Lila R. Gleitman

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Lila Gleitman
Born(1929-12-10)December 10, 1929
New York City, US
DiedAugust 8, 2021(2021-08-08) (aged 91)
  • Linguist
  • professor
Known forCognitive science research
SpouseHenry Gleitman
External video
video icon “2013 APS Mentor Award Lila R. Gleitman”, 2017
video icon “Inside the Psychologist’s Studio with Lila Gleitman”, 2017
video icon “Lila R. Gleitman, University of Pennsylvania: Rome Wasn't Built in a Day But Maybe Latin Was", May 2017

Lila Ruth Gleitman (December 10, 1929 – August 8, 2021) was an American professor of psychology and linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. She was an internationally renowned expert on language acquisition and developmental psycholinguistics, focusing on children's learning of their first language.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Lila Ruth Lichtenberg was born in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn in 1929.[1] She graduated from James Madison High School.[2]

Her first marriage to Eugene Galanter ended in divorce.[2] She was married to fellow psychologist Henry Gleitman until his death on September 2, 2015. He also was a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. The Gleitmans had two daughters.[1] Lila Ruth Gleitman died on August 8, 2021, at the age of 91.[3]

Professional career[edit]

Gleitman was awarded a B.A. in literature from Antioch College in 1952, an M.A. in linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1962, and a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1967. She studied under Zellig Harris.[4]

She was employed as an assistant professor at Swarthmore College before accepting a position as the William T. Carter Professor of Education at the University of Pennsylvania from 1972 to 1973. Subsequently, she served as a professor of linguistics and as the Steven and Marcia Roth Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania from 1973 until her retirement.[5]

Gleitman is recognized as a pioneer of cognitive science. Her research led to the development of her renowned theory of syntactic bootstrapping.[2] The theory led Gleitman and Barbara Landau to pursue new explanations of how blind children can effortlessly acquire spoken language related to vision (e.g., the words "look", "see", and words about colors).[6] Gleitman's research interests included language acquisition, morphology and syntactic structure, psycholinguistics, syntax, and construction of the lexicon.[7] Notable former students include Elissa Newport, Barbara Landau, and Susan Goldin-Meadow.

The influence of Gleitman's research in language acquisition has been recognized by numerous organizations. She was elected as a fellow in the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science,[8] the Society of Experimental Psychologists,[9] the American Association for the Advancement of Science,[10] the American Academy of Arts & Sciences,[11] the Linguistic Society of America[12] and the National Academy of Sciences.[5][13] She won the David Rumelhart Prize in 2017.[1] She served as president of the Linguistic Society of America in 1993.[14][15]

Gleitman described her linguistic interests on the member page for the National Academy of Sciences:

One of my main interests concerns the architecture and semantic content of the mental lexicon, i.e., the psychological representation of the forms and meanings of words. My second major interest is in how children acquire both the lexicon and the syntactic structure of the native tongue.[8]

The New York Times noted that Gleitman built on work by linguist Noam Chomsky and "designed elegant experiments to show that syntax is hard-wired into the human brain".[2]

Major publications[edit]

(See [16] for a full list of publications)

  • Shipley, E., Smith, C., & Gleitman, L. (1969). A study in the acquisition of language: Free responses to commands. Language, 45(2), 322–342.
  • Gleitman, L., & Gleitman H. (1970). Phrase and paraphrase. NY: Norton.
  • Newport, E., Gleitman, H., & Gleitman, L. (1977). Mother, I'd rather do it myself: Some effects and non-effects of maternal speech style. In C. Snow & C. Ferguson (Eds.), Talking to children: Language input and acquisition. NY: Cambridge University Press.
  • Landau, B., & Gleitman, L. (1985). Language and experience: Evidence from the blind child. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. (Paperback published 1987)
  • Fowler, A. , Gelman, R., & Gleitman, L. (1994)"The Course of Language Learning in Children with Down Syndrome". In H. Flager-Flusberg (ed), Constraints on language acquisition: Studies of atypical children. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Gleitman, L.R., & Reisberg, D. (2011). Language. Revised In H. Gleitman, D. Reisberg & M. Gross (Eds.), Psychology (8th ed.) [16]
  • Gleitman, L.R., Liberman, M.Y., McLemore, C. Partee, B.H. (January 2019). The Impossibility of Language Acquisition (and How They Do It). Annual Review of Linguistics.[17]


  1. ^ a b c d "Rumelhart Prize". Cognitive Science Society. Retrieved 26 January 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d Risen, Clay (2021-08-27). "Lila Gleitman, Who Showed How Children Learn Language, Dies at 91". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-09-13.
  3. ^ "Lila Gleitman 1929-2021". Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved 26 January 2022.
  4. ^ Gleitman, Lila R.; Gleitman, Claire (4 January 2022). "Recollecting What We Once Knew: My Life in Psycholinguistics". Annual Review of Psychology. 73 (1): 1–23. doi:10.1146/annurev-psych-032921-053737. ISSN 0066-4308. PMID 34623924. S2CID 238530139. Retrieved 26 January 2022.
  5. ^ a b Wayne, Tiffany K. (2011). American women of science since 1900. Vol. 1. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. pp. 433–435. ISBN 9781598841589. Retrieved 26 January 2022.
  6. ^ Landau, Barbara; Gleitman, Lila R. (1985). Language and experience : evidence from the blind child. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-03989-6. OCLC 430105032.
  7. ^ "Google Scholar". Retrieved 2017-12-22.
  8. ^ a b "Lila R. Gleitman, PhD". Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences (FABBS). Retrieved 26 January 2022.
  9. ^ "Lila R. Gleitman: Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions". American Psychologist. 58 (11): 847–848. November 2003. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.58.11.847. ISSN 1935-990X. PMID 14609369. Retrieved 26 January 2022.
  10. ^ "John McGovern Lecture". AAAS - The World's Largest General Scientific Society. 2013-11-14. Retrieved 2017-12-22.
  11. ^ "Professor Lila R. Gleitman". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 2017-12-22.
  12. ^ "LSA Fellows By Name | Linguistic Society of America". Retrieved 2022-12-31.
  13. ^ "Lila R. Gleitman". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 26 January 2022.
  14. ^ "Presidents | Linguistic Society of America". Retrieved 2017-12-22.
  15. ^ "Q&A with Lila Gleitman | Penn Current". Retrieved 2017-12-22.
  16. ^ a b Gleitman, Lila (September 2012). "Lila R. Gleitman CV" (PDF).
  17. ^ Gleitman, Lila R.; Liberman, Mark Y.; McLemore, Cynthia A.; Partee, Barbara H. (2019-01-14). "The Impossibility of Language Acquisition (and How They Do It)". Annual Review of Linguistics. 5 (1): 1–24. doi:10.1146/annurev-linguistics-011718-011640. ISSN 2333-9683.

External links[edit]