Ursula Bellugi, a pioneer in the examine of the organic foundations of language who was amongst the first to display that signal language was simply as complicated, summary and systematic as spoken language, died on Sunday in San Diego. She was 91.
Her demise, at an assisted dwelling facility, was confirmed by her son Rob Klima.
Dr. Bellugi was a number one researcher at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego for practically 5 a long time and, for a lot of that point, was director of its laboratory for cognitive neuroscience. She made important contributions in three fundamental areas: the growth of language in youngsters; the linguistic construction and neurological foundation of American Sign Language; and the social conduct and language skills of individuals with a uncommon genetic dysfunction, Williams syndrome.
“She leaves an indelible legacy of shedding light on how humans communicate and socialize with each other,” Rusty Gage, president of the Salk Institute, stated in an announcement.
Dr. Bellugi’s work, a lot of it performed in collaboration together with her husband, Edward S. Klima, superior understanding of the mind and the origins of language, each signed and spoken.
American Sign Language was first described as a real language in 1960 by William C. Stokoe Jr., a professor at Gallaudet University, the world’s solely liberal arts college dedicated to deaf individuals. But he was ridiculed and attacked for that declare.
Dr. Bellugi and Dr. Klima, who died in 2008, demonstrated conclusively that the world’s signed languages — of which there are greater than 100 — have been precise languages in their very own proper, not simply translations of spoken languages.
Dr. Bellugi, who centered on American Sign Language, established that these linguistic programs have been handed down, in all their complexity, from one technology of deaf individuals to the subsequent. For that motive, the scientific neighborhood regards her as the founder of the neurobiology of American Sign Language.
The couple’s work led to a serious discovery at the Salk lab: that the left hemisphere of the mind has an innate predisposition for language, whether or not spoken or signed. That discovering gave scientists recent perception into how the mind learns, interprets and forgets language.
“This was a critical discovery for deaf people, as it verified that our language is treated equally by the brain — just as we must be treated equally by society,” Roberta J. Cordano, the president of Gallaudet, stated in an announcement.
Until then, signal languages have been regarded disparagingly both as crude pantomime, with no guidelines, or as damaged English, and deaf youngsters have been discouraged from studying to signal. The couple’s work contributed to a wider acceptance of A.S.L. as a language of instruction and helped empower deaf individuals as the Deaf Pride motion developed in the Nineteen Eighties.
Another topic that Dr. Bellugi and her husband studied was Williams syndrome. She sought to know how the dysfunction, in which a set of about 20 genes is lacking from one copy of a chromosome, modified the mind and finally formed conduct.
Her physique of work, the Salk Institute stated in a profile of Dr. Bellugi, “helped paint a picture of the biology humans use to interact with the world around us.”
Ursula Herzberger was born on Feb. 21, 1931, in Jena, in central Germany, a middle of science and expertise. With Hitler on the rise, her household fled Germany in 1934 and finally settled in Rochester, N.Y. There, her father, Max Herzberger, a mathematician and physicist, turned head of Eastman Kodak’s optical analysis laboratories, a job organized for him by Albert Einstein, his good friend and former trainer in Berlin.
Mr. Herzberger went on to develop a particular lens that resolved the shade distortion in glass. Ursula’s mom, Edith (Kaufmann) Herzberger, was an artist.
Ursula attended Antioch College in Ohio, the place she majored in psychology and graduated in 1952. She married Piero Bellugi, an Italian composer and conductor, in 1953; they’d two sons earlier than divorcing in 1959.
Interested in psychology and language, she moved to Cambridge, Mass., the place she turned a analysis assistant to Roger Brown, an eminent psychologist at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who was finding out how younger youngsters purchase language. Soon she was finding out at Harvard, the place she earned a health care provider of schooling diploma in 1967 whereas elevating her sons as a single mom. She additionally took programs at M.I.T., the place one of her academics was Dr. Klima.
When they married, she modified her title legally to Bellugi-Klima however continued to make use of Bellugi professionally. They moved west when he started instructing at the University of California, San Diego. She began in 1968 at the Salk Institute, a 10-minute stroll from her husband’s campus, the place she additionally taught. She later taught at San Diego State University.
At the time, San Diego was a hotbed of linguistic analysis, revolving largely round Dr. Bellugi and Dr. Klima, in addition to colleagues who had come from Harvard and M.I.T. She attracted a parade of analysis assistants and made a degree of hiring many who have been deaf.
Over the years, Dr. Bellugi obtained a number of awards. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2007. She retired from Salk in 2017 at 86.
She co-wrote tons of of papers and several other books, some of them together with her husband. Their best-known e-book was “The Signs of Language” (1979), written with 10 associates. It was the first complete examine of the grammar and psychology of signed languages and was hailed by the Association of American Publishers as the yr’s “most outstanding book in the behavioral sciences.”
In addition to her son Rob, Dr. Bellugi is survived by her sister, Ruth Rosenberg; her brother, Hans Herzberger; 4 grandchildren; and 5 great-grandchildren. Another son, David Bellugi, died in 2017.