The recipient of the eighteenth David E. Rumelhart Prize is Michael Tanenhaus, who over the course of 40 years gradually transformed our understanding of human language and its relation to perception, action and communication. Tanenhaus is a Chair Professor in the School of Psychology at Nanjing Normal University, and is the Beverly Petterson Bishop and Charles W. Bishop Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester.
Michael Tanenhaus was a founding member and served as Director of the Center for Language Sciences and the PI for center’s NIH-supported interdisciplinary training program for twenty years. He received an undergraduate degree in Speech and Hearing Science from University of Iowa and PhD in Cognitive Psychology from Columbia.
Through ingenious theory development, experimentation, and computational modeling, Tanenhaus has shown that language comprehension is goal-directed and highly interactive. As we hear a sentence unfold, our interpretation at each level–phonological, lexical, syntactic and semantic–is affected by our higher level knowledge (such as our goals and understanding of the situation) and by fine-grained information from perception that has been passed up the processing chain. His work on language both informs and is informed by other aspects of cognition, including visual and auditory perception, attention, representation, and social-pragmatic interaction. Throughout his career he has engaged in a two-way dialog with formal and computational linguistics – through work on lexicalized grammars, phonemic encoding, prosody and, most recently, pragmatics.
The breadth of Tanenhaus’ thinking, combined with his uncanny experimental skills, have inspired a new generation of researchers to take a fresh look at what it means to communicate. His impact has been amplified by his former students who have taken his insights and applied them to new questions at psychology, linguistics and cognitive science departments around the world.
The David E. Rumelhart Prize is awarded annually to an individual or collaborative team making a significant contemporary contribution to the theoretical foundations of human cognition. Contributions may be formal in nature: mathematical modeling of human cognitive processes, formal analysis of language and other products of human cognitive activity, and computational analyses of human cognition using symbolic or non-symbolic frameworks all fall within the scope of the award.