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Linguist Donna Jo Napoli Receives Lifetime Service Award

Donna Jo Napoli

Professor of Linguistics and Social Justice Donna Jo Napoli has been selected as the recipient of the Victoria A. Fromkin Lifetime Service Award. This Linguistic Society of America (LSA) award recognizes individuals who have performed extraordinary service to the discipline of linguistics and the Society throughout their career. 

Napoli, who has been a faculty member at the College since 1987, is a renowned author and linguist who works to protect deaf children's right to language. In Spring 2024, Napoli will teach Supporting Literacy Among Deaf Children, and co-teach (Dis)ability: Perceptions and Music, and Defying Categorization: Contemporary Dance and Sign Language Performance. In Fall 2024, she will teach Sign Language Literature from a Linguistics Perspective and How Children Talk to Each Other: Oral and Written Language.

Napoli met Fromkin, the namesake of the award, at her first job interview. At the time, Fromkin was a professor at University of California, Los Angeles. Although Napoli didn’t land that job, she gained a deep admiration and respect for Fromkin.

“Sometimes the way you find can be wonderful, even if it wasn't originally what you hoped for,” says Napoli, who is currently in Italy, working on language problems of immigrant children and what preschool teachers might do to help.

“I love the fact that I got this award because it’s in her name,” she adds. “She was one of the first women in theoretical linguistics. She was a wonderful, lovely person, very open-minded. She always kind of took you as the best that you might be. I’m grateful to have this award,” says Napoli.

Napoli has been a longstanding member of the LSA and has contributed a great deal to the society’s journal, Language. She has served the LSA with extensive committee contributions on the Executive Committee, the Language in the School Curriculum Committee, Committee on Gender Equity in Linguistics (COGEL) under its previous title as the Committee on the Status of Women in Linguistics, and the Linguistics, Language, and Public Interest Award Committee (which she chaired). 

She is the 2021 recipient of the LSA Mentoring Award, and her vast linguistic research represents a compelling representation of public-facing studies of American Sign Language along with sustained efforts to promote the central mission of the Society to advance the scientific study of language, which she has accomplished through many books and articles pertaining to syntax, predication theory, and prosodic properties, among others. Napoli was an invited plenary speaker at the 2023 LSA Annual Meeting, where her innovative scholarship demonstrated further evidence of her lifetime service to elevate linguistic research and teaching devoted to improving the human condition globally.

In addition to her work with Swarthmore and the LSA, Napoli has co-written or co-edited 19 books and 124 articles in linguistics. She's also written and co-edited and contributed to six poetry books, written 23 publications in/on creative writing, and worked on over 90 children’s and young adult books. Her books have been translated into Bulgarian, Chinese, Chinese (Complex), Danish, Dutch, Farsi, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, Swiss German, Thai, and Vietnamese. Her latest children’s books, As Night Falls: Creatures that Go Wild After Dark and We are Starlings: Inside the Mesmerizing Magic of a Murmuration, were both selected in the New York Times/New York Public Library's Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2023.

Napoli encourages people to stay open, even during unstable times.

“There are all kinds of things standing in your way," she says, “but if you look around you’ll always find a way to use your knowledge to serve somehow.”

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