Alvin M. Liberman

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Alvin Meyer Liberman (May 10, 1917 - Jan. 13, 2000) was an American psychologist whose ideas set the agenda for fifty years of research in the psychology of speech perception and laid the groundwork for modern computer speech synthesis and the understanding of critical issues in cognitive science. He took a biological perspective on language and his 'nativist' approach was often controversial as well as being influential. He was a professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut and of linguistics at Yale University. He was also President of Haskins Laboratories from 1975 through 1986. His paper on the "Perception of the Speech Code" in 1967 remains one of the most cited papers in the psychological literature. He is also known for his pioneering work with Franklin S. Cooper on the development of the reading machine for the blind in the early 1950s and for the development of the "motor theory" of speech perception with Ignatius G. Mattingly in the 1960s and 1970s. Along with his wife, Isabelle Y. Liberman, he elucidated the alphabetic principle and its relationship to phonemic awareness and phonological awareness in reading. He was a member of the National Academies of Science and of many other distinguished scientific societies.

His son, Mark Liberman, is Trustee Professor of Phonetics and Professor of Computer and Information Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. His son, Charles Liberman, is Professor of Otology and Laryngology at Harvard Medical School. His daughter, Sarah Ash, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences and in the Department of Animal Sciences, at the North Carolina State University.


Alvin M. Liberman received his A.B. degree from the University of Missouri–Columbia in 1938, his A.M. degree from the University of Missouri in 1939 and his Ph.D. in psychology from Yale University in 1942.

Selected Publications

  • Cooper, F. S., Liberman, A. M., and J. M. Borst. (1951). The interconversion of audible and visible patterns as a basis for research on the perception of speech. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 37, 318-325.
  • Carol A. Fowler, C.A. (2001). Alvin M. Liberman (1917-2000), Obituaries. American Psychologist, Dec. 2001, Vol. 56, No. 12, 1164-1165.
  • James F. Kavanagh and Ignatius G. Mattingly (eds.), Language by Ear and by Eye: The Relationships between Speech and Reading. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA: 1972. (Paperback edition, 1974, ISBN: 0262610159).
  • Liberman, A. M. (1957). Some results of research on speech perception. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 29, 117-123.
  • Liberman, A. M., Ingemann, F., Lisker, L., Delattre, P. C., and F. S. Cooper. (1959). Minimal rules for synthesizing speech. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 31, 1490-1499.
  • Liberman, A. M., Cooper, F. S., Shankweiler, D. P., & M. Studdert-Kennedy. (1967). Perception of the speech code. Psychological Review, 74, 431-461.
  • Liberman, A. M., & I. G. Mattingly. (1985). The motor theory of speech perception revised. Cognition, 21, 1-36.
  • Liberman, I. Y., Shankweiler, D., & Liberman, A. M. (1989). The alphabetic principle and learning to read. In D. Shankweiler & I. Y. Liberman (Eds.), Phonology and Reading Disability: Solving the Reading Puzzle. Research Monograph Series. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  • Alvin M. Liberman. Speech: a special code. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA: 1996. (Hardcover, ISBN: 0262121921_
  • Ignatius G. Mattingly & Michael Studdert-Kennedy (Eds.), Modularity and the Motor Theory of Speech Perception: Proceedings of a Conference to Honor Alvin M. Liberman. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum: 1991. (Paperback, ISBN: 0805803319)



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