Partee Awarded Benjamin Franklin Medal

Professor Emerita honored for contributions to computer and cognitive science
Barbara Partee
Barbara Partee

AMHERST, Mass. — Distinguished University Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy Emerita, Barbara Partee has been awarded the 2020 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Computer and Cognitive Science for her "foundational contributions that synthesize insights from linguistics, philosophy, logic, and psychology to understand how words and sentences combine to express meaning in human language," by The Franklin Institute.

According to the Institute's website, "Since 1824, The Franklin Institute of Philadelphia has honored the legacy of Benjamin Franklin by presenting awards for outstanding achievements in science, engineering, and industry. Past laureates include Thomas Edison, Marie Curie, Claude Shannon, Jane Goodall, Nikola Tesla, Stephen Hawking, Edward Lorenz, the Wright Brothers, Bill Gates, and Albert Einstein." Partee is one of ten internationally-recognized scholars honored with a Franklin Institute Award this year.

In a statement describing her merits, The Franklin Institute says, "A teacher, scholar, and thinker as original and wide-ranging as Barbara Partee is rare. Partee is one of the pioneers of the burgeoning field of linguistics." the Institute acknowledges. “In particular, Partee has been instrumental in forging new connections between formal logic and natural language. Language is ultimately a code, encoded by a speaker to be interpreted by a listener. Partee applies concepts in logic and semantics to untangle that code. Her work opened a new field of linguistics—she is considered the founder of formal semantics. Partee’s contributions to understanding language, in a way that envelops linguistics, philosophy, logic, and psychology, have been key shaping concepts in computer science and cognitive science."

"This richly deserved award is a great testament to Barbara’s impact on the field, and we could add, our department and University," says Joe Pater, professor and chair of the department of linguistics. "Since the area of the award is Computer and Cognitive Science, it's worth noting that we owe much of our University's current strength in Cognitive Science to Barbara, who with Michael Arbib of Computer Science co-directed the initiative that obtained the two rounds of Sloan Foundation funding that involved multiple faculty members and sowed the seeds for the development of this interdisciplinary area."

In 1972, Partee became one of the founding faculty members of the newly formed UMass Amherst department of linguistics, one of the first departments in the country to be dedicated to the study of formal linguistic theory. She was head of the department from 1987 to 1993, and became a distinguished professor in 1990. She retired in 2004 but continues to teach. Her direction and guidance were central to placing UMass Amherst's linguistics department at the top of the field; the department currently holds the number two spot in the QS Word rankings and the number three spot in the National Research Council rankings, the only department in the top three in both.