Leading Australian psycholinguist named Fellow of Royal Society

4 May 2015

A Sydney researcher, whose ground-breaking work has been critical to understanding how humans acquire, use, comprehend and produce language, has been elected a Fellow of the prestigious Royal Society in the United Kingdom.

Professor Anne Cutler, Director of Research at the MARCS Institute – University of Western Sydney, was among 57 outstanding scientists named by the Society as Fellows and Foreign Fellows on 1 May 2015.

She is a leading figure internationally in psycholinguistics and pioneered the use of cross-linguistic psycholinguistic studies in order to derive a truly universal model of language development.

"Anne Cutler has explained some of the major puzzles concerning how listeners decode speech," The Royal Society said in a statement on its website. "She was the first to demonstrate that the mother tongue determines the way speech is segmented into units and that these units are different in different languages (syllable, stress, mora, respectively in French, English and Japanese).

"She has demonstrated that listeners adapt quickly to phonemic categories with different speakers and that this is done on the basis of abstract representations, and not episodic exemplars. She has also shown how prosodic context aids segmentation of the speech stream and has embedded a vast array of experimental findings into a coherent and widely accepted theoretical framework," the Society said.

NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer, Professor Mary O'Kane, congratulated Professor Cutler, who is also the Emeritus Director, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, The Netherlands, on her achievement.

"Anne has been a pioneer in the world of psycholinguistics and the importance of her work should not be underestimated," Professor O'Kane said. "Her research has shed new light on how infants learn to speak and had a significant impact on techniques for the teaching of second languages.

"I congratulate Anne on being elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. She is indeed a most worthy recipient of this honour," she said.

The Fellowship of the Royal Society is made up of the most eminent scientists, engineers and technologists from or living and working in the UK and the Commonwealth. Past Fellows and Foreign Members have included Newton, Darwin, Einstein and Hawking.

Pictured: NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer, Professor Mary O'Kane (left), watches on as Professor Anne Cutler speaks to representatives from government, business, the research sector and academia at the NSW Science & Research Breakfast Seminar in November 2014.