York Professor Ellen Bialystok will accept the $100,000 Killam Prize for outstanding career achievement at a formal ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa today.
Bialystok, a Distinguished Research Professor in York’s Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Health, is known internationally for her research on language, bilingualism and cognitive development. The award was announced in April by the Canada Council for the Arts, which administers the Killam Program.
One of the most important research prizes in the world, the Killam Prize is awarded annually to five eminent Canadian scholars for their distinction in health sciences, engineering, humanities, natural sciences and social sciences. Bialystok is being recognized for her work in the social sciences category.
Right: Ellen Bialystok
The first in her field to research claims of cognitive deficits in bilingual children, Bialystok discovered that bilingual children and adults have distinct advantages over unilingual people when completing both linguistic and non-linguistic tasks (see YFile, Jan. 15, 2007). Her research is now revealing that this advantage continues for bilingual people as they age; she is part of a team of Canadian researchers who recently uncovered further evidence that bilingualism can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by up to five years.
Bialystok has also been recognized by the international linguistics community for her body of work on theories of language processing and on practical issues related to foreign and second-language education.
When the prize was announced, York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri remarked that the Killam Prize “recognizes Professor Bialystok’s groundbreaking contributions to psychology and confirms the international excellence of her achievements. Her success contributes to the growing national and international leadership of York’s faculty in health-related research as they respond to medical, social and environmental challenges facing Canadians and people around the world.”
Bialystok was awarded a Killam Research Fellowship in 2001 and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. In November 2009, she received the York University President’s Research Award of Merit in recognition of her research contributions.
Faculty of Health Dean Harvey Skinner commented that Bialystok’s work is changing our understanding of language acquisition and literacy, as well as cognition and aging, by using both behaviour and neuroimaging approaches. “Her research, and the collaborative research of many other faculty researching developmental and cognitive processes, reflects the Faculty’s goals of innovative research that helps keep more people healthier, longer.”
The Killam Prizes were inaugurated in 1981 with a donation by Dorothy J. Killam in memory of her husband, Izaak Walton Killam. The prizes were created to honour eminent Canadian scholars and scientists actively engaged in research, whether in industry, government agencies or universities.