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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Patricia Kuhl by Fredericka Bell-Berti on November 5 & 7, 2018,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Interview with Patricia Kuhl, Professor of Speech and Hearing Sciences and co-director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences (I-LABS) at the University of Washington. Kuhl describes joining the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) while a grad student at the University of Minnesota and discusses her over 50 years of membership. She served on the Executive Council of the ASA and was the first female President of the society in 1999 and 2000. Kuhl discusses her research in language acquisition and the neurobiology of language, and she explains the support and mentorship she has received over the years from the ASA and her mentors within. Kuhl also recounts her childhood in South Dakota and Minnesota, and her early interests in philosophy and math. She describes her time as an undergraduate at Saint Cloud University where she studied speech science and psychology, before pursuing a master’s and PhD at the University of Minnesota. Kuhl also speaks about her experiences as a postdoctoral researcher at the Central Institute for the Deaf. She shares fond memories of her time in the ASA and describes the society as being like a family.
My name is Freddie Bell-Berti. Today is November 5, 2018. We are at the Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia. The time is about 3:15 p.m. and I’m about to interview Pat Kuhl for the Acoustical Society of America Technical Committee on Speech Communication.
Who is your present employer? You sort of told us.
University of Washington.
And their present business?
Well, they’re in the business of educating the next generation and creating world-class research.
And your present job title?
Co-director of I-LABS, which is the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, and Professor of Speech and Hearing Sciences.
How long have you been with them?
And what do you do there?
I do research which I adore. I’m not teaching anymore, but I taught for at least 35 years. Then as I became more and more engaged in administration of I-LABS and of a huge NSF Science of Learning Center, I had to give up teaching. I miss it, but you can't do a good job of teaching and do as much administration as I do.
I get it.
No, I know. I know.
I get it. So now some questions related to the Acoustical Society. What year did you join the ASA?
Well, so that’s a good question. My first meeting was 1968, which is exactly 50 years ago, and I think it took me a little while to understand even how to join as a student member. So I think it was within a couple of years, but we’d have to ask Elaine or someone about…
Who else? [Laughs]
…when was the exact year that I joined. But I remember that first meeting like it was yesterday.
What was your age and your profession at that time?
Well, subtract 50 years from 72 and that’s exactly how old I was. So what is that?
Arithmetic. 22. [Laughter]
22! I was a grad student at the University of Minnesota. Dix Ward was a medal winner here at the ASA, a psychoacoustician, and Chuck Speaks, also a member, a speech acoustician who was a member. Both encouraged me greatly to join the Acoustical Society. At that first meeting, I could count the number of women on, I think, one hand. I remember Ilse Lehiste, a very tall linguist. I remember Kathy Harris, you know, from Haskins, a powerhouse brainiac. Wonderful. She was wonderful. And I remember Lois Elliott from psychoacoustics. Those are the three women who stood out to me. There were a few others, but I couldn't tell you their names. It was an amazing meeting. I even remember the dress I had on because it was a light blue dress and against the black suits or dark clothing, it felt odd. I remember thinking, “I hope this isn't too short.” You know, this is 1968, the year of the mini, and it wasn’t like I was wearing a miniskirt. It was a dress, but it still felt… I just was noticing—only women do this—being aware of the fact that you didn't feel perhaps that you belonged. But I was so excited about being there that I didn't care. I just wanted to be there.
And I’m going to interject a question that’s not on the list. How did you feel when you went to register and they told you that registration for students was free?
I was shocked, encouraged, and thought, “Well, not only is this the right place for me academically and intellectually, this is the right place for me. No matter if there are no women around here.”
“They want me.”
They want me because no one does this if they don't want students to join. So I felt very special. I thought that was an incredibly unique thing to do because I was beginning to belong to other organizations—psychology and language and development and other areas. Nobody had free registration for students. Nobody. Just the ASA.
The reason I added the question is because I think that we’ve gotten away from that.
But at least the students do get a year’s membership as a result, and that’s a good thing.
And they do feel very welcome…
…with our welcome reception, with our going out with the tags that say that they’re new members and student members. I think all of that has…
And the student council.
…with the student council…
That you started!
…which I started when I became president in 1999 and 2000. Yeah. That was very special. I was paying a lot of attention at that time to the number of women, and I remember showing slides for the first time at a business meeting—at least the first time that anybody remembered slides being presented. I showed the demographics—you know, how many foreign members—but I was really targeting women. We were at something like 10.5% or 11% and before I ended, we inched up to about 12.5% and I thought, “Oh, I wish it had been a little bit more!” But on Wednesday at the women’s lunch, I’m going to speak and be honored just a bit, whatever that is at the women’s lunch, and I’m going to show those slides because, Freddie, we’re now up to 18%.
Is this the point when we interrupt and I hug you?
I am impressed that we’re up to 18%. I mean that is difficult, and I’m going to look at how it lays out against TCs. Now we know that… I think that speech communication is about 40%, almost 40% women.
I think it may be more.
Maybe it’s more, but even the TCs that had almost no women… now have women. If you look at the holders of offices at the Acoustical Society, there has been a transformation. When we celebrated our 75th, do you remember that?
I surely do.
Leo Beranek and I did the celebration part of that meeting. We looked at a photo. In fact, when I was interviewed for that, they showed me the photo shown at the 1929 [this must be wrong—should it be 1979?] meeting[PKK1] of all the presidents of the ASA and they said, “Do you have a comment?” I said, “Where are the women? There are no women in this photograph, and that’s got to change.”
And it has.
And it certainly has! So I’m extremely pleased about that. That is a broadly… That’s not just me. That’s everybody—you—and so many other people have worked towards increasing women in the ASA, and it has succeeded.
Some of the questions I’m going to ask I’m asking in order to make sure we don't get anything left out.
I’ve covered some of those. Yeah, go ahead.
Well, I’m going to go ahead. So the next question is what were your reasons for joining the ASA?
Well, I cared about acoustics. It was both psychological acoustics, meaning how does perception work, and speech. It was so interesting because it was a hotbed. I mean I don't know if students are having as much fun today as we had 50 years ago, but as you know, there was a debate raging about phonetic perception (the consonants and vowels of speech and how they are perceived). You know the ideas coming out of Chomsky’s writing, and Al Liberman and Michael Studdert-Kennedy and Donald Shankweiler and Kathy Harris at Haskins, the idea that the perceiver has knowledge of articulation, knowledge of the motor system. I had been bathed in psychoacoustics at the University of Minnesota, and so you’ve got Dix Ward and others who were saying, “Well, where is the proof that it takes a special mechanism to perceive speech and evolution, as Chomsky said, that it took a big jump, a kind of de novo evolution? How do we know this? Wouldn't it be lovely to test it?”
I remember as a graduate student trying to think, “How in the world would you ever test that?” and I didn't begin studying babies until I got to my post-doc at Central Institute for the Deaf. There, Ira Hirsh, another staunch psychoacoustic member of the ASA, and James D. Miller, a perception person who cared a lot about the ASA and speech. So when I got there, it was like an ‘aha’ moment because here on the fourth floor is this pristine colony of chinchillas with perfect hearing, perfect diet, perfectly noise-free environment, and they’re being raised for complex psychoacoustic tasks because they’re testing government standards for OSHA and determining the level of noise that would be safe for a mammalian ear. So I learned all about the mammalian auditory system and the physical characteristics, the anvil, stirrup—the whole mechanical middle ear and how mammals as a group share that. I learned more about the neurobiology of hearing than I’d known before, and the idea that you could use an animal as a model for complex perception. I thought, “This is a way to test not how babies do it, but test the necessity of arguing that it couldn't be done any other way.”
The curiosity was this increase in perception at the boundary, the acoustic boundary, between two phonetic events, two phonetic units. Like the syllables ba and pa, there’s a place when the acoustics are changed in small, equal steps that human adults, for languages they’ve been exposed to early in life, show a peak in sensitivity that is not there in the middle of the categories, but only right there at the boundary between categories. Right about that time, Peter Eimas had demonstrated in … 1971… that babies at one and four months also appeared to have this better discrimination for stimuli that straddled the boundary. So it set the stage for a discrimination test with chinchillas—and eventually I did it with monkeys—to say, “Do they or don't they have equivalent discrimination along the continuum? Or is there a sensitivity at the boundary?” Lo and behold, the results showed that discrimination is enhanced at the boundary.
So I remember being shocked at the finding. I didn't make the prediction that they would. What I said was it would be very interesting if they did or if they didn't because one way or another, we buttress an account. I tried to be pretty careful to say even if they do, it doesn't tell us how babies do it, but it takes away the necessity of arguing that they must do it with a language acquisition device, as proposed by Chomsky, or with innate motor knowledge, as proposed by Al Liberman and the group.
It was such an unpopular finding. Oh my goodness. It was. It was a difficult time, to say the least, because the people in language, like I remember Elizabeth Bates, kind of a firebrand developmental linguist, who when she described my finding, would almost make fun. “I mean even chinchillas do this,” as though it demeaned what babies were doing when they discriminated speech, and I hated that, right, because my finding didn't take anything away from the babies!
The fact that infants discriminate these minute differences…
But the chinchillas don't turn that into communication.
That’s correct! I didn't like the Bates’ view, but also Al (Liberman) didn't like the result, I mean to say the least. He really hated it…. And was kind of actively trying to propose that it wouldn't hold up statistically. Of course it did with other contrasts and with other species, as it turned out. So it was a difficult year or two, but I just kept going, meaning just test more. I continued to demonstrate that it works, and as soon as it was established and theory started to change, to admit that this was possible, then I started to think learning is the key. We need to look at what happens when you bathe an infant in language because bathing a chinchilla in language is not going to produce anything, and it’s not going to change this animal into a walking, talking three-year-old chinchilla like a walking, talking two-year-old baby.
For me, it was a very important benchmark for my career. After doing quite a few studies with monkeys just to establish that across the two species and across phonetic continua, it worked in that way. I kind of said to myself, “I can put that to bed.” I did more tests on learning. I demonstrated that human infants at six months in Stockholm and in Seattle already have formed native vowel categories that are robust where they hear similarity around the vowel prototype, whereas the foreign language’s vowels they don't detect a category similarity. Swedish babies form a category for their Swedish ‘eu’ [don’t know how to do this better for an audience not necessarily versed in phonetics except to use[PKK2] ‘’], whereas the American babies don't do that for the Swedish vowels, and vice versa. Six-monthers’ brains are developing categories just by lying in their cribs and listening. No animal is doing that.
So I started to just rotate onto a new problem—learning. What’s the mechanism of learning? How is this learning going on? And of course it’s not Skinnerian reinforcement. The moms and the dads are not patting the baby and feeding candy or milk based on discrimination. Parents have no clue that these six-monthers are forming categories, and so what’s behind that? It just gradually led to this idea of the power of implicit learning that humans do when they simply listen to speech and detect the statistical regularities. I eventually demonstrated that for infants to learn in this way from exposure to speech, the speech has to come from a human being. Babies don’t learn when speech is coming from a TV or video. This social finding is also very important. Implicit learning has become very important, and others have demonstrated across all languages, starting with Reiber way back with syntax, that people can learn grammatical rules through simple exposure to… the patterns, the stochastic patterns that are coming across the basilar membrane. This kind of learning is, I think, extremely important for speech.
And belongs at the Acoustical Society because--
And belongs here because it is learning of that kind, of phonetic…phonetic learning based on acoustics and based on--
And its physiological system that humans--
Yes, because it’s deeper than just listening. What’s so interesting is that I show that learning has to be social, at least for the babies. Speech has to come from a human being. In 2003—now that’s already 15 years ago—I showed that if you expose babies during the critical period for sound learning between nine and ten and a half months (remember, six-monthers are universal perceivers and twelve-monthers are language-specific perceivers), the infants are extremely sensitive to the effects of experience. I exposed infants to a brand-new language for the first time at this age, asking if they can learn statistically. Can they learn from a brand-new language for the first time at nine months? Lo and behold, they learned so well they matched statistically the kids in Taiwan who had been listening for ten months to that language.
Watching infants in that experiment, I got very interested in the social interaction between the babies and the tutors. Infants were so happy when they would see their tutor walk in the waiting room door—you know, like they were forming this knowledge that this person, this person who looks different and sounds different, is producing something interesting out of that mouth. It looked like they were excited about it, so I designed the DVD experiment, meaning the video exposure test—I used same exact foreign-language material, same 12-session dosage, same room, same everything, except now the language was coming from a screen, a disembodied source. The babies learned nothing. Brain and behavioral tests showed it’s was flat learning curve I thought, “Well, that’s interesting.” It’s not just statistical learning because it isn't automatic when it’s natural language…
…it’s social. So that’s even… It’s deeper, but it comes back to this perception-production parity. Why did we invent a language in the first place? Because we’re both listeners and talkers.
I started—and this is now, again, about 15 years ago—using brain measures, thinking we won't know what’s going on unless we start looking at the brain. These kids aren’t talking yet. These are nine-monthers. They’re babbling, but I’m not going to be able to find out enough just looking at perception. So I started looking at brain responses in a MEG machine (magnetoencephalography). Perfectly safe, non-invasive, silent. It’s a technical tour de force. The babies are sitting in this thing that looks like a hair dryer from Mars, but they’re perfectly safe. They're listening and you can see the brain activity. It takes technical physics and engineering and it is really difficult to analyze, but you can create a movie of the activity in real time. When you slow that movie down, you can see that when babies hear speech…--but not non-speech… when they hear speech, the motor systems that plan it, meaning Broca’s, pars opercularis, and cerebellum, are active at the same time, and in the seven-monther, active for both native and non-native languages. So it’s just speech coming in. I mean it’s amazing to me that as infants listen to speech, their motor systems are getting ready to talk back. They can't talk back yet. They can't make, you know, ba’s and pa’s and da’s and ta’s, but that motor system and the cerebellum, both of which are known to motor plan, are active.
Then by 12 months, the auditory system reacts more strongly to native and the motor systems react more strongly to non-native languages. I argued that if the motor system is trying to simulate, is trying to synthesize, then it gets harder by 12 months to figure out how to produce this weird consonant you’ve never heard before because it comes from a foreign language; you’ve never tried to imitate it; you don't have a long history of hearing that foreign sound, so your motor system is…
…is already being formed into…
Yes. You are using your nascent knowledge of production as you're babbling to create a kind of schema, I think, because you haven't produced everything.
They haven't produced the consonants that they’re listening to. But this nascent development is like a master map relating articulation to sound, and it’s telling you that even though you’ve not heard that particular nonnative… sound; you haven't produced it yet. You have some kind of… basic knowledge—messy, but basic nascent parameters about motor movements that would allow you to engage in trying to simulate what it would take to produce it—it’s like listening to a French ‘eu’ you’ve never heard or some consonant, you know, some voiced aspirated you’ve never heard like a Hindi ‘bh’ and you can’t figure out what to do to produce it. So that is what you see at seven and twelve months. So I just think Al [Liberman ] would be so happy--
I was just thinking of Al.
I would love-- I would love to sit down with Al and say, “Al, you were a bloody genius. You thought this through from the beginning.” The one piece we are still not completely… We could still argue a bit and figure out, is this innate stuff, or is this stuff that’s coming from the early babbling, the cooing that begins at 12 weeks, are they building the articulatory repertoire from there and using it? Or is it somehow built in, as he argued in 1985, that maybe all potential phonetic units in all the world’s languages are somehow built in as a kind of template matching what Peter Eimas had said about the auditory detectors? He said there are auditory feature detectors and they’re responding yes or no based on language input, and they atrophy if no sound of that type is experienced. I don't think that’s what’s going on, but I don't know. We can get at it because if you did MEG studies before babies are cooing—and we have now put two-monthers in the MEG machine. They’re just little peanuts and they’re very easy to test because they don't move as much as the six-monthers. We’re going to test the two-monther because cooing, does not occur until about 10 to 12 weeks. So eight-week-olds are not set up…
Well, the larynx is still much too high.
It’s still going… It’s still like this as opposed to this.
Yeah. It hasn’t started to drop.
That’s right. I am very eager to see what those eight-weekers are doing because that would address Al’s point. But we are so close now that I think if he were still alive, we would still--
He’d be sitting here grinning and saying, “I told you so!”
Grinning from ear to ear. “I told you so! But let’s do that next experiment to make sure how right I was.” I think both of us would be very excited to do that experiment, and it would be lovely. I wish he were still here. I truly do. But I think the idea that… I feel like this full circle career. It’s taken many bends and there’s all this stuff on Motherese, Parentese and stuff, but this arc is the most significant. It was the one I started with. It was about mechanisms, and I’ve been about mechanisms since the beginning and just needed to grow up a little bit so that I could articulate the mechanism argument. But you and I were fetched up on mechanism arguments.
And I will be forever grateful to the Acoustical Society to bring mechanism arguments to the fore—not just little experiments on acoustics, but they’re important, too. I’m not trying to diminish anything. I’m just saying that cutting-edge ideas happen here, and cutting-edge ideas were just alive and well at that time. The debates at the meetings were just precious; that we would get up and orally debate with one another after a talk, after a presentation. This was before poster sessions, and oral arguments in that three minutes after your 12-minute paper or three minutes after your 15-minute paper—priceless. People hung on their seats to hear, you know, “What is the response to that question? That’s a darn good question!” I think we were fetched up on that.
And blessed by it.
And blessed by it. I feel badly for anyone who’s not been bathed in that because we were. It was priceless and I think it set us on a trajectory different from people who didn't have that set of critical arguments that they were… They wanted to do small experiments, but they always had this high… You were always looking up. You were always trying to ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? How are we going to inch forward the theory by doing this experiment?”
Trying to understand what’s going on rather than how to use an existing paradigm to do another little experiment.
Exactly! Exactly. We were looking for transformative stuff, transformative tests, and I think we were given the tools by ASA to do that, and it’s priceless.
Okay, this is part 3 of the interview of Pat Kuhl on November 5, 2018. Was there anyone who encouraged you to join the ASA, and if so, who?
I think the people who were most interested in having me join were the faculty at University of Minnesota. One was a psychoacoustician, Dix Ward, and the other one was Chuck Speaks, also an acoustician, but very focused on speech. I think without the two of them encouraging me to go to that first meeting that it might not have happened, but they were members and very active and were feeding students into that pipeline. I’m very grateful to those two for doing that.
This next question is sort of funny. What ASA committees were or are you a member of?
Oh, there have been a lot of them, so I think the initial ones had to do with the TC, being involved with speech communication. But I was also on the Investment Committee. I was on Medals and Awards. I served on council, of course, but that’s not a committee. I was on a number of committees. Remember when we did future? Not this most recent time, but the future of the Acoustical Society—I was on those and I… Anyway, there were a number.
And we now come to… Okay, so the next question is, what positions in the ASA did you hold or do you presently hold?
Okay. I was on the Executive Council, and I was vice president of the society and I was president of the society—in fact, the first female president of the society in 1999 and 2000, and that was very exciting. After me, many women followed in high offices. You could see the number of women growing on Executive Council year by year, and now when you look at it-- In fact, members have said to me, “You have to be a woman to run,” you know, and I thought that was funny and also sort of interesting that it’s a comment that it helps to be a woman. Whereas I remember the comment before I was elected president. Someone said to me, and that person shall remain nameless, “In order to get a woman elected as the president of the Acoustical Society of America, we’re going to have to run two women against one another,” and I said, “It shouldn't be that way,” and in fact it wasn’t. But you can see what a tough, uphill climb it was. It was not a slam dunk, and I think that the committee work I did helped people understand the perspective that women…that they did the labor just like everybody else and the perspective that women brought for young people, for students, and for other innovative activities in the society, I think people began to value it.
And at this point, it’s not really the answer to either of those two questions, but I think it ought to be mentioned here that you have also received the Silver Medal in Speech Communication and the Gold Medal of the society.
Correct. Yes…. Those were both thrilling, absolutely thrilling. Incredible.
Is there any particular ASA meeting or meetings that stand out as being something special, humorous, or different?
I think there have been many that were very interesting and humorous, but the one that stands out to me the most was one of the first meetings that I described this chinchilla result in as an oral paper in a session that was really, really crowded in a big ballroom and being very… I used to be so nervous about giving talks. I think it could have been Miami. It was a warm weather place; I remember that, and just… I used to become ill three days before having to present an oral address. It was just something I had to get over, and I just had a very difficult time. I would practice relentlessly, but I wouldn't sleep and I would barely eat until the talk was over. That one produced a lot of conversation and a lot of questions, and after that evening, there was a party at Peter MacNeilage’s house.
So that was an Austin meeting. Everybody was in the pool room playing pool at Peter’s house. He had this grand old house with a porch all the way around. I went into the pool room and there were… You know, it was still a very male-dominated society at that time. Someone was playing pool, and I can't remember who it is, but someone was joking about the chinchillas and whether or not they had been raised as English- or Spanish-speaking chinchillas. Of course I thought, “That’s a good question. Chinchillas ought to show that boundary in the other direction as well if this is true.” I was embarrassed at the time and thought, “Oh, this is going to be more difficult than I ever imagined,” but went home with the idea that, you know, we’ve got to check that negative area of the boundary, the minus VOT boundary. Sure enough, they do show a peak out there. It’s not quite as sharp, but it isn't as sharp in humans, either. So I remember that one very particularly.
Are there any ASA members that you had met who especially influenced your future?
I think the presidents. I think a lot of the presidents of ASA. You know, when you came here as a student, it wasn’t just the people in your area. It wasn’t just the people who had risen up in ASA who happened to be in speech communication. Ken Stevens, Al Liberman…but Ken was very, very active, a medal winner in speech. And Dennis Klatt. Oh my goodness, Dennis Klatt. Those people influenced me very strongly. But I think what sticks out is David Blackstock and all of the presidents, [Harvey] Hubbard… All of these people in disparate areas of acoustics who I remember coming to every meeting and wanting to say hello to. I’m not going to recall all their names, but if I saw them, there are at least ten that were all…you know, had risen up, had been on Executive Council, had become presidents. They stood out to me as the Acoustical Society and I think…because in most fields, you have to be mentored by someone directly in your field, whereas I feel like I was mentored by P&P. I was mentored by musical acoustics. I was mentored by underwater sound. I was mentored by, you know, noise. I was mentored by all of these TC leaders who became presidents.
So I feel as though you were joining a family and that no matter what the topic was-- I would oftentimes not even know much about their specialty, but you would talk to them. Jiri Tichy. You’d come and you’d talk to them. “What’s happening in your life?” “What’s happening with the students at Penn State?” “How is acoustics bubbling up at your institution?” It’s completely different than the model at many societies, it’s like a broad swath of leaders who are bringing up the young, and I felt that, like just being lifted up by all of these people. So yes, those in my field. I remember Al; I’ll never forget. And Michael Studdert-Kennedy and Don Shankweiler, Kathy Harris and Ken Stevens and Dennis Klatt. But all these other people--
In the other disciplines.
Yes! Were my mentors as well because they were mentoring my career—not my topic…. They had nothing to say about my topic. They didn't weigh in on whether or not my studies were fantastic or anything. They were weighing in on a future in acoustics and about “How’s your career advancing?”
And the future of the Acoustical Society.
Yes! Yes, and so--
It didn't depend on another gray-haired old man.
No, it did not.
It was that new folks--
They understood that if it weren't for us, the kids at the bottom, it wasn’t going to last. They had, as we all know, this camaraderie, this group of volunteers. It was working because they loved the society and they loved the ideas we talk about here and they wanted to serve. They were bringing us up in that same way. So I just don't think it’s the same in societies in which the mentoring is… People are, yes, bringing up their own, but there’s a selfish goal there. I understand that. This is an unselfish goal to bring up the next generation. It isn't your own student who’s citing your work. It is these people who care about acoustics generally and its future.
So the next question, very much related: Is there anything you’d like to say about the ASA past, present, and future?
Well, so again, you know, the idea that we have to keep this going, that we need to continue to remind ourselves that we are a banded group that cares about more than our individual area of study. It isn't just one TC; it’s all the TCs and that we have to think about how we brought the past. We brought the 1929 people into the celebrations that we had at our 75th, and now we have to carry on until we bring those celebrations to whatever the next one is, our 100th. We have to think about the fact that…
In 11 years.
It’s 11 years away only. Oh my goodness! Gee, how old will I be? Let’s not do the math just now. But the idea that it takes work to do that, that you have to remind people that we are an integrated network of people. We aren’t just our individual TC’s special interests. So somehow the Acoustical Society was designed to do that extremely well, and we have to keep that ball rolling.
Besides ASA, what other professional organizations do you belong to?
Well, there are a lot of them! I mean I belong to SRCD (the Society for Research in Child Development). I did belong to ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association). Right now I’m not because I was just…too many. I belong to Cognitive Neuroscience, the Society for Neuroscience. I have these interests not only in speech communication and acoustics, but in the brain and particularly in development. And in the Society for Neurobiology of Language because I care a great deal about language. What makes it hard is getting you and your students to all these meetings. I come most faithfully to ASA. It was my original, my best teacher, my original and best teacher. That’s where my allegiance is….This is where my intellectual home and family are. I go sporadically to all of the rest, and my students, given that you’ve got this big group of students, they kind of individuate themselves going…because they’re specializing in a particular arena and they go wherever it is. But I have some prize students. In fact, we’ve got a session tomorrow—“Music, Speech, and the Brain”—that Christina Zhao, one of my best, best PhD and now post-docs who’s done phenomenal work on the influence of music on the brain and on speech. This is the place where I think my best current work is being presented.
Have you provided an oral history interview for any other organization, and if so, which ones?
Not an oral history. This is the only one that’s clever enough to collect oral histories. I did just write… Actually, my students and my husband wrote, after interviewing me, what they call a scholarly biography, something about your growing up and the intellectual things that led you on your way, and then the idea…kind of a flow of ideas about how you came to do the work that you did. That is for the American Psychological Association, and it was after being awarded this year the Distinguished Scientific Contributions Award.
And I don't think you mentioned the APA in your list of organizations.
It was… I became a member after being given this award. I had never been to an APA meeting. I went to APS [Association for Psychological Science]. So APA split into more of the clinical faculty scientists and then the more scientific branch. So APS is where I have gone, but only occasionally, and feel like there’s a slot there for the work. APA was the parent organization, the original organization. I had never been. I went there for the first time, and in order to receive the award, I had to become a member.
Well, I’m glad you did.
[Laughs] So that shows you where my heart is. My heart is here.
Okay. We’re now going to cover past history…. When and where were you born?
Born in Mitchell, South Dakota on November 5, 1946.
Before entering college, where were some of the places you lived?
I lived, of course, in Mitchell, and then I lived in St. Cloud, Minnesota.
What were your parents’ occupations?
My father was a chemist and my mother was a housekeeper with I think only a sixth grade education. Both of my parents grew up on farms—huge Minnesota farms—13 and 12 kids in their families, respectively, siblings. They went to a one-room schoolhouse in the town of St. Martin, Minnesota. My father and mother both believed strongly in education and in sort of the oral tradition of debate and storytelling. My father was convinced. He was one of the youngest of his sibs. Maybe he was the youngest boy—yeah, I think so—of 13 children, and he was convinced that life on the farm was not for him and he was going to get an education. So he did, became a chemist, and eventually worked for the government and treated water.
But his entire family influence on the five of us—five children, four girls and a boy—was education, education, education. Thankfully for me he was gender blind. No matter boy or girl in the family, “What are you going to do? What are you going to be?” I was second in the family, and I took it upon myself that my role was to be the debater at the family dinner table because my father believed that you should come to the dinner table having read the newspaper and know the baseball scores. He unplugged the telephone, ceremoniously actually, so that we could talk. So the seven of us would sit around the table and he would expect all of us to have something interesting to say about our days. He loved politics. He loved baseball. Anything in the newspaper. What you did at school. Projects you were working on. It all led to “What are you going to do with your life? What are you going to be?” It was fabulous and sort of given that we were five highly verbal kids, the idea of debate and argument and having a reason why you were arguing a particular thing, I think it fed a passion for science and for evidence starting really early.
I think you just answered this, but how would you describe yourself during those early years?
Yeah. I think I was a kid who… I was raised to think I could do anything I wanted to do if I worked hard enough. That was the ethic. Hard work was part of the bread and butter. It was just… You know, my parents both growing up on farms, you don't know anything except hard work and where you're going in life. So my father, even though we lived in a totally urban area, he was talking education and I went to the… We all went to the Catholic schools and I happened to be lucky enough to go to one which the Jesuits served because the Jesuits are brilliant and irreverent enough so that you really did get the best, I think, of that kind of an education—and I took all the science and math classes, which I adored. I think I was a person who really felt that there weren't boundaries. I didn't grow up thinking of myself as a girl, meaning, you know, I was going to be limited in what I did.
It wasn’t until college and my first selection of major. I thought I was going to be a philosophy and math major. Those were the two things I thought were fascinating. I mean if you grow up in a family where there’s a lot of talk about religion and debate, I thought the ideas were very fascinating, and I loved math. It was my philosophy professor who said, “I don't know. No women major in philosophy and math. If you go to a philosophy meeting, you’ll be the only woman on the floor.” I remember thinking that was the oddest thing I ever heard. I went home and told my father and he said, “You don't care. It doesn't matter if you're the only woman on the floor. So what? You can still do whatever you want to do.” So I felt that I had supportive parents… Even though my mother didn't have a strong education, she was very smart and equally fervent about the need for a good education and that you should not think of yourself as belonging to a category in which you could only slot in a particular way. I mean my father thinking that argument was ridiculous and acted like he’d never heard it—he was either just beautifully unaware of gender biases and prejudices or he was actively trying to convince me that the stereotypes in the world had nothing to do with me.
But they were stereotypes.
There were stereotypes—not reality, but stereotypes. So I just marched along kind of blissfully unaware and yet not… I did notice that there weren't any women and weren't many people who were female at these early meetings, but I didn't feel like that was going to be daunting. I just thought it was interesting. “Gee, I guess women aren’t interested in acoustics, and I wonder why that’s not true. That doesn't make sense to me.” Sure enough, in the end it hasn’t proven itself to be the case. People have to feel like they belong, and that’s why part of our role in this society is to encourage young people to realize that they belong, because that’s essential. But I think my early years were very helpful in that sense. My father’s attitude was extremely helpful.
As a youngster, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Oh, I think I did aspire to something that was difficult, for one thing. I wanted to do something hard. I wanted to do something that took work, that took thinking. I was very aware of a desire to hold sway in conversation. I loved talking. I loved it just about more than anything else, and I think those dinnertime conversations, I just knew. My father was convinced I was going to be a lawyer. He kept saying, “You’ve got to be a lawyer. You can argue yourself out of a paper bag and you can argue… You're very good at defining the arguments.” I thought about that, but actually I was so interested in science that being a lawyer didn't have enough of the discovery process for me. I wanted both—you know, the idea that you could write and make arguments orally and written, but I wanted to discover something. I was driven to go beyond, and I think that’s what kept me going. I just kept being pulled along by the excitement in the science.
Before college, what were your hobbies, special interests, heroes?
I think in high school I did a variety of things in the debate club, honor society, all of those things. In a Catholic school, you're not doing a lot of dating, you know, and I had very strict parents—I mean not unreasonable, but strict parents. So my life was really an academic life. I didn't grow up in a family in which girls were sort of prized for how they looked. During my formative years, there were girls in the class, some very smart women, and you kind of saw how women were behaving. There were very smart women and there were women who were partying and all that stuff, and I thought of myself as one of those women who wanted to just do my work. I was very happy to be in clubs and very active, but I did think of myself as a scholar and so that’s where I was. That’s how I positioned myself.
And that leads into the question of what… events and activities did you enjoy most in high school?
Okay, I did like sports. I wasn’t phenomenal at sports, but volleyball and girls’ softball and a lot of those things. I loved team sports and I did all those things. I loved the pep club. I loved things like that. But I think still the activities that I loved the most had to do with the intellectual stuff. That was the core of who I thought I was. And the Jesuits made that easy because they were funny and smart and their classes were highly entertaining. You know, the physics, the chemistry, and math classes were all taught by the Jesuits. There were Benedictine nuns there, too, so you had English and other things, but the science classes were all taught by the Jesuits and I just adored them because they were so smart, but so glib in a way about rules. I mean they were not slavish about things and they weren't overly demanding about ritual or rubric. They were just interesting and full of ideas and wanting to always take the high ground with regard to arguments. I just followed them as though they were pied pipers. It was great. It was wonderful.
And I think you’ve answered the next question, but looking back, was there any person or were there any persons during that timeframe that had a strong influence on you and your future?
Yeah. I mean Father Gordian. Father Gordian was the physics teacher. And I remember the day that President Kennedy died. I remember being a junior in high school and walking up the steps and the rumor was passing. I was heading to physics, and there was Father Gordian sitting in the lotus position on top of the benches. You remember how you would line up stools at the benches with your Bunsen burner in the physics and chem classes. He was sitting in the lotus position on the top of this table with a Bunsen burner lit, and he said we were all going to think about what it meant to have lost such a fabulous young president, someone who was so intellectually vigorous. It was just part and parcel of who Father Gordian was, and it was phenomenal.
Okay. Now we’re up to the college years, undergraduate level.
Where did you go to college and what was your major?
All right. So it’s an interesting story. I went to St. Cloud State University, and the reason why was that my parents wanted me to stay close to home. In fact, having gone through Catholic schools, they wanted me to go to a very good women’s college, St. Benedict’s, partner to St. John’s in Minnesota—very, very good central Minnesota colleges. But I didn't want to go to St. Benedict’s because it was a wonderful literature, art, music college, but it wasn’t full of science. The compromise, and the only, I think, not good thing that my high school did was to advise students pretty much to stick to colleges that were Catholic, taught by Catholics, and so that was very limiting. I convinced my father that it would make sense if I stayed in St. Cloud but went to St. Cloud State University. That would be a compromise that he would like. It wasn’t a Catholic school, but it was being in the city, and he said, “Okay. That’s worth it.”
So I went there and did find it full of wonderful science classes and started thinking I was going to do philosophy and math. Got discouraged because I was female and the Phil professor said women don’t become Philosophers, but my father said, “You can do anything you want.”
Then I got interested in language because I had a niece who was completely, profoundly deaf. We were at a family gathering; she was on the other side of the family. But at this family gathering, we were playing baseball. She was completely deaf. She got hit by a ball because she couldn't hear the screams we were all uttering. “Duck!” You know, this ball was coming. She was about eight and I was about eleven, and I remember being—or maybe a bit older because I think I was in high school—profoundly struck by the idea that she could not communicate. She was using some rudimentary signs. She did not know American Sign Language or any formal sign language, and I thought it was tragic. She was obviously a clever, friendly girl. She had no language, and I began to think about the absolutely critical nature of the human capacity for language. I think that never left me.
In college when I was then looking for a major after I kind of thought, “Well, maybe philosophy and math isn't for me,” I found the Speech Communication Department, went over there, and saw that they were doing speech science—measurement of acoustics, measurement of production, all the clinical work, yes, but the auditory, the speech production, and the science behind it, the measurement aspect. I thought, “Well, this could be a really good intellectual home,” so I did a dual major in speech communication—or speech and hearing, whatever it was called—and psychology. I completed that degree in three years and was very, very happy with that dual major in those two and thought that this was a really good idea.
…As an undergraduate, did you ever change college (no) or your major—well, yes.
I did. I did change the major from philosophy and math to the speech communication and psychology and did it because I was driven to that line of science to do something, measure in a way that could address language and something uniquely human.
As an undergraduate, did you belong to any particular clubs or participate in any special school activities?
I think I was… I finished two majors in three years, and my family was poor. So I had a job. I worked at school, you know, for kind of a work-study program and had a job in a grocery store, Piggly Wiggly Market. I worked my way all the way through college there, so I was one very busy girl. So no, I don't recollect being in clubs… I must have done some things, but I don't remember them. They don't stand out.
So in your undergraduate college days, was there any particular person, teacher, professor, or someone special who had a strong influence on you or your future?
There was a professor by the name of Bob Duffy—young guy, young wife, two little kids. After I had a couple of classes from him, he started saying, “You know, you’ve got very strong interests here. You're very, very good at it. You’ve obviously got the intellectual prowess. What are you going to do? Where are you headed?” He just said, “You really ought to think about advanced degrees. There’s absolutely no reason why you wouldn't want to go all the way through and get your PhD.” He was the first person to suggest to me that a doctorate is what I wanted to do. Unfortunately, he died in a terrible accident. He went on vacation with his family and a gas stove blew up as he lit it. Thankfully, his wife and children were out at the car gathering things, but he died. He died. Very sad. But I’ll never forget his encouragement and the first suggestion that, you know, “You can go on.”
And without that you might not be here.
I might not be here! You need that someone to suggest something specific, an advanced degree.
So during that period of your life, who was your inspirational model?
I think that Bob Duffy was a really good one. There were also a couple of other faculty, but I don't remember them as well. They were very dedicated. I remember thinking that this is what inspires people to work, that they… At least in this department, the science and the practice were very well connected. So the science of measurement of movement and stuttering—I was very fascinated by stuttering. In fact, I did a master’s degree in stuttering once I got to graduate school. And the measurement of acoustics to look at the speech difficulties that a child would have, to look at the mispronunciation of sounds. I mean it really drove these sort of linkages. Many departments have this separation between the science and the practice. At least I was, you know, lucky enough to go to an undergraduate school in which they were just like this. They were just linked….was no reason to pull them apart.
Did you ever participate in a rally, protest, or cause, and if so, what was the issue and were you successful?
Interestingly enough, as a graduate student—this is the late ’60s, remember, and the students are stopping traffic. I remember being very torn about whether, even though I was on the anti-Vietnam side and very much in favor of stopping the war and being against President Johnson’s decision to get more involved in the war, I decided not to go out and march. Students stopped traffic on the main freeway that went basically through the north and south campuses of the University of Minnesota. My dear colleague Joanne Miller went out and marched, and we both kind of took note of the fact that she felt, “No, you’ve got to get out there and march if this is how you feel.” I said, “I feel this way, but I’m not positive I want to get out and stop traffic. I’m going to use, you know, oral arguments instead.” [Laughing] So I didn't, even though my heart was out there with them.
Okay. So now we’re back to undergraduate. Looking back, would you go to the same college and take the same major if you could start all over again?
I would, I think because it turned out this way, that all of the people-- I remember all of these people as playing such a critical role in my development. Without Bob Duffy, I wouldn't have felt inspired to get a PhD, so that was the first node. Without the high school and the Jesuits, I wouldn't have fallen in love with science. I can't reconstruct it, of course. You know, my husband went to Harvard, and it’s interesting because my daughter said, “Mom, you went to St. Cloud State University and Dad went to Harvard. I mean what do you think?” I said, “Katherine, obviously it doesn't make any difference. You can be inspired any place. You can go any place.” I mean maybe I would have loved to have gone to Harvard, but as I look back on it, no, I wouldn't change a thing. I wouldn't have wanted to miss a single individual in the path that I remember boosting me up to feel inspired in the way that I have. So no, wouldn't change a thing.
So you went on to graduate training and you got a master’s degree.
I went to University of Minnesota. By that time I was applying broadly, but the University of Minnesota had a wonderful package of support. Again, my father wanted me to stay close, and with the support and, you know, it being cost-free… I mean basically it was free. We share that. I was poor—poor enough that it mattered and so yes. Again, following the passion of speech production more than perception, I started studying with Dick Martin. Dick Martin was well-known in the field of stuttering, and he was a Skinnerian and was interested in testing operant conditioning as regards speech errors in adults. So he was the first to do a time-out study—you know, stopping a person in a moment of stuttering, waiting ten seconds, and having them speak again. It was enormously successful in adults. My master’s thesis was to try it with a three-year-old and a four-year-old, and they were both extremely successful experiments.
Okay. Well, so… And your thesis was?
My thesis was testing whether a time-out procedure, which had been shown to work with adults, would work with children. The method was interesting. I became Suzybelle the Clown, and sat behind a one-way mirror so I could see and be seen by this little three-year-old and I tested also a four-year-old. They would come in once per week and talk to Suzybelle the Clown. This was a single-subject design where you impose the time-out for each instance of stuttering, for a period of time, and then you removed the time-out and went into extinction. I was looking and talking to this little three-year-old stutterer who looked at Suzybelle through the mirror. The child saw a box with a puppet and I was pulling the string to move the puppet’s mouth, having practiced to get the syllables timed with my actual speech so that it looked quite realistic. These little kids were pasted up to the glass, talking to Suzybelle the Clown. They would tell you their entire lives, everything about what they worried about and everything, and when they stuttered, I’d just turn the lights out in Suzybelle’s house. There was no mention of stuttering or any comment about a time-out, but the question would come. “Where did you go?” And then ten seconds later, which wasn’t that long, Suzybelle come back, with the lights, and sure enough, as Dick had shown with adults, stuttering moments went down, down, down, down. During extinction they would go up slightly, but over time stuttering moments kept going down, and in of the two children that I applied this treatment to, the children looked as though stuttering was eradicated. And these were not just normal non-fluencies. These were kids… who were holding and rigid in the neck. So it was a very, very… as a scientist, to watch a behavior change so much and to help a young child—it was amazing. We published it. It was my first real experiment.
So I think I know the answer, but who at the school at the master’s level had the greatest influence on your future?
It was Dick Martin. It was Dick Martin. Jerry Siegel was a language person. He was also very influential, but I think that it was Dick Martin.
Today is November 7. It’s Freddie Bell-Berti recording Pat Kuhl for the Oral Histories Project, and this is the sixth part of our recording.
So now about graduate school and your doctoral. I know you continued on; I won't ask you if you did. Where did you do your doctoral work?
At the master’s level, I joined the University of Minnesota, again staying pretty close to home. But they had a very well recognized communication sciences and disorders program. I started there, and I think I mentioned that I had done my master’s thesis with Dick Martin, who was a specialist in stuttering. I was working with children—very successful project; my first publication related to speech and an experimental treatment.
Then I started looking at what was the big study going to be, and I was very interested by that time in brain and language. I had the opportunity to go out to the VA hospital and work with Hildred Schuell. So Hildred had worked with all the world-renowned experts in the study of language disorders subsequent to stroke, and she was excellent. I started working with her, intending—even kind of flirting with the idea of converting to an MD-PhD program because she was in the neurology unit out there at the VA hospital, and it would have been possible. At that moment in time, it would have been possible, so I was thinking about that. She was then diagnosed with cancer. She had colon cancer, and within six months she died. She had no warning and all of a sudden it was a completely different ballgame.
I went back to the university and talked to the people in speech and hearing and talked to the people in psychology and knew them all by that time. Jim Jenkins, who was teaching a year-long seminar on Chomsky’s syntactic structures—we’d met George Miller and we were just taking the whole year to sentence-by-sentence unpack it and think about the arguments and everything. Jim just sat me down one day and he said, “Why don't you go to the other end of the continuum?” and I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Children! No one’s doing research on language and thinking about brain in children. Great need. A great place,” and I said, “Well, can you answer all the big questions with children when there are no methods or very few methods?” He said, “Well, that’s when a field is exciting. No one is there,” and he said, “Besides, do you want to work with old men with strokes or do you want to work with adorable young children?” I said, “Well, you’ve got a point there,” because it was emotionally challenging to every day deal with people who you had learned to love because you were giving them therapy. I was giving them experimental therapies for language disorders and you’d get attached and they would die. You’d analyze their brains at autopsy on Thursday mornings, and it was hard to try to relate clinical data to the fractures you’d see in brain tissue 1mm at a time. I thought, “You know, he’s got a point. I think that could be interesting.”
So I completely revamped, started thinking about what kinds of questions you could ask of children. My thesis was actually on speech acoustics, just sort of getting down to the nitty-gritty of things you could potentially study in children. My thesis work was sponsored by Chuck Speaks and Jim Jenkins. People in developmental psychology were interested, but I hadn't studied children at that point. It was the adult people, scientists who studied adults, who were supervising.
So that was my first work, really taking speech apart. I was looking at the first five milliseconds, the first ten milliseconds of stop consonant CV syllables. How long does it take you to identify them? Does vowel context matter? How coarticulated is it, speaking of work that you and I are both interested in. So that was my first foray, really, into speech acoustics, and that was my dissertation.
Then when I began to look at a post-doc, I wanted to take up the idea. I wanted to do something with children. Central Institute for the Deaf had an opening and I went to interview. I remember meeting Hallowell Davis—the great and wonderful, gracious Hallowell Davis, who was doing electrophysiological studies with babies. If I came there, I was to share a lab with him and I thought, “Oh my goodness. I’m going to share a lab with the Hallowell Davis.” I met with Ira Hirsh, and was interviewed by him, and met with James Miller, and was interviewed by him. I thought, “This is really interesting. I can start baby work. Hal is willing.” He said, “Look. I’ll help you. I know a lot about babies now. I’ve been making these measurements, and I think it’s very exciting to think about starting studies on infants. We’ll share the lab. No problem,” and I accepted the position.
I started these studies on babies, which took time, and in the meanwhile, I’m looking at this colony of chinchillas on the fourth floor. Part of my assignment as a post-doc was to go up and water and feed them every day and try to understand what the studies on noise were about. They were developing OSHA risk criteria. What’s the threshold of noise that is safe enough for a mammal to hear at a particular intensity over a particular amount of time before their hair cells wiggled enough to fall out? What were the sequelae of having hair cells missing? I started thinking about testing the animals—I looked at the techniques they were using to train animals and thought, “Hmm. Highly trainable. Really smart apparently. Auditory models being developed. Noise criteria good enough for OSHA to use this as an animal model of damage risk criteria for humans. Why wouldn't we examine speech perception?”
I then began this parallel work on the babies and on the chinchillas, with the chinchillas having a very specific question, one that matched tests done with infants, since Peter Eimas at Brown University had already shown the peak in discrimination at the location of the phonetic boundary in infants. With infants, I began looking at variability and at phonetic categorization. I was inventing new procedures with high-amplitude sucking.
I was there for a three-year stint and it was a very good university for auditory science because there were good auditory scientists at the Washington University Medical School. And all of them would gather at CID on Wednesdays for auditory seminars, and that ran the gamut from physiology and noise criteria to disorders of audition and all the way to psychology and perception and speech and acoustics. So the Wednesday seminar was sort of your time to present in front of the otolaryngology medical team and the neurology medical team, who would come to CID for that Wednesday seminar.
I really think I cut my teeth there and got over what was a really awful presentation fear I had where three days before giving a talk I couldn't eat or sleep. I was legend for this absolute disorder where I would just freeze. On one afternoon Hal Davis was sitting in the front row, because they would all sit in the front row at seminars, I was so over-prepared for my first presentation in which I reviewed what was known about infants’ perception and methods and all of that stuff. I’m up there and right in the middle of it, when I couldn’t remember one tiny detail about a two-alternative forced choice procedure. Babies can do go, no-go tasks, but the two-alternative forced choice is something no baby has been trained to do. I was reviewing the methods that had been attempted and I forgot one detail and I got stuck. I just couldn't move. I just kind of froze and everything came back that I had always been afraid of. It was, up to that point, a brilliant talk, and after that I just kind of fell apart.
I was in my office licking my wounds feeling ridiculous, especially since I was the only woman on the third floor. Like, “Oh, girls can't do this sort of thing,” was resonating in my little brain. Hal Davis comes in, sits down, closes the door. He said, “Do you have a few moments?” I said, “Yes. Of course. That was awful, Hal. I’m just so embarrassed.” He said, “Look. I’m just going to give you some advice. Just listen and let it sink in. You know what your problem is?” and I said, “No. I truly don't.” He said, “You're all stuck on yourself. All you can think about is, ‘How am I going to sound?’ You're looking at those guys in the first two rows and you're intimidated and all you can think about is what are they thinking of you. You need to forget yourself. It’s not about you.” He said that about three times. “It’s not about you.” “What’s it about?” He said, “The ideas. You're up here in the clouds and if you get in the clouds, you’ll forget about you, everything about you. It’s just about the ideas, and if you can get people pulled up to the ideas, you won't even see the faces. They're just gone. You're up here in your head. That’s where you need to go. I know you’ve got it in you because we’ve talked. I know that’s where you are, but you just have to get over this. Worry about everything else a week ahead of time. What are you going to wear? What’s it going to be like? Go look at the room. Stand at the podium. Figure out how to press the buttons. Do this and then it’s gone. Never think about it again. It’s about the ideas, and then it doesn't matter if you stumble. It doesn't matter if you're the most articulate person in the world. You can forget a word; you can forget a slide; you can forget a finding. You just go on. It’s about the ideas. They don't have to be described perfectly. Just get the idea across. It’s not about individual words. Don't ever read it. Don't lock yourself into reading; you’ll never forgive yourself. Don't read it.”
To this day, I thank Hal for that time and understanding that he took to completely straighten me around. I just turned the corner. I did everything he said, and every talk is like where are the clouds I’m going to? Get to the clouds and let it rip. And it was miraculous. I tell every one of my students that now.
And it still is.
Yes! It still works! And while you get butterflies, that’s not a bad thing. You get… You know, you have this anticipation excitement. It’s like getting there. Anyway, my CID experience was phenomenal because of the high quality of the individuals, because I was a female in a male’s world. Barbara Bohne was the only female, but she was sort of… Barbara Bohne was like 6’3” and she was just different, everything about her. She’d come up in a medical family. She had always intended to be a doc. She was, I don't know, like a 16-year-old wonder when she was. She was different. She was wonderful to see, but it was harder to approach her. I still felt like the only girl on the floor…but I got rid of all that. I got rid of it, and it was partly because Hal did that for me. So I remember my post-doc really fondly.
…There is one other question related to your graduate student time: While you were a student, did you ever conduct any classes?
No. At CID you had the privilege--
Well, when you were at Minnesota.
I don't even think then. I was on a research fellowship. I guess I helped Chuck Speaks with labs…
But you didn't teach.
…but I didn't ever stand in front of a class -- That’s why I was so nervous! I had never had this practice standing in front of a class. So I think I would have gotten over it quite quickly, but I didn't. I hadn't until Hal.
…So now a little about your past professional career since we have determined that there’s no military, technical, business or trade school or correspondence courses. After college, what was your first place of employment?
I went from my post-doc to University of Washington’s Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences first as a research associate. I went for a one-year…kind of a post-doc position because it was open and I thought the University of Washington with a world-famous primate center and a set of people who did infancy studies, would be good for me. They knew at the time there would be a job search opening, and they said, “You absolutely have to apply.” So this was 1976. The position opened for the fall of ’77, so immediately upon getting there I started to set up the laboratories and then interviewed for that position. Strangely enough, Joanne Miller and I were the two finalists for the position at the University of Washington, so interesting.
Strangely enough because you have mentioned Joanne Miller only once before (about protesting Viet Nam), so you need to explain.
Joanne Miller was a graduate school mate of mine. Her interests were more about language than mine were. Mine was more about speech and language, brain. You know, I was heading out to the VA and she was studying with the language developmentalist Jerry Siegel. But she and I were deep friends and she was… I think she was one year younger than me, but we were in the same entry class, or maybe we were just that one year apart, but were in all of the same classes and in the year-long seminar with Jim Jenkins. Jim Jenkins’ seminar was taught, TA’d by Pinky Strange (Winifred Strange). Pinky Strange. So Pinky, Joanie, and Patty were three good women friends… We were called Pinky, Joanie, and Patty at that time. It’s so funny to see how we morphed into Winifred, Joanne, and Patricia. You know, we grew up together.
Joanne by that time had gone out to Brown to do a degree with Peter Eimas. We remained in very close contact, and Peter and I were very good friends because of the work that I’d begun to do. So both Joanne and I had applied for the University of Washington job. I was given the job, and Joanne was fine because she was going to eventually take a job at Northeastern. UW Speech and Hearing Sciences was a very strong department in speech acoustics, speech perception and speech motor control, speech production. I was very well-suited for that place and with the primate center and with an interdisciplinary center, it was absolutely perfect for me.
I moved up the ranks quickly because I had been publishing. I started that position in 1977, and by 1982 I was a full professor. I took the minimum time to move up. I remember serving on College Council. I think one of the things that brought me to more leadership positions—and young women need to know this—is that volunteering, being willing to serve on committees at your own university or in your organization—is a very good thing to do. Volunteering on university committees introduces you to people who don’t know you (because they are in other departments). When you sit on College Council, which at the University of Washington is managed by the Dean of Arts and Sciences, you are judging the credentials of people coming up for tenure from 42 different departments. On College Council, you quickly learn what scholarship means in these various disciplines. Where are the really strong people on campus? And you start thinking about a university’s higher-level organization and what it needs. It was a very good thing to do.
I was very happy there. I moved straight to a full professorship and just kept my head down, basically. Head down doing my work and publishing and volunteering. I was very dedicated to hard work. A then I met the man who became my husband, Andrew Meltzoff, because he and I were both in an interdisciplinary center, and were very similar in terms of our love of science and overall goals. Speech and Hearing Sciences was a department that encouraged people to be collaborative with other, bigger interdisciplinary centers. So I had an office and a lab at the Human Child Development Center. Now it’s CHDD, Center for Human Development and Disabilities. Andy Meltzoff, a developmentalist from psychology, had a laboratory in another part of the same building, and so we started talking as developmentalists. We ended up designing a lip-reading experiment for infants together, an auditory-visual speech perception experiment. We asked the question: when infants see two mouths moving, one pronouncing ah and one ee, and the two mouths are moving silently in synchrony, and then you turn on a sound in the middle of those two faces, which way is the little 18-weeker going to look? It turns out infants look at the face with lips moving in a way that matches the sound! Infants can do something akin to lip-reading at 18 weeks of age! Andy had done other cross-modal experiments with vision and touch in which infants looked at a bumpy pacifier and a smooth pacifier, and then had a short experience sucking on a pacifier that was either bumpy or smooth. When the babies were given 30 seconds of experience sucking on a pacifier that was bumpy or smooth, the kids who sucked on a bumpy pacifier looked at the bumpy one and the one without the bumps looked at the smooth one. The two of us invented this lip reading test to follow on his previous experiment, and that was so fun. We ended up seeing each other, talking to each other about our laboratory science and ended up in a relationship and got married.
And still are.
And still are 33 years later. We codirect the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences. Again, the cross-department running of interdisciplinary centers is highly encouraged at the UW, and so about ten years ago…well, maybe more now, 2004, so now that’s getting to be 14 years ago, we began the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences. We have our separate lines of research, but we jointly run this institute and raise money, and encourage young scientists, bringing in faculty from all over. The University of Washington has been a fabulous place for me. You know, 42 years I’ve been there. Shocking! There were three times when Andy and I were given offers elsewhere. People were trying to entice us to go and we flirted with the idea. Rutgers was one and…no. San Francisco was another (UCSF) and Harvard at one point. But the University of Washington always came through, saying, “No. We can make it work here for you. We can give you the next step that you're seeking,” and so we’ve stayed and been very, very happy there—very happy.
I don't need to ask you anymore of the questions here, one of which is how long did you stay there? [Laughter]
And where else have you been?
Where else we’ve been… No place else… I mean I think it’s shocking these days to be someplace 42 years… You get to a place that serves you well.
And where you feel able to…
Completely at home.
At home and able to thrive professionally.
Yes! I think that’s exactly right.
So the next topic is publications and this is kind of amusing and you know. So the first question is did you ever write a book or have anything published and--
Well, yes. A long CV--
We’re not going to ask you to name them.
No. Long CV. Our book—Andy’s, mine, and Alison Gopnik’s—The Scientist in the Crib: Minds, Brains, and How Children Learn. 1999. We always thought we’d write a sequel, but I haven't had time.
And however many journal publications we won't even consider.
Oh, no. It’s in the hundreds.
So now to family…. What is your husband’s name?
And his occupation.
He’s a scientist. He’s a psychologist.
And we know when and where you met.
Yes, we did. University of Washington.
When and where did you get married?
We got married in Seattle at our house. We bought a house. Like the first collaborative thing we did was the experiment I described. First we did an experiment. Then we bought a house and then we got married in it. It was—let’s see—September 28, 1985 and Katherine was born a year later, 1986 in December. Yes.
Okay, and so we’ve answered the question about children.
Is there anything else that you want to mention about your family?
I think my family was incredibly supportive, particularly my father. I mean I’ve looked at the studies that say that women scientists often have very supportive fathers, and my father, while we were very poor, was completely devoted to education and asked all of us. He was gender blind. He asked the one boy and the four girls, “What are you going to do? What are you going to be?” I was the second girl, second born and a girl, and loved to talk and so he and I would debate. I think I said already that our dinner table—seven people at the table. He unplugged the phone. We were supposed to read the paper and know the baseball scores and have something interesting to say about our day, about politics, about something we’d read. I think it fed a lifelong passion for conversation, face-to-face conversation, disagreeing or not. He told me I should be a lawyer “because you can talk your way out of anything,” but he said, “You more than anyone has convinced me of the value of certain points,” that I developed, I think, in that very lively table conversation, the ability to make a point, even when it was unpopular in the family, to convince people it merited consideration. I think that was a piece that stayed with me forever.
Okay. And now personal interests.
What’s your favorite form of entertainment?
I think music—concerts, movies, but I think… Everyone in my family played an instrument and most of them played two.
And what was yours?
Mine was piano, and so I had 12, 15 years of instruction at 25 cents a lesson, but even that was a struggle to pay for at that time. But music is a passion and if I had more time I would go back and take piano lessons again. I also had voice lessons when I was young. I loved to sing and I loved to play the piano. So music is still a dear, dear love of mine, and I think I would put it as a real passion. I also love to read. I mean we read so much science that you read slowly. I do love reading novels that I can—you know, history and biography that you can really read for pure pleasure and read as quickly as you want. I think that’s lovely. I like doing that.
And now there’s a bunch of name your favorites. No?
Oh, authors. Okay. So gosh. Who do I like? I read so many. I don't know that I have a favorite author.
I mean there are a bunch. It’s like then movies or movie stars, music…no. Okay.
No. Mozart concertos.
You know, Mozart. I adore Mozart, and I love Bach.
In Seattle you learn to pay attention to the struggling Mariners and of course the Seahawks and their one claim to fame, winning a Super Bowl. You can't help but pay attention, but you know, of course I don't get to games or anything like that.
And art or artists?
I love art and I… You know, when you hang out with philanthropists a little bit, they have real art collections. The Seattle art scene is not New York by any means, but it’s still interesting, and to see some of the original work that some of the philanthropists own is a real pleasure to see them face-to-face. So I do enjoy the art museums in Seattle.
Do you have a favorite quote? It’s all right if you don't.
Mmm… Gosh. I don't know. I think it would be something… It’s sort of something that would lift you up. I don't know. I still love carpe diem, seize the day. I think the idea that we’re all… You know, I’m a great believer in the opportunity that every human being has. I mean when you study babies and baby brains and you realize that there’s this potential at birth for every single child on the planet, unless mom did drugs or alcohol during her pregnancy. These kids are ready to learn from day one and I’m so inspired by the statement “Born to learn” or this opportunistic position that every young child has and they’re just waiting on us to supply them with the stimulation they need to grow that brain. I think those are the kinds of things that inspire me.
Do you have any hobbies that you’d like to mention?
I don't have time for them. I don't have time for hobbies. I wish I did.
[Laughs] That’s okay. What are your future plans?
Well, I think if I had endless time—you know, if I retired, if I had a grandchild and had time, I think I would take a cooking class and I’d take a gardening class. Maybe I’d even dabble in watercolors or something, but I would love to garden. I love gardens. I’d love to have a garden, a fabulous garden, and I would love to really spend time cooking because I love to eat—and really good food. I think that would be fun, but of course now that’s just a pipedream. Maybe there will come a day.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Only that I really love the Acoustical Society of America. I’ve loved it from day one. I knew when I arrived here that even though I felt… As I said, as a woman you felt out of place. You felt like you didn't match, and I wanted a black suit so I’d fit with everybody else who seemed to be dressed in black. I still felt immediately at home as soon as I got to the Speech Communication TC and the presentation meetings, and I never lost that feeling of excitement. That first…gave me goose bumps to see what it was like to go up to the podium and to present your work and your slides and have people, distinguished people, stand up and ask you serious questions. You know, Arthur House who asked hard questions, Ken Stevens who asked hard questions, everybody from Haskins who would ask hard questions—that seemed to me like heaven on earth, the highest, loftiest thing you could aspire to, and it still is. It still is, and I think that’s a fabulous thing.
Now we come to where it says on here “Interviewer’s closing comments.” [Laughter] I guess I just need to say how grateful I am that you and I could finally find the time to do this together.
Oh. Right. I agree. Yeah.
What does not show is that I keep nodding and agreeing…
…because I know exactly where you're coming from, that we both attended the meeting…
We grew up together.
And that special session in speech perception that guaranteed that we were trapped into the Acoustical Society.
Going to stay in there forever! Yes, trapped! Delightfully trapped.
It’s just the most wonderful, wonderful experience.
It is. Well, I have to say, Freddie, I think that having these interviews conducted by someone who gets that history, who can resonate to the comments that you're making—because what it does is bring out that sense that you have. It is in all of us how we feel about this place, but would you be as able to express it to a young, eager student but who didn't have the history, who couldn't resonate to it? I don't know.
I don't know.
It’s been a delight to share this with you.
This has been wonderful, and I’m just so pleased. I think at this point I’m going to see if I can manage to figure out how to turn all three off recorders. [Laughter]