Peter Culicover has been a prominent figure in the field of linguistics for more than 40 years and a faculty member at Ohio State since 1987. He’s made substantial contributions to the theory of grammar, the grammatical analysis of English, and to the study of language and language acquisition in cognitive science.
A linguist who studies languages with a “capital L,” Culicover’s primary interest is figuring out how language works and why it works that way.
“Not just a particular language, like English or German or Italian, but language with a capital L,” he said. “How do languages differ from one another and how are they the same? And why are they the same? There are two parts — how do you explain the universal properties of language and the diversity of language? Diversity is quite extreme but it’s always within a set of limits. The goal is to explain the universals and also how the limits work.”
Colleagues have praised Culicover’s ability to present his ideas with clarity, in a way that is dynamic, entertaining and accessible, while remaining intellectually honest.
“Peter’s research continues to tackle issues on the cutting edge of research in language science,” said Prof. Shari Speer, chair of Ohio State’s department of linguistics.
Culicover isn’t new to recognition and accolades for his work. In 2006, he received the prestigious Humboldt Research Prize for his far-reaching contributions to the fields of theoretical linguistics and cognitive science. He also is a past recipient of Ohio State’s Distinguished Scholar Award and University Distinguished Lecturer.
Late this spring, a knock at the door during a staff meeting would mean the beginning of a permanent honor. “I was seated near the door and was asked to answer,” he said. “Standing there was President Drake. I figured someone in the department had won an award, and then I saw my wife. I couldn’t believe it. It was fantastic! I’ve never been so surprised in my life.”
As a 2016 Distinguished University Professor, he now holds Ohio State’s most prestigious award for select faculty members who have exceptional accomplishments in research, teaching and service. With the honor he also earns a $30,000 cash award from the Office of Academic Affairs, which he plans to use for travel to collaborate with a German colleague and a new project in the Netherlands.
Above all, Culicover considers Ohio State the ideal place for his research. There’s an “extremely distinguished faculty, fantastic intellectual environment and incredibly deep resources,” he said. “The energy, the diversity, the ethnicities — to me, it’s invigorating.”