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Psychology professor honored for lifetime achievement (Released: 1/8/97)

by Sherry Fisher, Office of University Communications.

STORRS, Conn. -- An emeritus professor of psychology whose research focuses on the psychology of language has been honored for his achievements by the American Psychological Association.

Alvin M. Liberman has been awarded the Ernest Hilgard Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the field of psychology. He will receive the award at the APA's annual meeting in Chicago.

"By this award, Professor Liberman brings further distinction to a department that he has already graced with his academic leadership, superb scholarship, and distinguished career," said Ronald Growney, chairman of the psychology department.

Liberman joined the department in 1949. He was its head from 1961-1969, and retired from the University in 1987.

For five decades, Liberman has conducted research on speech perception. Speech is a natural but complex process, Liberman said. "It is the only natural communication system that is open," Liberman said. "All animal communication is closed."

An animal can communicate a fixed number of messages. "With language, human beings can encode an infinite number," he said.

Speech, a product of biological evolution, is the most obvious and arguably the most important of our human characteristics, Liberman said.

Liberman investigates the relationship between the sounds of speech and the phonetic message that the sounds convey. His work focuses on "how speech circumvents the limitations of tongue and ear by a specific code that enables human beings to speak and enables them to perceive speech at rates that transmit anywhere from 10 to 20 consonants and vowels per second."

Liberman received his Ph.D. from Yale University. From 1967-1987, he split his time between Yale's linguistics faculty and UConn's psychology department. He now conducts research at Haskins Laboratories, where he was president and director of research from 1975-1986.

Liberman was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1977 and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences the same year. He received the 1988 F. O. Schmitt Medal and Prize in Neuroscience and the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association in 1980. He received a Warren Medal from the Society of Experimental Psychologists and a medal from the College de France. He is a Docteur Honoris Causa at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles and has an honorary doctor of science degree from the State University of New York at Binghamton. He received a University of Connecticut Alumni Association Award for Excellence in Research and a University of Connecticut Alumni Association Distinguished Professor award.

Still active in his retirement, Liberman, who has written dozens of journal articles and a book, currently has four articles soon to be published.