Jeffrey L. Elman
In recognition of Jeff Elman’s many contributions to the field of cognitive science, the Cognitive Science Society is pleased to award the annual Jeffrey L. Elman Prize for Scientific Achievement and Community Building. This award, presented each year at our Annual Meeting, is given to mid-career cognitive scientists (individuals or teams) whose accomplishments exemplify the twin strands of scientific excellence and commitment to community-building and service that were so evident in Jeff Elman’s career.
Award of the Jeffrey L. Elman Prize
The Elman Prize nominations and selection process occurs annually, with a call for nominations released in the fall and winners announced in winter. The prize consists of a hand-crafted, custom silver medal, a certificate, a citation of the awardee’s contributions, and a monetary award of $20,000.
Fundraising for the Endowment
The Cognitive Science Society established a special endowment for the Elman Prize, made possible through a very generous gift from Robert J Glushko & Pamela Samuelson Foundation and a matching transfer of funds from the Cognitive Science Society’s core endowment. Funds have also been raised through Jeff’s colleagues and students at UCSD. Others who wish to recognize and honor Jeff Elman and his notable contributions to cognitive science are able to designate donations specifically for this purpose. We encourage donations from all those with enthusiasm for the combination of science, community, and service contributions to cognitive science that Jeff Elman embodied. Your donations will enable the Society to celebrate Jeff’s legacy for many years to come.
Tax efficient giving The Cognitive Science Society is a registered 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization under the Internal Revenue Code, so US donors can qualify for an income tax deduction to the limits allowed by law. It also is possible to give tax efficiently through Transnational Giving Europe from the following European countries: Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Republic of Ireland, Switzerland, and The Netherlands. To donate and claim tax relief please contact your national foundations and explain that you wish to make a gift to the Cognitive Science Society.
Contributions to the field of cognitive science
Jeffrey L. Elman made several major contributions to the theoretical foundations of human cognition, most notably in the areas of language and development. His work had, and continues to have, an immense impact across fields as diverse as cognitive science, psycholinguistics, developmental psychology, evolutionary theory, computer science and linguistics. Among other honors he was awarded the Rumelhart Prize by the Cognitive Science Society in 2007.
Community building and service
In addition to the many important intellectual contributions Jeffrey Elman made to Cognitive Science, he also was an inspiring scientific citizen who is remembered for his generosity and mentorship. His community building and service were wide-ranging. In addition to serving as president of the Cognitive Science Society (1999-2000) and on its Governing Board for two terms (1994-2000; 2008-2012), he made many other contributions to the field. He contributed to the international presence of Cognitive Science, serving as Co-Director, Central and Eastern European Center for Cognitive Science, New Bulgarian University and advisor at National Taiwan University. He served extensively at the NIH in grant reviewing, serving on and later chairing the LCOM Study Section. And in addition to editing the journal Cognitive Science, he edited an influential monograph series at the MIT press and served on the editorial board of numerous journals.
Jeff Elman died of a heart attack on June 28, 2018. He was planning to attend CogSci 2018 to participate in a symposium on Event Predictive Cognition. At CogSci 2019 there was a symposium in his memory. In 2020 Jenny Saffran was the inaugural recipient of the Jeffrey L. Elman Prize for Scientific Achievement and Community Building.
Elman Prize Selection Committee:
The Jeffrey L. Elman Prize is administered by the Prize Selection Committee under the direction of the Cognitive Science Society Governing Board. Screening of nominees and selection of the prize winner is performed by the Prize Selection Committee.
Nora Newcombe (Committee Chair)
2020 Recipient - Jenny Saffran
The recipient of the inaugural Jeffrey L. Elman Prize for Scientific Achievement and Community Building is Jenny Saffran. This honor will be celebrated at the CogSci 2020 conference in Toronto with a prize and dedicated symposium.
Jenny Saffran received her BA in cognitive science from Brown University, then completed a PhD in psychology at the University of Rochester with Elissa Newport and Richard Aslin. She has been on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison since 1997. In 2005 she was appointed full professor and in 2018 she became the Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor.
Jenny Saffran’s interests concern a seminal question in cognitive science: How do children acquire language? Acquiring language depends on a combination of innate structure and learning from experience. Saffran and her colleagues developed laboratory methods to study the experiential input to infant language learning to test specific theories about how learning unfolds. Her experimental research demonstrates, quite remarkably, that humans, including infants, acquire language by tracking statistical information available in the environment. For example, infants learn to segment words by relying on statistical probabilities. Across a language, the transitional probability from one sound to the next will generally be greatest when the two sounds follow one another within a word than across words, as when (in English) the sounds ‘preh’ and ‘tee’ are more likely to follow one another within a word (‘pretty’) than are the sounds ‘tee’ and bay’ (although they sometimes do, when we say, ‘pretty baby’).
At the same time, Saffran recognizes that even the most powerful learners are not blank slates, and has sought to delineate constraints on learning. Her experimental results suggest that learners can use statistical cues to acquire hierarchical phrase structure, an abstract component of linguistic syntax. In particular, she has demonstrated that some computations are favored over others, and that these constraints on learning are related to natural language structure. These results support the emerging perspective that, rather than evolving in a vacuum, human languages evolve to fit the human learner. By comparing statistical learning in linguistic versus nonlinguistic domains, her research offers a direct, innovative way to test the hypothesis that the uniqueness of human language resides in the nature of human learning and not in some specialized language-specific modules within the brain.
Saffran is a community builder in her teaching, in her lab, at the University of Wisconsin, and for cognitive science. First, she has worked tirelessly to improve undergraduate students’ experiences at the university. For example, she developed an innovative peer-tutoring program in her large-enrollment Child Development class. Second, as leader of a very active and productive lab, she has built a supportive and nurturing community for training the next generation of scholars. Saffran encourages students to develop their own research questions and ideas, and she serves as a supportive guide along this path. Third, she plays a central role in her department and at her university. For example, she played a key role in the recent reorganization of the Language Sciences program at Wisconsin. Fourth, Saffran is a generous collaborator who has forged close ties with researchers who study developmental disorders, in an effort to understand the underlying causes of language delays and differences, she collaborates with researchers who study animal cognition, and has worked on methodological issues in infant research. In all aspects, Saffran advances the cognitive science community.
The Cognitive Science Society is pleased to announce the establishment of the CogSci Grove which aims to mobilise cognitive scientists to offset carbon emissions associated with their professional activities. To date, 1681 trees have been planted in protected sites in the Scottish Highlands where they will create homes for wildlife and forests for the future.