Photography 05

Philip Lieberman

October 25, 1934 ~ July 12, 2022 (age 87)


Philip Lieberman, a noted linguist and cognitive scientist and Brown University professor emeritus, died July 12, 2022, in Providence. In eight books and more than 150 articles published over six decades, he explored phonetics and the evolution of language and human cognition. He taught at Brown University from 1974 until his retirement in 2012. Previously, he was on the faculty of the University of Connecticut.

Lieberman's research was wide-ranging. He carried out pioneering phonetics experiments in the lab, studied the vocal tracts of newborn humans and reconstructed those of Neanderthals, and traveled to the Mount Everest Base Camp to study the effect of high altitude on climbers' cognitive abilities, part of a project to prepare future astronauts for a mission to Mars.

Born October 25, 1934, in Brooklyn, New York, Phil was the son of Harry and Miriam Lieberman, both Jewish immigrants from Poland. He excelled in math and science and in 1952 was selected for the Science Talent Search, then called the Westinghouse Science Talent Search.

With the generous support of the Grand Street Boys, Phil attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, receiving bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering. While at MIT, he by chance overheard sounds from an early artificial speech machine, which sparked his lifelong interest in human speech and cognition. He received his doctorate in linguistics from MIT in 1966.

Phil served as a lieutenant in the United States Air Force from 1962-1967 and as a research assistant at the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories. He began his academic career at the University of Connecticut in 1967. In 1974 he joined the Brown faculty. In 1992, he was appointed the George Hazard Crooker University Professor and then in 1997 he was appointed the Fred M. Seed Professor of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences. He was a fellow of the American Association for Advancement of Science.

Throughout his life, Phil was an avid photographer. As a child he turned the bathroom of his family's small apartment into a darkroom, and often had a camera, or several, close at hand. His photographs were displayed in numerous solo and group shows, including at the Bertha Urdang Gallery in New York. His photographs are held by museums, including the Museum of the Rhode Island School of Design.

With his wife, Marcia, whom he married in 1957, Phil traveled extensively on multiple continents, from Switzerland to Nepal to Armenia, Cambodia and New Zealand. He met his wife at the Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn where they worked together on the school newspaper. He contributed photographs to the travel books she authored, including Walking Switzerland the Swiss Way, which had several editions. They traveled together in remote areas of the Himalayas and collaborated on a photographic survey of 15th Century Buddhist wall paintings of the gombas (temples) of Mustang, Nepal. He was always happiest hiking a mountain trail with Marcia.

Philip Lieberman is survived by his wife, Marcia, of Providence, a writer; his sister, Judith Lieberman of Acton, MA; his sons, Benjamin and wife, Nancy Waters, of Acton, MA; and Daniel and wife, Antonia Prescott, of Cambridge, MA; and his grandchildren, Eleanor Lieberman of New York City, Isabel Lieberman of Philadelphia, and Samuel Lieberman of Acton, MA. Burial was private.






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