 2020.
Of her recognition, Selkirk writes:
I feel very proud that my career-long research concerning the phonology-syntax interface in the theory of grammar has been recognized in my being named a fellow of the AAAS. This work has involved contributions to the theory of prosodic structure in phonological representation and of the theory of the relation of prosodic constituent structure to syntactic constituent structure. In my most recent work I have argued for an important refinement of the theory of the syntax-phonology interface which provides a more explanatory account of the relation between the output representation of the (morpho-) syntactic component of the grammar and the output representation of the phonological component. The novelty is in positing an input representation for the phonological component that contains a prosodic structure representation which essentially “spells out” the output morphosyntactic structure representation of the sentence. This input prosodic representation is then related to the output representation of a sentence by a set of properly phonological constraints on the well-formedness of prosodic structure in the output representation.
My research path in this area began with my 1972 doctoral dissertation at the MIT Department of Lingusitics: The Phrasal Phonology of English and French. In subsequent years the notion that a properly phonological constituent structure involves syllable structure, foot structure, prosodic word structure and prosodic phrase structure was central in my research. In my most recent work, the new proposal is put forward that prosodic structure at the word-level and the phrase-level essentially spells out (=directly relates to) the morphosyntactic structure of the sentence and forms part of the input representation of the phonological component, not just of the output representation. The prosodic structure of the phonological output representation is determined by properly phonological constraints, as well as by constraints on the relation between the phonological input and output representations.
I joined the Department of Linguistics at UMass Amherst in 1974, after two years of postdoctoral work and teaching in France. My research over the years at UMass has involved the investigation and analysis of structure-sensitive phonological phenomena in a broad range of languages. Much of this research has been given external support, first by an ACLS fellowship and then by three research grants from the National Science Foundation.
AAAS was founded in 1848 and includes more than 250 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. It is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science, as well as Science Translational Medicine; Science Signaling; a digital, open-access journal, Science Advances; Science Immunology; and Science Robotics.
To learn more about AAAS, visit aaas.org.