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Ruth Berman Awarded Israel Prize 2022


Minister of Education Yifat Shasha-Biton presents Ruth Berman with the Israel Prize 2022 award in Hebrew and General Linguistics, on Independence Day 

I am proud to announce that my sister Ruth Berman (née Aronson) has been awarded the 2022 Israel Prize in Hebrew and General Linguistics. The prize has been awarded for her groundbreaking research in Modern Hebrew (in the domains of morphology, lexicon, syntax, and discourse), in first language acquisition, and later school-age language development. Her work has placed Modern Hebrew on the map of current linguistics and psycholinguistics around the world, and she has trained dozens of students who today hold positions in the field in leading universities and colleges in Israel.

She was born in 1935 in Cape Town, South Africa into a religiously Orthodox and Zionistic family that also encouraged general education. Her grandfather was chief rabbi of Cape Town. She was active in the Habonim youth movement, and the first Jewish head prefect at the all-girls high school she attended. She received her B.A. from Cape Town University in Languages and Literature at the age of 19.

Ruth settled in Israel in 1954, where she studied Education and Language Teaching at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She then went on to teach English in Beer Sheva in the first high school in the Negev established by the late Dr. Puah Menschel. A scholarship from the British Council for a year's post-graduate study at the University of Edinburgh (1958-1959) sparked her interest in linguistics, where she had the good fortune to study under such scholars as J.R. Firth, Michael Halliday, and John Lyons.

Her experience in the field of teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL) included working at the Bet Hakerem High School in Jerusalem; co-authoring a large-scale survey of the Teaching of English in Israel published by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1968); spending two years (1962-1964) at the United Nations International School in New York, where she established the department of teaching English as a second language, while also working for her M.A. degree in General and Applied Linguistics at Columbia University.

On her return to Israel, she took charge of constructing a 12-volume series of textbooks, English for Speakers of Hebrew at Tel Aviv University, where she began teaching in 1965, and from which she retired as Professor Emerita in 2004.

Ruth's academic interest shifted to Modern Hebrew when she embarked on her doctoral studies under the supervision of the renowned scholar Uzzi Ornan. After she received her Ph.D. at the Hebrew University on the topic of Verbal Nouns in Modern Hebrew (1973), she worked intensively in the domain, publishing dozens of articles and the book Modern Hebrew Structure (1978), conducted in the framework of Noam Chomsky's generative grammar.

At Tel Aviv University, she established the Department of Linguistics, and from the 1980s moved away from Chomskian formal models of research in two directions that underlie her work to this day. First, she spearheaded the study of acquisition of Hebrew as a first language (the title of a monograph she published on the topic in 1985), being the only Israeli to serve as President of the International Association for the Study of Child Language (IASCL) in the years 1993-1996. Second, she became involved in crosslinguistic research on language acquisition and development in a functional, psycholinguistics perspective.

Together with the renowned psycholinguist Dan I. Slobin of the University of California at Berkeley, she conducted a large-scale study on how children of different ages and speaking different native languages (English, German, Hebrew, Spanish, and Turkish) tell a story based on a picture book without words (the so-called "frog-story" published under the title Relating Events in Narrative: A Crosslinguistic Developmental Study, 1994).

More recently, Ruth was principal investigator of a study of how schoolchildren, adolescents, and adults – native speakers of seven different languages including Hebrew – a study that established the field of "later language acquisition" and text construction abilities as a domain of research in its own right (with major results published in a leading article in 2008).

Berman's recent work has found expression in a number of edited volumes and special issues: Written Languages and Literacy, Volume 5, Parts 1 and 2. [Special Issue on Cross Linguistic Perspectives on the Development of Text Production Abilities in Speech and Writing], with L. Verhoeven, (2002); Language Development cross Childhood and Adolescence: Psycholinguistic and Crosslinguistic Perspectives. Trends in Language Acquisition Research, Volume 3. (2004); Journal of Pragmatics, 37, 2. [Special Issue on Developing Discourse Stance across Adolescence] (2005); Acquisition and Development of Hebrew: Infancy to Adolescence. Trends in Language Acquisition Research series, Volume 19 (2016); Language Change and Variation. Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities [in Hebrew] (2019); Usage-Based Studies in Modern Hebrew: Morpho-lexicon and syntax (2020).

A member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities since 2013, Ruth and her partner architect Yaacov Yaar are the only couple in Israel to have been awarded both the Israel Prize and the EMET (Hebrew acronym for 'Art, Science, and Culture') Award in their respective fields. 

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