Wilbur honored with Purdue's 2015 Research and Scholarship Distinction Award

September 23, 2015  

Ronnie Wilbur

Ronnie Wilbur 
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Professor Ronnie Wilbur, recognized as a pioneer for her interdisciplinary work in linguistics and speech, language and hearing sciences, is the recipient of the 2015 Purdue University Research and Scholarship Distinction Award.

The award honors Wilbur, who holds joint appointments in Linguistics and the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, for her work on the linguistic structure of American Sign Language, its perception and production by native deaf signers, and its application to deaf education.

 "Professor Wilbur is highly deserving of the 2015 Purdue Research and Scholarship Distinction Award for her three decades of interdisciplinary research in sign language," Suresh Garimella, Purdue's executive vice president for research and partnerships and the Goodson Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering, said Wednesday (Sept. 23) in announcing this year's winner. "She has blazed a new trail in our understanding of sign language and its relationship to the spoken language, is a dynamic researcher and teacher, exemplifies what this award that celebrates Purdue excellence in research and scholarship is all about."

As the 2015 awardee, Wilbur will deliver the keynote address at the Purdue Research and Scholarship Distinction Distinguished Lecture at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 9 in Stewart Center's Fowler Hall. Her talk is free and open to the public.

"With its non-traditional vision," Wilbur said, "Purdue has made it possible for me to work across college boundaries to collaborate with experts in other fields to help keep my research at the leading edge of my field."

Wilbur, who came to Purdue in 1980 as a visiting associate professor, has conducted groundbreaking research in sign language for three decades and is largely responsible for the genesis of empirical research in the area of sign language.

Technology, particularly the development of new methods for analyzing sign language parallel to what we can do for speech, is a high priority in her Lyles-Porter Hall laboratory, home to the only sign language research center in the Midwest.

Grants from the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation have furthered Wilbur's research into visual syllable structure, grammatical use of facial expression and word order, and how to use those sign language components in digital innovations for educating young deaf children in English and math.

She also is partnering on a National Institutes of Health project using computational techniques to perform automatic signed facial grammar recognition, which is aimed at speeding up the linguistic analysis process. "Sign language research is way behind that for spoken languages and we have to catch up quickly to fill the gaps," Wilbur said.

Collaborating with computer graphics technology professor Nicoletta Adamo-Villani of the Purdue Polytechnic Institute, Wilbur developed MathSigner, a computer-based tool using 3-D animated signers to teach students, parents and teachers sign language for K-2 math concepts.

A member of Purdue's Book of Great Teachers, Wilbur received the Helen B. Schleman Gold Medallion Award for her accomplishments related to women's issues, the Focus Award for service and the Seed for Success award for sponsored research funding in excess of $1 million.

Her teaching responsibilities include courses in general linguistics such as syntax and semantics, linguistic structure of ASL, deafness and bilingualism. She served as editor-in-chief of Sign Language & Linguistics from 1998-2006. Wilbur received a bachelor's degree in linguistics from the University of Rochester in 1969 and her doctorate in linguistics from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in 1973.

The Purdue Research and Scholarship Distinction Award, launched in 2013, recognizes university faculty whose recent contributions have made a major impact in humanities and social sciences, and is equivalent to Purdue's McCoy Award in the natural sciences. The 2015 Research and Scholarship Distinction Award comes with a cash prize of $4,000 and $7,000 for university scholarly activities. 

Writers: Phillip Fiorini, 765-496-3133, pfiorini@purdue.edu

Pam Burroff-Murr, 765-496-3381, burroff@purdue.edu 

Sources: Suresh Garimella, 765-494-6209, sureshg@purdue.edu

Ronnie Wilbur, 765-494-3822, wilbur@purdue.edu 

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